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Former Pirates baseball star makes national waves at Kentucky

After an All-American season, Ryan Waldschmidt hopes to be a first-round pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.

Former Braden River High baseball player Ryan Waldschmidt had a breakout junior season at the University of Kentucky, earning All-American Third Team honors from Baseball America.
Former Braden River High baseball player Ryan Waldschmidt had a breakout junior season at the University of Kentucky, earning All-American Third Team honors from Baseball America.
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Ryan Waldschmidt appears ready for prime time. 

Waldschmidt, a former Braden River High baseball player, has seen his star rise over the course of his 2024 college season.

The University of Kentucky junior outfielder had the best year of his career, hitting .333 with 14 home runs, 46 RBIs and 25 steals while holding a .970 fielding percentage. He saved his best for Southeastern Conference play, hitting better than .400 against conference foes. The 6-foot-2 Waldschmidt performed well enough to land on Baseball America's All-American Third Team. 

His Wildcats team was equally successful. Waldschmidt's play helped Kentucky to a 46-16 record. Kentucky earned a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time in program history before being eliminated by the University of Florida, 5-4, on June 19. 

Former Braden River High outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt is having a big junior season at the University of Kentucky.
Courtesy image

Waldschmidt's biggest accomplishment might be yet to come. As his play surged and Kentucky found success, his national profile rose and he caught the eye of MLB scouts.

As the 2024 MLB Draft, held July 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, approaches, Waldschmidt is projected to be a high selection. Some analysts believe he will end up a first-round pick. ranks Waldschmidt as the No. 23 player in the draft class as of June 30, saying that "few players in this draft can match Waldschmidt's ability to make contact, avoid chasing pitches and produce high exit velocities."

Waldschmidt's dream season almost ended before it began. He suffered a torn ACL in his knee while playing in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2023 after stepping in a hole in the outfield. Initial reports projected Waldschmidt to miss approximately eight months during the rehabilitation process, which would have seen him return late in the 2024 season. 

He refused to let that happen. Waldschmidt knew what was required of him in order to beat the projections and quickly return to the field. As a freshman at Braden River, Waldschmidt — then a catcher — fractured his elbow while making a play at the plate. Waldschmidt said his rehab for that injury required a similar amount of time and helped him mentally prepare for what his knee rehab would be like. 

"The first time (you rehab an injury), you tip-toe around things that are new and you are worried about getting hurt again," Waldschmidt said. "You're scared of the possibilities, of what could go wrong. But this time, I jumped in 100%. You understand that whatever the doctors clear you to do, you are capable of doing. I gave it everything I had, and I found a lot of success doing that."

Waldschmidt's dedication to getting back on the field paid dividends. He missed the team's season-opening game against the University of South Carolina Upstate on Feb. 16, but pinch hit in the second game against the Spartans a day later. He made his first start against Texas State University on Feb. 24. After that, he was full go and Waldschmidt ultimately played in 59 of the team's 62 games, the same number he played in 2023. 

He was a part of the best Kentucky team in program history.

"We had a lot of fun," Waldschmidt said. "We didn't listen to any outside noise. We all bought into what our coaches believed and the philosophy we were trying to achieve. We were a selfless team. Whatever a game called for in the moment, everyone was capable of getting it done." 

The team's success led to big fan turnout. Kentucky is known as a basketball school, and Waldschmidt said he understands why — it can be 30 degrees in Lexington, Kentucky, when the baseball season begins, he said, and not many people want to sit in that weather to watch mediocre baseball. But as the team began winning in recent seasons, the fans responded, which Waldschmidt appreciated. 

Now, he waits to see when his name will be called in the MLB Draft. Waldschmidt said he has been talking with several teams prior to the draft. Their questions often have less to do with baseball and more to do with figuring out Waldschmidt as a person, and how his brain works. Waldschmidt said one team questionnaire asked if he put his peanut butter in the refrigerator or not. Another asked what he does with his shopping cart after checking out of the grocery store. 

Waldschmidt said he is happy to answer those questions. It has been a surreal journey to this point, he said, and he wants it to continue. 

The elbow injury he suffered as a Braden River freshman, plus losing the 2020 season to COVID-19, affected his recruitment. He committed to Charleston Southern University out of high school, where he played one season, hitting .310, before transferring to Kentucky. Waldschmidt said not once during that time did he fantasize about being a first-round pick. He was simply trying to play at a high level in college. 

He persevered and earned his opportunity, which makes it all the sweeter. 

"The best stories are never the ones where everything is smooth sailing," Waldschmidt said. "There are always obstacles. The people who can overcome them are the ones who end up being successful. I have had a lot of support and a lot of people who believed in me, and I hope this is just the beginning."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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