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2016 Baseball Preview: The Infield

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We continue our preview of the defending National Champion Virginia Cavaliers baseball team. Let's take a look at the Infield.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

If the pitching staff and outfield have questions for Virginia, Coach Brian O'Connor can take solace in the fact that the infield should be fairly set. Anyone who knows the game of baseball knows that the key to a good defense is to be solid up the middle, and there are few teams in the country that can boast an anchor at shortstop the caliber of the Hoos' Daniel Pinero. The third-year starter has already played in 135 games in a Cavalier uniform and only committed 29 errors in that time. In addition to his stellar play in the field, Pinero has become one of Virginia's key offensive threats. Hitting from the second slot most of the time, he is an on-base machine getting on base at a .409 clip, and is one of three returning Hoos to have hit over .300 last year.

Joining Pinero up the middle will be Ernie Clement or Jack Gerstenmaier. Clement will likely be the everyday second baseman with Gerstenmaier sprinkled in. Clement is another rock up the middle for the Hoos as he committed only five errors in 62 games played last year. He isn't the biggest threat with the bat, hitting only .245 last season, but he can be clutch. Just ask Maryland. Gerstenmaier was injured much of last season, as he only appeared in 12 games. However, in that time he hit .297 and provided a needed spark to the bottom half of the lineup in games he played.

To Clement's left will be any of Pavin Smith, Robbie Coman, or Matt Thaiss (though Coman and Thaiss will also likely split the duties behind the plate). Pavin Smith is coming off Tommy John surgery, so how much he plays to begin the year is still to be determined.  Either way, this spot on the diamond will provide the thump in the middle of the Hoos' order. Thaiss was an offensive powerhouse last year leading the Hoos in batting average, home runs, and falling just three RBI short of the team lead (Kenny Towns had 67 to Thaiss' 64). Smith hit .307, and was second on the team in home runs with seven, though none were bigger than the one hit in Game Three of the College World Series Championship.

The biggest question mark on the infield will be at third base. Mr. June Kenny Towns will be difficult to replace, but first in line for that opportunity will be Ryan Karstetter. The talented first year out of Pennsylvania (by way of Florida) is 6'4" 200 lbs and figures to develop into a solid third baseman and provide some additional pop at the plate. Karstetter is already getting some preseason love, coming in at  #22 on D1Baseball's list of Top Freshmen.

The Hoos title defense gets started this weekend down in Myrtle Beach when they take on Kent State, Appalachian State, and weekend host, Coastal Carolina.