If the pitching staff's weakness is their lack of experience, the opposite is true of the position players. Nearly all the players in the starting 9 will have two full seasons under their belt and will put together what is considered to be one of the top starting lineups in the country.
Behind the plate is the easiest position to predict. Nate Irving will reassume the position he has had a stranglehold on for the past two years. The third year had another solid season last year starting 56 of the team's 62 games, and I don't expect this year to be any different. Hopefully he bats just above .275 like he has the last two years and manufactures just above 30 RBIs. Irving is more of a singles and doubles hitter, but if he can mix in 3-5 HRs this year, there is no reason he can't compete for All-ACC at the end of the season. If Irving does need a break, look to first year Matt Thaiss. The NJ native was drafted in the 32nd rd last year and could be a strong replacement when Irving needs a day off during the week.
While the catcher's position is locked down, first base is somewhat open for the taking. Replacing 5th year captain Jared King will be no easy task, but third years Mike Papi and Nick Howard will be the likely candidates. Papi was amazing in the outfield last year and was a First Team All-American. Getting him in the lineup is something Coach O'Connor knows he has to do. When Howard wasn't on the mound last year, he on the left side of the infield. If Howard or Papi are not at first, I would expect them to be in the lineup at the DH position. Both are too strong at the plate to be left out of the lineup.
The middle of the infield is likely to be two positions for three guys. Third year Brandon Cogswell, second year John LaPrise, and first year Daniel Piniero will share the spots til Coach O'Connor becomes comfortable with a lineup. The interesting thing to look at is the sides of the plate each bat from. Cogswell and LaPrise are both left handed, while Piniero is right handed. If there is a lefty on the mound, I think we might see Piniero at short with Cogswell at second due to his experience. With a righty, Cogswell could move back to short and LaPrise inserted at second. All three are more than capable of starting, so it will likely be up to who produces the most when they get the chance.
Third base will be much like the catcher's position. Third Year Kenny Towns ended the season strong at third by batting .333 through the ACC Tournament and NCAA Regional. Tied for second on the team last year with 7 home runs, he could be a force to be reckoned with if he can raise his batting average this year to over .300. As for a backup to Towns, I would say Howard could move over to third; a position he played last year.
Not to take anything away from the rest of the team, but the outfield is where this Cavalier team is going to make its money. Fisher, McCarthy, and Downes all return with high expectations. Fisher was named a First Team preseason All-American, Downes a third team, and McCarthy was the ACC Freshman of the year last season. Downes had the best season last year in CF while leading the team in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, and RBI. Unfortunately, he also lead the team in strikeouts by a large margin. Cutting down on those will really help the team and improve his draft stock. Fisher is the best pro prospect in the lineup, and this will likely be his final year in a Cavalier uniform. McCarthy had one of the best freshman years in Cavalier history last year, and I expect him to improve on those numbers this year. He ended the season with a .336 average, 10 doubles, and 51 RBI. If those three can average somewhere around a .333 batting average and 50 RBI or better this team could put up numbers most UVa fans will love.
The offensive output that this team has shown over the last two years is the main reason for their preseason #1 ranking. UVa fans have good reason to expect big things from this lineup given how good they have been since they got on grounds. Keep up the numbers they had last year or improve just a little bit and that should be more than enough
Since the season starts on Friday, we'll be doing all sorts of previews this week. Check back each day for a new preview
Tuesday: Schedule Preview
Wednesday: Pitchers Preview
Thursday: Position Players Preview
Friday: Season Outlook & Weekend Preview