Even though some would say that 2010 was a bit of a disappointment for the UVa baseball team, it will still go down as one of the most successful seasons in the program's history. The loss of a large portion of the team from last year poses quite a challenge for the team coming into this season. Not to worry Hoo fans, Coach O'Connor saw the loss coming and has reloaded and ready to fire on all cylinders. The pitching staff could be just as strong as any rotation in recent memory and should prove to be the strong point with three excellent starting pitchers and a deep bullpen. The offensive firepower could struggle a bit with the new faces in the lineup getting acclimated but the hiccup shouldn't last long.
The pitching staff will be lead by widely considered one of the top starting pitchers in nation, Danny Hultzen. Hultzen is coming off a great year that saw him win ACC Pitcher of the Year and first team All-ACC and All-American. Tyler Wilson looks to make the move out of the set up role in the bullpen he has been a rock in for the past two years into the Saturday starter role. Wilson is one of the most competitive people on the team and should be more than capable of replacing Robert Morey in that spot. Cavalier fans should be comfortable with Cody Winiarski in the Sunday spot. Cody had a successful first year with the Hoos last year going 5-0 in 14 starts. The bullpen should have lots of depth with veterans Whit Mayberry and Justin Thompson serving as the right handed set up men and Scott Silverstein and first year newcomer Kyle Crockett as the lefty specialists. With the departure of Kevin Arico to the Cincinnati Reds last year the Hoos lost their closer of 2 years. 2nd year Branden Kline learned from Arico last year in the pen and should follow in his footsteps nicely with a powerful fastball and impressive curveball. If Kline can assert himself in the ACC this year he could be one of the top prospects in the ACC in 2012.
In the field and at the plate, even though the Cavs lost more than half of their starting lineup, most fans should be familiar with the starting names as most have been strong players over the last 2 years. Behind the plate John Hicks should see most of the time. Hicks is considered one of the better catchers in the Conference and I expect him to have a stellar third year and be drafted come June. Kenny Swab should also see time behind the plate on Sundays to give Hicks a rest every few days so he can stay strong the whole year.
First base is the only position I don't see one player getting a majority of the time. The Hoos have no true first baseman but Kenny Swab would be the go to guy if the Hoos are going to have one at first base this year. Danny Hultzen could also see some time at the corner when not on the mound and the coaches want to have another left handed bat in the lineup. The final piece to the first base puzzle should be John Hicks. Hicks has played First the last two years with Franco Valdez catching.
The middle infield continues to be a strong portion of the Cavalier defense. Fans are used to strong defensive players up the middle like Greg Miclat, David Adams, Tyler Cannon, and Phil Gosselin and this year is no different. Keith Werman has proven over the last two years that he epitomizes UVa baseball. The hard nosed mentality he has shown over the last two years has made him a favorite to the Charlottesville fans. Fans got a glimpse last year at what Stephen Bruno is capable of and this year he gets the chance to prove himself the whole year at Shortstop.
The hot corner has had one player the last 2 years: Stephen Proscia. This year won't be different. 'Nuff said.
The departures of Jarrett Parker and Dan Groveatt have allowed fourth years David Coleman and John Barr to return to the lineup in left field and center field respectively. Right field should be a lot like first base. With no real player poised to take over the position I think three or four different guys could rotate in and see time. When not on the mound, at first base, or getting some much needed rest Danny Hultzen could see some lite time in the spot. The two I see getting the most time should be 2nd year Chris Taylor and first year Mitchell Shiflett. Taylor showed strong signs last year when he got a chance in the DH or infield role. Shiflett is a highly touted newcomer and widely considered to be one of the fastest guys in the conference. Should he be able to get on base at a steady pace, he might be able to set the stolen base season record.
The Hoos start the season this Friday in Auburn where they will take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Friday, the Auburn Tigers on Saturday, and Arkansas State on Sunday. Look for a weekend preview coming out in the middle of this week and as always, GO HOOS!