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2019 Virginia Baseball Preview: Hitting and Defense

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If Virginia wants to improve at the plate, they’re going to be relying a few breakouts

Virginia Media Relations

If Virginia is going to return to the NCAA Regionals and begin a new streak of consecutive tournament appearances, they’ll have to be improved at the plate. While they were 7th in the ACC in batting average last season, they lose their top two hitters in Andy Weber, who hit .344, and Jake McCarthy, who hit .329 (in only 20 games after missing most of the year with an injury). Their leading returners, Tanner Morris and Nate Eikhoff, both finished the 2018 campaign just under the .300.

On the bright side, the Hoos do return 23 of their home runs hit a season ago, though the teams’ 27 was 12th in the ACC.

That isn’t to say the cupboard is bare. Of the nine Cavaliers with over 130 at bats a season ago, five of them return, not to mention Virginia will be getting back All-ACC performer Cameron Simmons, who missed all of last season with an injury. There is plenty to be excited about, and Virginia is going to need it.

Outfield

The Hoos will be led in centerfield by the return of Simmons who in 2017 was 4th in the ACC in batting average when he hit .354 and banged nine home runs. He’s got solid speed as well, chipping in nine stolen bases during that season. Simmons, despite missing the year with an injury, was drafted in the 15th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers, but decided to come back to UVA undoubtedly to improve his draft stock. Given his talent, as long as he stays healthy, there is nothing to suggest he won’t do just that.

In right will be Alex Tappen. The Sophomore started all 54 games last season in right and is the Hoos’ third leading returner at the plate after batting .262. He’s tied among returners with four home runs (with Cameron Comer) and hit 13 doubles which was second on the team last year only behind Weber.

Rounding out the outfield is still unclear. During the fall Brendan Rivoli and Jalen Harrison each got decent run at the position during the Orange and Blue World Series with Rivoli also spending time behind the dish. He looks like the favorite to fill the roll, but don’t sleep on Cayman Richardson, who is normally a middle infielder, but filled in for McCarthy in Center last season. Richardson played in 47 games a year ago and hit .256 in 156 at bats. Among returners, Richardson was 4th in hit in 2018. Rivoli was a standout in the fall leading all hitters with nine hits a season after hitting .247 with two home runs, while Harrison hit the Orange and Blue Series’ only home run. Regardless of who fills the spot, the outfield looks promising for the Hoos.

Infield

The Hoos’ infield will be anchored by Tanner Morris who will start at Shortstop. Morris is Virginia’s leading returner at the plate after batting .298 last year. However, his biggest leap may have come from a standout summer he had in the Cape Cod League where he made the All-Star team as a member of the Harwich Mariners.

Joining Morris on the left side of the infield looks to be Devin Ortiz. The talented sophomore had a difficult first year batting .167 in 60 at bats a season ago. However, he did show some nice pop in the fall tying Rivoli with nine hits during the six game Orange and Blue Series. If it’s not Ortiz at third, it could be first year Zack Gelof. Gelof was Delaware’s Player of the Year in 2018 and was selected in the 38th round of the MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians despite being steadfast in his commitment to UVA.

At the other corner will likely be Nate Eikhoff. Eikhoff is a solid bat and brings his 2018 .290 average and three home runs to the middle of the lineup. The senior is also tied with Tappen as the leading run producer coming back after knocking in 36 runs during the 2018 campaign.

Next to Eikhoff at second base is another question mark with multiple candidates. Depending on how left field shakes out, Richardson could get the nod at second base. If not Richardson, first year Nic Kent could earn the slot. While a natural shortstop, Kent is solid fielder who might not bring much at the plate right away, but will be a great double-play combo with Morris up the middle.

Catchers

Behind the plate, senior Cameron Comer provides as good a back stop as they come, which will be needed with the young pitching staff. However, Comer also brings a lot at the plate. Last year, he hit .261 with four home runs, good for second on the team behind Weber, and tied for tops among returners with Tappen. Comer missed the fall with a groin injury leaving reps for Rivoli and freshman Drew Hamrock. I’d imagine Hamrock to get most of the run as Comer’s backup as he’s likely the future while Rivoli can crack the lineup in other ways. Hamrock projects as a solid backstop though his offense could be a work in progress.

Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn as we get you ready for the first pitch of the 2019 campaign Friday against Vanderbilt in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament.