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I know I posted D1's Top100, but I didn't post the blurbs (other than ours)

Now, D1 has a Fall Report about us. You have to be a subscriber to see it, but it is not a paid sub. Does that make it fair or foul to post here?

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia baseball is a well-oiled machine. In 14 years under Brian O’Connor, the Cavaliers have not missed a regional or won fewer than 38 games in a season. Whenever this program has key pieces to replace, new stars always emerge to keep the good times rolling.

So while UVa. will certainly miss departed first-rounders Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley (the No. 7 and No. 8 overall picks) plus mainstays Robbie Coman and Ernie Clement, there’s no reason to expect any kind of dropoff from last year’s 43-win, regional-hosting campaign.

It’s simply time for a new group of Cavaliers to become the frontline stars, and a talented group of young players to support them. Athletic junior outfielders Jake McCarthy (.338/.425/.506, 13 HR, 27 SB) and Cameron Simmons (.352/.432/.563, 9 HR, 9 SB) already made the jump as sophomore to being outstanding players; now this is their team.

“We’ve got to use the fall to figure out who are the new guys who can be consistent,” O’Connor said. “Obviously McCarthy’s an electric player and Cam Simmons has been in the lineup for two years. Caleb Knight, the catcher, and (Nate) Eikhoff. Andy Weber really came on the back half of last year, and he’s a nice looking player, lefthanded hitter. So I believe we’ve got a lot of pieces, we’re just going to need some new players to emerge for us. Those guys that were sophomores last year that were integral players, they now need to be at the forefront.”

Simmons and McCarthy are two of the best speed/power combination players in the ACC, and both are clearly capable of performing at All-America levels. McCarthy played for Team USA last summer and then went to the Cape Cod League, where he ranked as the No. 21 prospect, making him the latest Virginia position player with a shot to be a marquee draft pick.

Knight hit .301 with four homers in 113 at-bats last year, and the Cavs are eager to see what he can do with a full year of playing time. He figures to split time behind the plate with junior Cameron Comer and sophomore Drew Blakely, giving Virginia enviable depth at that crucial position. Both Knight and Comer made good things happen defensively in Thursday’s scrimmage; Comer threw out the fleet-footed McCarthy trying to steal second base, while Knight made a sweet pick on a ball in the dirt followed by an agile transfer and rifle throw to second to get another baserunner.

“(Knight)’s got the most experience. He really impacted us last year with the bat, really did,” O’Connor said. “Had a really fantastic year for us, didn’t play much in the early part of the season, found himself in the mix and really ignited us offensively.”

It’s obvious that O’Connor is excited about Weber’s potential as a junior, too. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder spent most of last season as the starting second baseman, hitting a respectable .278/.349/.396, but he has a nice lefthanded swing with sneaky pop, and he’s capable of putting up much bigger numbers. O’Connor tabbed him as a clear breakout candidate. Expect more also from Eikhoff, a strong-bodied, lefthanded-hitting first baseman who also hit .278 last year in 126 at-bats. Eikhoff has a disciplined approach at the plate (he walked more than he struck out in part-time duty last year) and the ability to sting the ball to the opposite field, as he did on a triple to the left-center gap on Thursday.

Perhaps the biggest question facing Virginia is this: Who will replace Clement at shortstop? There’s no shortage of candidates, between sophomore Cayman Richardson and freshmen Devin Ortiz, Andrew Papantonis and Tanner Morris. Richardson was a big-name recruit last year who played sparingly as a freshman, but he has the range and arm strength to handle short if he can cut down on unforced errors and make a step forward with the bat.

“I think just from experience and a year more maturity, I think he’s better. I still think that he needs to take a step forward and be a little bit more consistent,” O’Connor said. “But he’s doing a nice job, you see him out there talking to the young players, he knows what’s going on, he knows the game. But like anything, you want them all to do more. He’s a good player and he’s worked hard this summer, and he’s better than he was last year for sure.”

Ortiz, Papantonis and Morris all figure to be in the mix at shortstop or third base, where gritty senior Justin Novak is also back. Papantonis and Ortiz were blue-chip recruits out of New Jersey who should be foundational pieces for the Cavs. Morris is a year older than the rest of UVa.’s recruiting class, and he stands out for his mature approach from the left side of the plate, as well as his athleticism. He was sidelined with a minor injury Thursday but was expected back soon. Papantonis, a versatile, ultra-athletic infielder with good speed, is still working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in football last fall, but he showed off his high-end ability at the 2016 Area Code Games, where he was the MVP. Ortiz is a bona fide two-way talent who used to be known more for his polish off the mound, but he has added a great deal of strength over the past year and now has the look of a physical difference-maker at the plate. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, but he looks bigger than that, and his bat speed is obvious.

“These first two weeks I’ve been really impressed with Devin Ortiz. He certainly looks the part, and he’s been really, really competitive with the bat,” O’Connor said. “So I’ve liked that, and I think he’s done a nice job at shortstop. He can stay there, I think he can. I’m not at the point right now of anointing anyone or saying I think this guy can be the guy, aside from the guys we have returning that I think are really good players, the McCarthys and Simmonses and Webers. Past that, it’s just unknown right now because it’s too early. But I think there’s plenty of competition because there’s good options.”

Another major unknown is at the back of the bullpen, where the Cavs must replace second-round pick Tommy Doyle. At this early stage, O’Connor said he has no idea how that competition will shake out, but he expects some of the team’s talented freshmen to compete for the closer job, such as power-armed righties Kyle Whitten and Griff McGarry. Whitten has been sidelined by injury this fall but showed big velocity in the spring. McGarry, who also has some feel for his barrel as a hitter, has impressed this fall with his maturity, poise and command of an 88-92 fastball.

O’Connor also mentioned righthander Chesdin Harrington as a closer candidate. Harrington posted a 2.41 ERA over 37.1 innings of (mostly) relief last year, with a nice 38-12 K-BB mark. With a mid-80s fastball, a big looping curve and a solid changeup, Harrington doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but it’s “good enough,” as O’Connor put it, and the Cavs know he can maintain his composure and throw strikes under pressure, which obviously matters. Sophomore Bobby Nicholson has bigger stuff (he worked 90-92 with a short slider at 81-83 on Thursday, and he’s shown bigger velocity in the past) but needs to show he can command it more consistently. Veteran lefthander Bennett Sousa, a senior who made 24 valuable appearances last year, also returns to the bullpen mix.

Virginia’s pitching was fairly modest last year by the program’s lofty standards, posting a 4.10 ERA that ranked in the middle of the ACC pack. But the Cavs return their top two starters in last year’s regional — lefthander Daniel Lynch (7-5, 5.00) and righty Derek Casey (5-2, 3.79), and they’re optimistic that both players are capable of making big leaps forward as juniors. Casey came on strong down the stretch last year, and Lynch really came into his own in the Cape Cod League, where he ranked as the No. 13 prospect. A tall, wiry lefthander with an 88-91 fastball that bumps 92-93 at times, Lynch showed excellent command of his quality four-pitch mix in the Cape, where he posted a 25-3 K-BB mark in 31.1 IP.

“Certainly somebody like Daniel Lynch, he’s got the most experience on our pitching staff, he needs to take that step forward and really anchor,” O’Connor said. “He’s shown flashes of being really, really spectacular, so it’s the consistency thing. He’s more mature. He’s got really good self confidence now. So he’ll pitch at the back part of the fall.”

The Cavs hope Lynch will become a legitimate Friday night ace and Casey will be a rock-solid No. 2. Then they’ll figure out the rest of the rotation. Evan Sperling is back after making 10 starts (and posting a 7.51 ERA a year ago). Noah Murdock made seven starts last year but will miss this year after having Tommy John surgery. Freshman lefties Andrew Abbott and Robb Adams could also be in the mix, because both stand out for their ability to locate three pitches in the zone. The projectable, loose 6-foot-3, 180-pound Adams pitched Thursday and looked good, showing feel for an 87-88 fastball and a very promising, big-breaking curveball as well as a 79-80 changeup.

“He’s interesting. And I think there’s more to come there,” O’Connor said of Adams. “It’s gonna be easy, 86-89, he’s flashed some 90-91s the first couple weeks, breaking ball and change. So I think there’s some rookies there who can contribute right away. I think Adams and Abbott are two guys that maybe fit that mold, they’re coming in right away throwing strikes, their stuff’s good. So I think those guys can contribute for us right away.”

A number of freshmen will need to contribute right away for Virginia to have the kind of year it’s used to having. And there’s every reason to expect that those players will rise to the challenge, as players do every year at UVa.

[Post edited by WAYoVerraTed at 10/12/2017 9:22PM]

Posted: 10/10/2017 at 7:21PM


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