The Iron Cavalier Challenge is a physically rigorous and emotionally taxing, team-bonding obstacle course event held annually following fall baseball at Virginia. It’s a grueling test of strength and willpower with the winner receiving a plaque and a special place in Virginia Cavalier lore.
Each year two players, a pitcher and a position player, earn the coveted “Iron Cavalier” title. For the 2015-16 season, catcher Robbie Coman and pitcher Adam Haseley took the honors. The term is fitting for Haseley not only for his ability to thrive in the annual challenge but for his season-long efforts as both a pitcher and centerfielder for the reining College World Series Champions.
Heading into the season, Virginia’s coaching staff knew that Haseley would be the everyday centerfielder but would also be asked to contribute on the mound in some role. Pitching coach Karl Kuhn says that having two-way players at UVA is not unusual, but Haseley was the first everyday outfielder to serve in that role.
“Now, we’ve had our unbelievable lineup of two-way players,” Kuhn said. “Adam’s going to be right up there with them when it’s all said and done. Especially with his performance in Omaha last year. But we haven’t really had a guy that played the outfield start. We’ve had first basemen do it with Danny [Hultzen] and Doc [Doolittle] and [Joe] Koshansky. We’ve had corner guy’s pitch for us. Nick Howard DH’d, started at third base, and pitched on Sunday his sophomore year. We’ve had Shane Holley who was an outfielder relieve. But not really an outfielder that played every day and was also going to start.”
It is a significant difference. Playing as the regular outfielder and then a starting pitcher is rare even for college baseball because of the demands that go into both positions. With that work load and the attention that must be paid to the left of arm of Haseley, the coaching staff knew there would be different considerations for the sophomore hurler than previous two-way Cavaliers.
How do we manage that? How’s he going to manage that? How do we get him in the lineup? How do we get him off his feet? These were some of the vexing questions that Kuhn and coach Brian O’Connor needed to address.
Finding the answers proved to be a season-long journey for Haseley and the coaches.
Haseley began the season as a mid-week starter and went 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA. He held the opposition to a .172 batting average. With the overall pitching staff struggling, however, the coaches decided changes were needed. The new plan included moving Haseley into the weekend rotation. His first weekend start came Saturday, April 2 against NC State, a game the Hoos won 5-3 for Haseley’s sixth win of the season.
The sophomore lefty ran into trouble the next three April Saturdays, though. He lost a tough 3-2 decision on the road at Boston College and dropped a pair of seven-run defeats to North Carolina and Miami.
Haseley said fatigue played a factor.
“I think the few times I was throwing on Saturday I found myself much more tired on Sunday after throwing on Saturday from a physical standpoint,” Haseley said. “I usually wouldn’t throw on Sunday, it would just be a hitting day.”
The numbers support the theory. In April as the Saturday starter, Haseley went 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA. That doubled his mid-week ERA numbers. After winning in all six of the previous starts, the Hoos went 1-3 in those April starts. It showed up at the plate too. In the Saturday-Sunday games where Haseley pitched Saturday and then played Sunday, he had a .250 batting average (8-32) below his season number of .295.
Kuhn and O’Connor made the decision to leave Haseley in centerfield Friday and Saturday. That moved Alec Bettinger to the Saturday game and Haseley to the Sunday starter role. Kuhn said that was part of learning how to manage Haseley as a pitcher, centerfielder, and hitter.
“There’s a developmental process,” Kuhn said. “Adam was pitching on Tuesdays and he was getting his pitch count up and one week you dial him back a little bit. You move him to Saturday the first time we did it. So it’s not just waving a wand. You can’t just do it because all of a sudden you feel like you need to do it immediately. There has to be some thought and some planning to it. We did that.”
The move to Sunday paid off.
In May’s games where Haseley pitched the final game of a three-game stretch, he posted a .273 batting average (9-33). Since the exam break, it’s up to .333 (8-24) in those situations (Saturday-Sunday or Friday-Saturday at the ACC Tournament).
The southpaw’s ERA dropped 1.71 points and Virginia went 3-1 in Haseley’s four starts. That included last Saturday’s 7-2 win against the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals. The only blemish was a tough one-run loss to Georgia Tech where the left-hander surrendered four home runs to the Jackets power-hitting, all right-handed lineup.
“I wasn’t getting ahead that day and I was putting them in positive hitting counts,” Haseley said. “I was leaving the ball up.”
Asked if he felt Haseley’s issues against Georgia Tech were fatigue or a result of the 13-day exam layoff, O’Connor credited the Tech bats.
“I think it had more to do with the quality of team Georgia Tech has,” he said. “They are a threat. Almost every guy in their lineup can hit the ball out of the ball park.”
Currently, Haseley ranks seventh in the ACC in wins (9), third in the league and 12th nationally in ERA (1.73), and third in the conference in opponent batting average (.194). In his two starts since the loss to Georgia Tech, he threw a complete game two-hitter with one run allowed against Virginia Tech and another two-hitter in five innings against Louisville.
“The more he goes out there, the more he learns,” O’Connor said. “He’s way better this year than he was last year. He’s a strike thrower; he’s not going to beat himself. He’s not a guy that’s going to light the radar gun up but he’s really, really good.”
Haseley has maintained a solid .975 field percentage as a pitcher and centerfielder too. Most players may have one demanding role, but beyond his double duty in center and on the mound, Haseley also served as the lead-off hitter for the first 42 games of the season until O’Connor moved him to the six hole. All highly demanding roles.
The move to weekend starter initially impacted his hitting as mentioned above. He was raking at a .359 mark when he left his midweek work and stepped into the Saturday slot. When his first Sunday start came around, his overall batting average had fallen to .304, his slugging percentage had dropped from .573 to .486, and his on-base-percentage was down .063 points.
The good news is that since the exam break, Haseley’s overall batting average is .333 and he’s almost doubled his season RBI total from 17 to 33.
While the offensive numbers aren’t team leading, they’re solid and consistent. To maintain that consistency as a hitter and pitcher, Haseley said it’s important to compartmentalize things and be able to not carry over a bad inning on the mound to the batter’s box.
“It’s important to take it one moment at a time,” he said. “If you don’t do something good at the plate and you’ve got to go pitch, put that behind you and delete it. You’ve got to separate each thing.”
In his sophomore season, Haseley’s number compare favorably with Virginia’s more recognizable two-way baseball players. The pitching numbers are on par (if not better) with the offensive numbers lagging behind just a little.
Looking at Hultzen’s sophomore year, he recorded an 11-1 record with a 2.78 ERA and a 123/23 K/BB ratio. Hultzen only had 57 at-bats that year and hit .281; he managed 136 at-bats as a junior in 2011 where he averaged .309. That season, the Cavalier hurler won the John Olerud Award, awarded annually by the College Baseball Foundation to the best two-way player in the nation. He had posted a 12-3 campaign on the mound and a microscopic 1.37 ERA.
Doolittle was 11-2 his sophomore season while posting a 2.38 ERA in 90.2 innings of work. Doolittle hit .324 with a .454 OBP and a .458 slugging percentage that year. In Doc’s final season, he hit .301 and was 8-3 in 14 starts.
Over his four-year career, Koshansky recorded a 21-16 mark as a pitcher with a 4.26 ERA and a 229/95 K/BB ratio. He hit .289 in his career with 109 RBI. That included just 42 RBI in his first three years with a .277 batting average before he had a stellar 2004 season. That year, he hit .302 (67-222) with 67 RBI while going 8-3 with a 2.98 ERA on the mound.
For his career, Haseley has an 11-4 mark with a 1.86 ERA and he has the College World Series moment where he pitched against Vanderbilt and allowed no runs in five innings of work. He owns a career .271 batting average with a .400 slugging percentage and 52 RBI. Keep in mind, Hultzen, Doolittle and Koshansky were not outfielders and none ever had more than 226 at-bats in a season. Haseley is at 234 thus far in 2016.
Asked to recall a notable outfielder/starting pitcher player of recent memory in the college game, college baseball aficionado Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball had the perfect comparison in former Pepperdine All-American Aaron Brown.
In his sophomore season, Brown posted a 6-3 record with a 4.95 ERA and struck out 49 batters in 72.2 innings while hitting .312. His final campaign, however, was outstanding as he led the NCAA in victories with a 13-1 record, finished second in the West Coast Conference with a 1.95 ERA and paced the league with 104 strikeouts. As the starting centerfielder, he hit .314, mashed 13 home runs, and slugged at a .554 clip.
Again, not far off the numbers of Haseley. Point is, it’s hard to start as an outfielder and serve as a starting pitcher on a college baseball team. Throw in hitting lead-off for 73% of the season and that’s a pretty demanding season.
The All-ACC voters overlooked Haseley when it came to postseason honors, but someone is paying attention to the dual threat season he’s having. On Wednesday, the College Baseball Foundation announced that Haseley was one of the nine finalists for the John Olerud two-way player of the year award.
And for the record, only one is an Iron Man.