First off, I wanted to thank Brian for allowing me to write about such a topic that I know and love so much. Secondly, since I wish I was a baller (and a little bit taller), I'll thank my parents for letting me play baseball my whole life and most importantly attend the University that we all know an love. Lastly, I want to thank Coach O'Connor, Coach MacMullen, and Coach Kuhn for giving me the opportunity to go through emotional and physical distress for three years, and loving every minute of it.
Over the next few weeks I am going to take you position by position and break down every individual who will look to make an impact there this season. Coach O'Connor and Co.'s blessing and curse is the amount of talent and depth that is available at just about every position on this team. It will be pretty difficult for an "unproven" player to break into a consistent starting role this year, but it will probably happen(it nearly always does). There is a reason why this team has a preseason ranking of #3 going into the year, everyone from our magical run to Omaha this year is back and ready to take the program one step further, a National Championship.
The first position I'll break down is the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart, Catcher. In the Virginia Baseball program the catcher is the single most important player on the field and the one that goes through the most scrutiny and work. Not only do they get to work daily with Coach McMullan, like every other position player, they also get to work everyday with Coach Kuhn, like every pitcher. Most get one, catchers get all. Catchers work with Coach "Mac"(McMullan) on the defensive aspects of the position since Coach Mac was a former minor league catcher, manager, and Atlanta Braves catching coach. He knows what he is talking about and we all knew he did as well. Coach "K's"(Kuhn) makes sure we know how to handle his pitching staff and what he wants when he wants it. The signs alone could make Stephen Hawking lose his mind. That means Leggett, Morris, Fox, and Hall, I will tell you now that you have NO SHOT of breaking it, so STOP TRYING. The system is what keeps first year catchers from having breakout seasons. Nearly every catcher over the past 7 seasons has struggled through their first year with K's.......yes, even Franco and Beau didn't get it at first.
Now onto this year. The obvious choice is Franco Valdez and he will be the go to guy unless something dramatic happens. That something dramatic could be Franco struggling dramatically at the plate as he has done in years past or Kenny Swab or John Hicks establishing themselves as defensive geniuses behind the plate. Franco is much like his predecessor Beau Seabury in that he can block anything behind the plate and throw just about anyone out stealing. John Hicks is still learning and looking to build off of a very successful first year he had behind the plate. If not needed at other positions, John could be a late inning sub if the Cavs need a hit. From what I have learned about Kenny Swab, the kid has a cannon behind the plate and can knock the cover off the ball, but like I said earlier, its hard to learn K's system and these are not the same pitcher he was facing at Young Harris Junior College last year. That leaves Rob Amaro and Ryan Levine. Amaro is in the same boat as Swab but I think Swab will have the edge being a little more experienced having played against the college level for the past two years. I don't think Ryan Levine will get too much PT behind the plate. Don't get me wrong, the kid is a MANIMAL and built like a horse, but there is just too much experience in front of him. Finally, we wont see Keith Werman behind the plate at all, its more of a typo on the website. All in all, Franco will be the catcher going into the season and it will be his job to lose but, I won't be surprised if by the end of the year Swab hasn't supplanted Franco as the starter and Valdez mixing in. I hope for Frank's sake that I am wrong, his leadership on the field is invaluable.