2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 5 Virginia
Last season: 36-27 (18-18 in ACC); reached College World Series
Final Ranking: No. 6
Coach (record at school): Brian O’Connor (715-319-2, 18 seasons)
The good news: Virginia returns two of the most exciting position players in college baseball in sophomore catcher Kyle Teel, who will move full-time to his natural position behind the plate after playing in a few different places last season, and third-year sophomore center fielder Chris Newell, who came on strong late last year after getting off to a sluggish start in what was expected to be a massive year for him at the plate. The Cavaliers also boast a projected weekend rotation with a lot of promise. Third-year sophomore lefthander Nate Savino has been a highly-regarded prospect going back to his high school days, and both fourth-year junior lefthander Brandon Neeck and third-year sophomore righthander Matt Wyatt were dominant in relief roles a season ago. If Savino blossoms to become the type of pitcher Virginia anticipated getting when he arrived on campus and Neeck and Wyatt can replicate their success as starting pitchers, that’s a trio that could be as good as any in the ACC.
The bad news: Virginia ended last season in Omaha, but it spent much of the 2021 regular season floundering and it needed every last one of the wins it got over the last six weeks or so of the season just to get into the postseason at all. So it stands to reason that as talented as this team is on paper, there’s still the potential that it ends up being more like the team we saw for most of the regular season last year and less like a top-10 team, and that means it can’t take anything for granted. The Cavaliers are also without ace Andrew Abbott, who emerged as one of the most dominant starters in the country last season. While the collective talent in the rotation is quite good, there may not be a pitcher in the group who ends up being as productive as Abbott was last season. The departed Nic Kent and Zack Gelof were also two of the better run producers in the lineup and were the two best hitters on the club at drawing walks. That production will also need to be replaced for Virginia to reach its ceiling.
Player to know: Kyle Teel, C
Flatly, if Teel hadn’t been the impact player as a freshman that he ended up being, Virginia probably isn’t in the postseason at all, as he ended up carrying a heavy load in the lineup while Newell was in an extended slump. Teel didn’t debut until March 2, and he didn’t crack the lineup for good until mid March, but once he established himself, he never quit hitting. He finished the season with a .335/.416/.526 slash line with nine home runs and 41 RBIs. With veteran Logan Michaels doing the bulk of the catching, Teel split his starts about equally between catcher (15 starts), right field (19) and designated hitter (19). He wasn’t the most intuitive defender in the outfield, but he had the athleticism to do the job and his plus arm was an obvious fit there. After spending the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Teel will move back behind the plate full-time in 2022, looking to further establish himself as the focal point of the Cavaliers’ lineup.
Path to Omaha: Last season, Virginia’s pitching staff was greatly helped by Abbott transitioning seamlessly from the bullpen to the rotation and righthander Mike Vasil making good on his immense promise with a solid season. It would help the Cavaliers on the path to Omaha if something similar happens in 2022 with Neeck or Wyatt (or both) in their transitions to the rotation and with Savino in turning promise into production. With the departure of Zack Gelof from the lineup, the importance of Newell bouncing back and looking more like the hitter he was down the stretch versus the hitter he was during the first half of the season also can’t be overstated. Last season’s Cavaliers rode a roller coaster on the way to the College World Series. This team is just as talented as that one, and with a bit more consistency early in the season, it should be a much smoother ride on the way to a deep postseason run.
College Podcast: Recapping Week 13 Around College Baseball
Teddy Cahill and Joe Healy recap the 13th weekend of action around college baseball.