College baseball coaching staffs have some of the hardest jobs in the college sports landscape. Not only do they have to recruit and sign high school kids with the possibility of those recruits getting drafted, but they also have to deal with maximum roster sizes, only 11.5 scholarships, and scholarship percentages. Couple all of that with playing only 10 players at a time (including a DH), now the amount of transfers are increasing dramatically.
This is what I think was the main reason for the anomaly that would become the 2018 UVa baseball season.
First, we’ll look at the roster make up of the 2018 team.
The 2018 team had a grad student, seven seniors, ten juniors, six sophomores, and ten freshmen. That would look like a good balance of a roster until taking a deeper look at the three signing classes from 2014-16.
Obviously the 2014 class lost a lot of talent last year to the MLB draft, but that was to be expected. The 2014 class also lost two transfers. Then things got bad.
The 2015 class signed fourteen players with one Top 100 recruit and not a single signee lost to the draft. Perfect Game ranked it as the tenth best in the country. But by the 2018 season, when most are expected to be peaking for the MLB draft, four had left the program, including two of the top recruits from the class: Doak Dozier and Ryan Karstetter. Jonathan Meola transferred out—and started for the Stetson Hatters in this year’s Super Regionals.
Then things got significantly worse.
The 2016 class was ravaged by the MLB draft—more to come on that later. The 2016 class also featured 14 signees and was ranked 36th in the country by Perfect Game. By the time the 2018 season rolled around—their sophomore years, when most college players make their biggest jump in production, only six would be left on the roster. Among the six left, catcher Drew Blakely would not be able to play either due to Tommy John surgery. Five playable sophomores. Out of 14.
Of the two classes that should have had the most impact on the 2018 season for UVa, nine players left the program early and one was lost to Tommy John surgery. That’d be hard to overcome for any program.
I referenced the 2016 MLB Draft earlier, and the crippling effect it had on the 2018 team. Virginia hadn’t lost a single recruit in the 2015 draft, and wouldn’t lose any int he 2017 either. But the 2016 Draft ransacked Virginia’s commits. The 2016 class plummeted from being ranked No. 13 in the country to down to No. 36.
Nolan Jones, Max Kranick, and Joey Wentz were all Top 100 recruits and all had chosen UVa after watching the team win the 2015 National Championship.
Nolan Jones was supposed to anchor the infield at shortstop—becoming the next Chris Taylor or Tyler Cannon, but most knew Jones probably would not make it to Charlottesville since he was nationally the #16 overall player in the class and a big prospect. Jones was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Indians and signed for $2.25 million.
Joey Wentz was going to be the Friday guy. A big lefty and an ace the team had not had since Danny Hultzen. Rumors swirled that Wentz was undraftable and was going to UVa. His demands were too high. Then the Atlanta Braves drafted Wentz with the 40th pick overall and gave him $3.05 million even though his slot was only for $1.616 Million.
The final blow came from Max Kranick. Rated 79th overall in the class, most had high hopes for Kranick, but also expected him to get passed over in the draft and come to UVa. Kranick made it through the first ten rounds, when most high schoolers that sign are drafted. But the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Kranick in the 11th round and signed him for $300,000.
Three stars of the 2016 class. None of them made it to Grounds and Coach O’Connor and the staff had to put guys in place they did not expect.
Over the last couple days, we’ve looked a number of contributing factors that made the 2018 Virginia baseball season an outlier, failing to make the postseason after fourteen straight years of success. Injuries plagued the team. The stats show struggles both on the mound and at the plate. But there was no greater contributing factor than the roster attrition and the lasting effects of the 2016 MLB Draft.