Year in and year out the Cavaliers’ coaching staff has been face to face with the realization that they have some of the best baseball players in the country.
Every year they bring in excellent players and every year they end up losing three or four of those players and are forced to replace them.
2018 will be no different as Coach O’Connor and McMullan will be forced to replace 2017 first round draft picks Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith, as well as 4th round draft pick Ernie Clement.
With the loss of Cameron Simmons for the year, who was going to be the mainstay in CF for UVa, and one of their best bats, much of the pressure in the lineup will fall to 3rd year Jake McCarthy and 4th year catcher, Caleb Knight. McCarthy batted .338 last year with a .506 slugging percentage and is expected to be one of the top prospects in the ACC this season. He has already been named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, put on numerous preseason All-American Teams, and played for Team USA last summer. Knight on the other hand batted .301 while learning the system behind the plate. The improvement from year 1 to year 2 for Knight should be immense as he’ll be much more comfortable in the system.
Justin Novak, Nate Eikhoff, and Andy Weber should help provide stability to the lineup as all return having played in more than 40 games last year. While 1st years Andrew Papatonis, Tanner Morris, and Devin Ortiz will all likely to be the newcomers to get the most playing time in the lineup. Papatonis and Morris are considered speedsters on the basepaths and both were named by d1baseball as some of the top incoming freshman in the ACC.
On the field it will be interesting to see what the staff does to replace the three draft picks and Cameron Simmons. Jake McCarthy will obviously be a mainstay in the outfield and Justin Novak will likely play most of his time at 3b.
Many expect former top recruit Cayman Richardson to take strides forward and lock up shortstop. The 2nd year only appeared in 19 games last season, batting .231 with one extra base hit. Previously mentioned 1st years Papatonis and Oritz play the middle infield as well, so I would expect them to push Richardson, while filling in in the outfield a la Phil Gosselin and other infielders the coaching staff had play the corner outfield positions.
Weber and Eikhoff showed they could handle second and first base last year, so they should be penciled in as starters for the time being.
And behind the plate, Knight is going to take that big step forward. He’ll likely see most of the time, but expect 3rd year Cameron Comer and 2nd year Drew Blakely to fill in on Knight’s off days.
Although they will certainly be replacing a lot in the departures of Clement, Haseley, and Smith, while losing Simmons for the season, the Cavaliers’ offense looks like it could hit it’s stride yet again in 2018. Time will tell if those 1st year take the steps needed to compete at the ACC level and if those returners will be able to fill the shoes for UVa to compete for another ACC title.