Last year, Virginia Baseball came into the 2020 season with plenty to prove. The 2019 offense had struggled to come up with big time hits to translate into wins, but the offense was good and the pieces were there—it was just a question as to whether they’d come through in 2020. And come through they did. Albeit in a four-week season, the Hoos offense was stellar, ranking first in the ACC in runs scored, second in slugging percentage, and third in home runs. And while those numbers were good enough to stake the Cavaliers to a 14-4 record, the good news for this season is the entire lineup returns. That should position Virginia to pick up where they left off and hopefully get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out in 2018 and 2019.
The strength of the Cavaliers lineup starts in the outfield with Chris Newell leading the way. The second year centerfielder led the team in average, RBI, on-base percentage, and stolen bases while coming in second on the squad in runs scored, hits, and home runs. That was good enough to be named Co-Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Coming into this year he’s been named a First Team Preseason All-American by D1Baseball and Second Team Preseason All-American by both Collegiate Baseball Newspapers.
Joining Newell in the outfield will be a combination of Marc Lebruex, Alex Tappen, or Brendan Rivoli. Lebruex started all 18 games last year in right or left field, batted over .300 and tied for third on the team in doubles. Tappen has battled injuries through his career and only played in five games last year. He started every game his first year and was second on the team in doubles that season. He’ll look to stay healthy and finish his Virginia career strong. Rivoli has spent his career platooning between the outfield and designated hitter. Providing power in the lineup, Rivoli batted .320 last season in the 14 games he played in.
Moving to the infield, the Cavaliers are once again strong up the middle. The double play combination of Nic Kent and Max Cotier is one of the best in the ACC. Kent built upon his stellar freshman year by batting leadoff for the Hoos and hitting .328, while getting on base at a .451 clip. Cotier came in as a first year a season ago and entered the starting lineup immediately (17 games at second base, one at shortstop). He hit .338 and led the ACC (tied for the lead nationally) with four triples.
On the corners, Zac Gelof leads the way at third base. Gelof is one of the top prospects for the 2021 draft and led the 2020 team in home runs with five while coming in second on the team in batting average. His 24 runs scored and .746 slugging percentage were good for tops in the ACC. Gelof has been named First Team Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Second Team Preseason All-American by Perfect Game and Baseball America. Opposite Gelof will be Devin Ortiz. The senior first baseman played entirely in the field after being Virginia’s only two-way player in each of this first two seasons. Ortiz started all seventeen games he appeared in at first base last year and only committed one error for the year.
Behind the plate will likely be Logan Michaels. Michaels is exactly what Coach O’Connor is looking for behind the dish. He’s steady with the pitching staff and didn’t commit an error all year a season ago. At the plate he was no slouch, batting .316 and tying for the team lead in doubles. Waiting in the wings behind the fifth year Michaels is freshman stud Kyle Teel. Teel was New Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020 and was named the number sixteen prospect in the country by Prep Baseball Report. Look for Teel to work in behind the plate but also spend some time as designated hitter.
In addition to the position players above, it will be tough to keep Christian Hlinka from getting at-bats. Last year, the senior batted .328 serving as designated hitter and Virginia’s top pinch hitter. He had eight hits, but four of them were home runs leading to ridiculous .880 slugging percentage. Also figuring to get some time for the Hoos will be freshman Jake Gelof, who was the number one shortstop in the state of Delaware in 2020 and Jimmy Sullivan who hit four home runs for the Hoos in ten games last year.
Virginia gets things going with a home series against UConn starting Friday February 19th. Stay with Streaking the Lawn all year as we watch our Hoos try get back to the NCAA Tournament and on the road to Omaha.