In 2015, the question marks surrounding the Cavaliers were in regards to filling the holes that were created by the draft and graduation in the lineup and the defense. Entering the 2016 season, the questions will be flipped to the pitching staff.
Last year's staff were anchored by vets Brandon Waddell and Nathan Kirby, with the bullpen filled by Josh Sborz. Unfortunately, all three have moved on, and took with them the 247 innings they threw for the Hoos last season. Those 247 innings made up 40% of the innings for the Cavaliers. That presents a problem.
Luckily Coach Kuhn and O'Connor do have an ace up their sleeve in Connor Jones. The third year will no doubt be the Friday night starter for the Cavaliers as he is expected to be a 1st round pick in this June's MLB amateur draft. Jones was a horse for UVa last year leading the team with 113 strikeouts and 115 innings, starting 18 games, just one short of Waddell's 19 games. Jones will have some big shoes to fill as he'll enter the season considered the top prospect in the Conference and the preseason favorite to win ACC pitcher of the year.
After Connor Jones, it is anybody's guess as to who will take the mound.
On Saturday and Sunday, you can likely expect two of three 2nd years to fill the voids. With RHP Connor Jones going Friday, expect LHP Adam Haseley to pitch on Saturday. The 2nd year only pitched 28.2 innings last season but had 17 strikeouts and amassed a 2.20 ERA in those 11 appearances. The final starting position is likely between Tommy Doyle and Jack Roberts. Both only had 23 innings last year and walked too many people for the coaching staff to have a lot of confidence in them by the end of the season, but the amount of confidence a pitcher has in their second year in the program is huge compared to being terrified every time they are on the mound in their first year. Expect all three of these second years to take huge leaps forward in 2016.
For as many questions as there are surrounding the rotation, there are just as many in the bullpen. Replacing Josh Sborz's 15 saves, 1.60 ERA, and 73 innings will be a difficult task. There is no clear guy to step in to the closer's role as nobody has overpowering "stuff." Expect to see a lot of Kevin Doherty and David Rosenberger as these upperclassmen know what it takes to pitch out of the pen. Also expect JUCO-transfer newcomers Tyler Shambora and Holden Grounds to fit in the mix for innings.
The x-factor for the staff could be just how quickly Derek Casey recovers from Tommy John surgery. The 2nd year had six midweek starts before going down in late May and if he can recover quickly, he could be a nice addition to the staff and pen midway through the season.
As for the complete newcomers to the program, if you've watched UVa over the last 10+ years you know that unless a first year is an All-American, they likely will not see much time on the mound. Even though that's the case, expect to see Daniel Lynch and Connor Eason to challenge for some time out of the youngest class.