SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
2016 Record (Ranking): 38-22 (21). RPI: 23.
Coach (Record at school): Brian O’Connor (596-223-2, 13 years).
Postseason History: 16 regionals (active streak: 13), 4 CWS trips (last in 2015), 1 national title (2015).
Virginia took an unconventional path to a national title in 2015. A year after reaching the College World Series finals with one of the deepest teams in the country, the 2015 Cavaliers were riddled by injuries and leaned heavily on freshmen—namely Adam Haseley, Ernie Clement and Pavin Smith—to carry them to a championship.
Two years later, head coach Brian O’Connor looks at his roster and sees a slightly different picture. Those freshmen are now seasoned veterans, leading a lineup that is teeming with depth and athleticism.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence,” O’Connor said. “You do what these guys have done and the success that they’ve had, and they’ve delivered. You think about between Clement, Haseley and Smith, I mean, those guys have been in the lineup every day, in key, key roles in our lineup for three years.”
The Cavaliers return the bulk of their position players from last year’s regional team, although they’ll certainly miss catcher Matt Thaiss’ 10 home runs and team-leading 1.051 OPS and Daniel Pinero’s leadership and offensive skill set at shortstop.
Still, the remaining Cavaliers come in stronger and healthier. Toolsy sophomore outfielder Jake McCarthy, whom O’Connor expected to be an everyday player a year ago, is back healthy after playing only six games last season. Fifth-year senior Robbie Coman—the team’s starting catcher in 2015—returns after missing all of last season. The Cavaliers have several candidates to replace Pinero at shortstop, including junior Justin Novak and sure-handed freshman Cayman Richardson.
Just like in 2015, the Cavaliers will likely go as far as Smith, Clement and Haseley can take them. Haseley, especially, is a crucial piece, serving as both Virginia’s center fielder and Friday starter. O’Connor said Haseley was hitting the ball with more authority in the fall and could possibly move from the top of the order to the middle.
“He’s a special player,” O’Connor said. “Certainly someone who can impact you from the mound standpoint, winning 10 games like he did last year and playing center field every day when he’s not pitching. And he’s much improved this year with the bat . . . I think he’s one of the better overall complete players in the game.”
The pitching staff around Haseley is a little more uncertain than it has been in past years, but it’s only lacking in experience, not talent. The staff receives a significant boost in the form of righthanders Evan Sperling and Derek Casey, who didn’t pitch in 2016.
Sperling has yet to throw a college inning—O’Connor was actually in attendance when Sperling injured his elbow in 2015 in a high school start. But the 6-foot-6 righthander has recovered from Tommy John surgery and possesses considerable upside.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this kid,” O’Connor said. “He’s 6-foot-6. He’s pretty much 91 to 94 (mph). He’ll flash some 95, 96. He throws with a good downward plane. He’s super talented. He just hasn’t gotten a college out yet.”
While there will be something of a learning curve on the mound, there’s comfort for Virginia elsewhere on the diamond.
“I’ll tell you, from a position-player standpoint, I think we’re in a great spot,” O’Connor said. “I think we’re really athletic. I think we have a very, very good lineup.”
|C||Robbie Coman, R-Sr.||.200||.333||.200||0||1||0|
|1B||Pavin Smith, Jr.||.329||.410||.513||8||57||2|
|2B||Ernie Clement, Jr.||.351||.383||.443||1||30||6|
|3B||Andy Weber, So.||.296||.314||.323||0||11||0|
|SS||Justin Novak, Jr.||.273||.348||.333||2||29||1|
|LF||Jake McCarthy, So.||.368||.429||.368||0||2||0|
|CF||Adam Haseley, Jr.||.304||.377||.502||6||37||3|
|RF||Cameron Simmons, So.||.261||.313||.412||4||21||3|
|DH||Nate Eikhoff, So.||.284||.321||.441||1||17||2|
|LHP||Adam Haseley, Jr.||9||3||1.73||78||48||0|
|RHP||Evan Sperling, R-Fr.||DNP—Injured|
|LHP||Daniel Lynch, So.||1||3||5.49||41||37||0|
|RP||Tommy Doyle, Jr.||3||4||5.06||64||51||3|