Excitement Rises For Virginia Baseball In 2021

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Star Virginia baseball reliever Andrew Abbott was expected to be selected in the 2020 MLB Draft. He wasn’t, and over the weekend he announced he would be returning to play for the Hoos next season. ~ Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics Media Relations

In the first 14 seasons of head coach Brian O’Connor’s tenure, the University of Virginia baseball program reached the NCAA playoffs 14 times, made the College World Series four times and the College World Series final twice, and of course won the National Championship in 2015. The Hoos entered the 2020 season, though, seeking to rebound from two straight seasons of missing the NCAA playoffs and finishing under .500 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

After dropping two of three games in its season opening series versus Oklahoma, UVA baseball won 13 of its next 15 games – including two of three versus no. 7 NC State – before spring sports were canceled due to the coronavirus. The 2020 success, however limited, led to optimism that the program will return to its high standard of performance in 2021. That optimism grew last week, when several prominent players announced their intentions to return to Charlottesville next year.

Star left-handed reliever Andrew Abbott was projected to get picked in last week’s 2020 Major League Baseball Draft. To the surprise of most analysts, Abbott, who was rated by D1 Baseball as the no. 64 collegiate prospect, was not selected in the shortened 5-round draft. The talented junior has since announced that he will return to UVA.

Abbott appeared in nine games this season, holding opponents to a .180 batting average while posting a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings. His 28 strikeouts were second to fellow junior Griff McGarry, who started four games for the Hoos in 2020, posting a 3-0 record, a 1.35 ERA, and 31 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .079 batting average. The 6’2” righthander could have turned professional but has also announced his plan to return to UVA next year.

In March, the NCAA granted all spring sports athletes whose seasons were canceled an extra year of eligibility. Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball reported last week that the NCAA had taken further measures to help baseball programs in the 2020-21 academic year. This includes lifting the 35-man roster cap, increasing the annual counter from 27 to 32 scholarship players, and eliminating the 25% scholarship minimum.

Senior closer Stephen Schoch and senior catcher Logan Michaels benefited from the NCAA’s decisions and announced that they will be part of the 2021 Cavalier program. Schoch, a lifelong UVA fan who transferred in from UMBC, ranked second in the ACC and eighth in the NCAA with five saves at the time the season was canceled. Opponents hit .167 and struck out 24 times against Schoch, who appeared in 11 games.

Michaels started 17 of 18 games for the Cavaliers this season. He had a .316 batting average and was tied for the team lead in doubles with six. Michaels received the Billy Word Memorial Award as the team’s MVP this spring.

UVA returns 11 players who played in 10 or more games in 2020, including eight who started 14 or more. Freshman outfielder Chris Newell earned Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Co-Freshman of the Year honors for his 18-game performance, during which he led UVA in hitting (.407), on-base percentage (.545), RBI (20) and stolen bases (eight). Second-baseman Max Cotier (.338 average with a team-high 25 hits) earned CBN Freshman All-American honors as well.

Sophomore third-baseman Zack Gelof (.349 average with a team-best five homeruns) and sophomore shortstop Nic Kent (.328 average) headline the rest of the returning Hoos in the field. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Mike Vasil (2-0 record, 2.45 ERA in four starts) and promising freshman left-handed pitcher Nate Savino (1-0 record, 3.38 ERA in three starts) join the aforementioned Abbott, McGarry, and Schoch in leading the returning Cavalier pitching staff.

Should Virginia class of 2020 signee Nick Bitsko pass on the professional ranks, the Cavaliers’ 2021 prospects would grow further. That seems unlikely for the Central Bucks East (PA) graduate, a right-handed pitcher who was selected 24th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in last week’s MLB Draft. Tampa Times writer Marc Topkin reports the Rays are “optimistic of a deal” with Bitsko.

New Jersey native Kyle Teel, a catcher, tops the list of the incoming freshmen expected in Charlottesville next season. Teel was very much on the MLB radar but withdrew from the draft in April because he wanted to play for the Hoos. Read more on Teel by clicking here, courtesy of the New York Post. Also be sure to check out Jeff White’s feature on the Gelof brothers. Zack’s brother, Jake, is an incoming freshman infielder for the Hoos.

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