The Virginia Cavaliers were putting together one of their best seasons since the 2015 National Championship run last year before COVID completely wiped it out. One of the main reasons for the success was the strong numbers the pitching staff was putting up under first year pitching coach, Drew Dickinson.
Thanks in no small part to Griff McGarry and Andrew Abbott, the staff had a 3.39 ERA, 199 strikeouts in 162 innings, a .230 batting average against, and a 1.41 WHIP. Much of that successful staff returns this season with a few returning due to last year’s wiped season that forced the NCAA to allow seniors to return again.
Coach O’Connor has already announced his starting rotation for the first weekend against UCONN: Andrew Abbott, Griff McGarry, and Mike Vasil. If McGarry and Vasil turn the corner and Abbott transitions from primarily a reliever to a Friday-night starter, the Hoos could have one of the top rotations in not just the ACC, but all of college baseball.
Abbott is coming off a great shortened 2020 campaign that saw him go 3-0 and post a 1.35 ERA while striking out 28 in 13.1 innings. He played with Team USA in the summer of 2019 and many (including UVA) expected him to be drafted high enough to sign last summer, but due to the shortened draft and other unknowns, Abbott returns to anchor the rotation on Friday nights.
McGarry and Vasil also showed signs of why they were so highly regarded coming into college last season and should be the better pitchers in their matchups this season. In his four games last season McGarry had a 1.35 ERA, a 3-0 record, and 31 Ks in just 20 innings. The streakiness however comes from his 19 walks in those 20 innings after walking 54 batters in 53 innings in 2019. Vasil had the least success last season, but is also the youngest of the three, with a 2.45 ERA, 2-0 record, and 23 Ks in 22 innings. Like McGarry, he’ll have to limit his walks (10 in 22 innings) because he was allowing nearly one hit an inning.
The wild card of the rotation could be Nate Savino. In lieu of playing his senior season of high school, Savino entered UVA a semester early and dodged the draft where he could have been a first round pick. Even as a younger sophomore, D1Baseball still projects him to be the 4th highest draft prospect from the ACC in the 2022 draft. He saw minimal action last year with three starts in four games, but if he can live up to the hype he had entering UVA, he could bump any one of those three from the rotation.
With Abbott moving from the pen to the rotation, others will have to step up in his place. The pen will largely be anchored by big rightys Kyle Whitten and Paul Kosanovich. Whitten had a 2.61 ERA in seven appearances while Kosanovich had a 2.16 ERA in six appearances.
Helping Kosanovich and Whitten will be 4th year Blake Bales and 3rd year Zach Messinger. True Freshman Channing Austin entered UVA as a two-way player but has transitioned to the mound and could eat up innings and learn the ropes as a first year.
While all of those listed above are rightys, 3rd year Brandon Neeck should be the first lefty out of the pen. He was limited to just three appearances in 2020 after missing all of 2019 with shoulder surgery, so while he is a 3rd year in school, this could be considered his freshmen year.
Stephen Schoch returns to the Cavaliers as an 8th year senior to reclaim the Closer role he thrived in last year. In his 11 appearances (out of just 18 games!) Schoch had a 1.62 ERA and 5 saves, which was good for 2nd most in the ACC and 8th most in the country. Perhaps most amazingly is Schoch is not a typical flame-throwing closer. He will sit in the high 80s with an odd arm slot, but he still struck out 24 in just 16.2 innings last year. After that successful first year with the program, Schoch is now getting preseason accolades as he was named a 3rd team preseason All-American by D1Baseball.
In all the rotation has enough talent and experience to take them to Omaha. None of them really have the big game experience that many of the former UVA staffs had since none of them have pitched in an NCAA Tournament. There’s no reason to think a top 25 ranking should rattle this staff, but for the first time a few years, they won’t be the underdog heading into most weekend series.