Across the board, the Hoos struggled last season. But nowhere was that more evident than on the mound. They were 8th in the ACC in ERA, an uncharacteristic finish for a team that prides itself on pitching. Injuries were partly to blame with Noah Murdock, Evan Sperling, and Chesdon Harrington all missing most if not all the season. That thrust newcomers into roles they may have been a half year to a year away from including Griff McGarry and Andrew Abbott. But what it also did was give those players valuable experience ahead of schedule that, along with the returners coming back from injury, make Virginia primed for a bounce-back on the mound and hopefully a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Noah Murdock has had a rough go of his Virginia career so far. After coming hot out of the gates in 2017, the freshman was electric (though a bit inconsistent) in 11 appearances, seven of which were starts. The highlight for the 6’8”righty was a three game stretch where he recorded 19 1⁄3 consecutive scoreless innings against VaTech, Notre Dame, and Florida State. He put together a campaign good enough to earn a spot on the All-ACC Freshman team before a season ending injury shut him down on May 13th. He’d have Tommy John surgery and come back last year to appear in only five games making four starts before another injury cut his season short. All reports indicate he’s back and healthy and ready to be the Hoos’ Friday night starter
After Murdock is another Hoo coming back from a season ending injury. Evan Sperling had a 3.64 ERA in 29 innings a season ago before an injury also cut his season short. The redshirt junior right hander has solid stuff and make bats miss which was evident by the 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings he posted during the 2017 season.
Following Sperling, look for sophomore Griff McGarry to have a breakout season. The right hander from California struggled last season posting an 8.15 ERA in limited innings. However he had a stellar summer season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League earning the start for his North squad in the NECBL All-Star Game. As we’ve seen with pitchers before him such as Nathan Kirby and Connor Jones a quality summer after a slow freshman season can lead to big things.
Finally, look for freshman Mike Vasil to compete for a starting spot. The uber-talented first year was a highly coveted draft prospect coming out of high school but notified MLB teams of his intention to enroll at UVA before the draft. Vasil tops out in the mid 90’s with a solid breaking ball and good command. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushes Sperling or McGarry for a spot in the weekend rotation.
With all the struggles Virginia had on the mound last year, the emergence of Andrew Abbott was a nice bright spot. The freshman led the team with six saves and was a strikeout machine on his way to making freshman All-ACC and freshman All-America teams. He had a gaudy 13.76 strikeouts per nine innings and was third in the ACC (sixth nationally) in strikeouts by a reliever. He gives the Hoos a shutdown closer the likes they have not had in several years.
Getting to Abbott, the Hoos have a string of experienced arms led by Chesdin Harrington. The senior sat out last season, but up until then had been a reliable middle reliever for Virginia. In 2017, he had a solid 2.41 ERA in 18 appearances (two starts) and posted a commanding 0.889 WHIP.
Along with Harrington, you’ve got solid experience with Kyle Whitten, Grant Donahue, and Riley Wilson with 52 appearances and seven starts between them. Wilson was the class of this group last year with an ERA of 2.41 albeit in fewer innings.
Of the freshmen, look for Ben Harris to get some run early and give the Hoos a lefty coming out of the bullpen. Harris is the 63rd ranked freshman nationally according to Perfect Game and was the 17th ranked recruit coming out of Georgia.
The Hoos kick off the season Friday when they travel to Arizona to face Vanderbilt as part of the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. Stick with Streaking the Lawn as we get you ready for the 2019 season.