The Virginia Cavaliers baseball team returns with lofty expectations for the 2023 season following their 39-19 campaign where they advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the Greenville Regional. Much of the excitement centers around a lineup that was Virginia’s most prolific in over a decade. The team set a record with 75 home runs and was third all time with 499 runs scored. Five Cavalier regulars batted over .300 and with four of those returning, there is reason for optimism in Charlottesville.
It all starts with slugging third baseman Jake Gelof. Gelof set a school record with 81 RBI and hit 21 HR, good for second on the single-season list. He batted .377, slugged .764 and led the team in runs scored with 65. He enters the season with plenty of preseason acclaim, named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list and listed on several preseason All-American teams. The third year also has his eyes on UVA career records, sitting 12 HRs shy of the all-time lead and within range of the top-5 in RBIs.
Also garnering preseason buzz is catcher Kyle Teel. The third year is coming off a “disappointing” sophomore campaign that saw him hit only .276 with six HR, though he was second on the team in runs scored with 62 and tied Gelof for the team lead in walks with 41. He was clearly a focus of opposing pitching staffs after leading the team in batting at .335 and sharing the team lead in HR during a freshman season that earned him First-Team Freshman All-American honors from D1Baseball, Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He joins Gelof on the Golden Spikes Award watch list and has been named preseason All-American by Baseball America.
With Teel behind the plate, Virginia is once again strong in the middle of the field. At shortstop, Griff O’Ferrall returns for his second season. At the top of the lineup, O’Ferrall batted .308 and led the team with 17 stolen bases. For his effort, he was named First Team Freshman All-American by the National College Baseball Writer’s Association. With Max Cotier moving on, Justin Rubin slides into the starting spot at second base. The second year batted .333 in 36 games played and got on base at a .426 clip, good for third on the team. Rounding out the infield will likely be Ethan Anderson at first base. Anderson batted .302 with five HR, 12 doubles, and a .497 slugging percentage last season.
Moving to the outfield we will probably find our first newcomer in center fielder Ethan O’Donnell. The transfer from Northwestern was a second-team All Big Ten selection in 2022 following up a conference All-Freshman team selection in 2021. In 2022, he batted .292 with ten HR and set a school record with 22 doubles. In right field, Casey Saucke returns after a prolific freshman season that saw him named to Freshman All-American teams by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Perfect Game, and D1Baseball. Saucke batted .360 with seven HR and led the team with 16 doubles. Colin Tuft looks to get the nod in left field. Much like Rubin, Tuft came on later in the year batting .292, getting on base at a rate of .410, and going 3-3 in stolen base attempts over the course of 37 games.
Among those battling out for the final lineup spot (designated hitter) as well as playing time in the outfield are Travis Reifsnider, Tommy Courtney, Harrison Didawick, and Chris Baker. Reifsnider figures to get the first crack at DH duties after leading the CAA in slugging percentage at .632 and tying for second in the conference with 13 home runs at James Madison. Tommy Courtney joins Reifsnider as a transfer having spent the last four years at Penn. Courtney was the Quakers’ leadoff hitter and comes into the year riding a 36 game hitting streak. Didawick was a Third Team ABCA Rawlings All-American at Western Branch High School and the no. 4 outfielder in Virginia according to Perfect Game while Baker comes in from Washington College where he led his team in runs, walks, triples, and stolen bases.
Virginia gets the season started Friday, February 17th against the Navy Midshipmen before rounding out the weekend series with games against the UNC Wilmington Seahawks and Ohio Bobcats Saturday and Sunday respectively.
In cased you missed it, read more about O’Donnell, Reifsnider, and Courtney in Dan Siegel’s breakdown of Virginia’s newcomers and stay with Streaking the Lawn as we get you ready for the 2023 Virginia baseball season.