Preseason camp is well underway as the 14th ranked Virginia Cavaliers await opening day against Hofstra on Friday, February 16th. We begin this preseason preview series by looking at the UVA pitching staff.
The best piece of offseason news was the retention of pitching coach Drew Dickinson, who will spend his fourth season on Grounds. Under Dickinson, the ‘Hoos have a 3.81 ERA, the fourth lowest nationally and lowest in the ACC over that span.
Last year, Virginia’s starting rotation was dominated by transfers, including Nick Parker (Coastal Carolina), Brian Edgington (Elon), and of course, Connelly Early (Army), who emerged into a weekend role down the line.
Head coach Brian O’Connor did not raid the portal in the same way this offseason. A lot of the hope for UVA pitching is built off of potential, rather than proven results. However, there is a plethora of young, exciting arms that could very well thrive under such capable leadership.
Filling out the starting rotation
As coach O’Connor emphasized on an interview with D1Baseball, there are several candidates to fill just three weekend spots.
The only thing close to a lock is sophomore right-hander Jack O’Connor (no relation), who made 19 appearances and 11 starts as a freshman, managing to maintain a 3.86 ERA. O’Connor would occasionally miss badly over the plate with his fastball but he has electric stuff and already showcased the ability the ability to get outs at the Division 1 level. After that, though, it’s anyone’s game.
A popular figure among the UVA athletic department is right-hander Jay Woolfolk, who has functioned as a late innings reliever in his first two seasons on the diamond. Command was always an issue with Woolfolk, and his walk rate of 5.29 per nine innings was problematic. However, O’Connor believes it was purely a consistency issue, stemming from his previous dedication to both football and baseball. After Woolfolk made the decision to fully dedicate his arm to pitching, he had an impressive summer for Team USA and will certainly get a chance to provide longer outings this spring.
A sleeper to keep an eye on is sophomore left-hander Bradley Hodges, who coach O’Connor claimed had arguably “the best fall on [UVA’s] pitching staff.” He was trusted in some high leverage situations as a middle reliever last season. Over 33.1 innings pitched, Hodges compiled a 4.32 ERA and allowed just ten extra base hits.
Key bullpen roles
While O’Connor did not utilize the portal for starting pitching, expect some transfers to fill out the later inning slots.
Keep an eye on Seton Hill transfer left-hander Blake Barker, who dominated at the Division-II level last year. Barker has a deceptive arm angle and a lethal fastball/slider combo. I would not be surprised to see him emerge into a closer role down the line.
Likewise, the ‘Hoos added right-hander Ryan Osinski from Bucknell, who pitched to a 2.37 ERA and compiled eight saves as a freshman. The Virginia native may have been under recruited out of high school but however you cut it, he can flat out pitch.
UVA also brought in right-hander Owen Coody from Penn, who has Ivy League experience both in the back end of the bullpen and as a starter. Time will tell what Coody’s role will be but his 2.83 career ERA over 143.1 innings pitched makes him an exciting addition, regardless.
Right-hander Joe Savino (no relation to Nate) is the latest part of the Elon to UVA baseball pipeline, and could be a nice change-of-pace pitcher in a middle inning role. He is primarily a sinker guy, which could be an effective contrast from the flame throwers throughout the staff.
Finally, do not forget about returning southpaw Angelo Tonas, who did not see a ton of work in 2023, but was productive in a smaller sample. Again, not the most electric guy on the roster, but has extremely good command on both sides of the plate.
Other young arms with potential
Coach O’Connor has emphasized the freshman to sophomore jump of these Cavaliers pitchers throughout the offseason. Outside of Jack O’Connor and Evan Blanco, right-hander Kevin Jaxel stands out the most.
Jaxel’s production slightly faded down the stretch which is why did not get high leverage work in the postseason. That said, his 3.75 ERA in 24 innings pitched and 30 (!) strikeouts tells enough of the story. Jaxel’s fastball velocity is rising well into the 90’s, which he pairs with an curveball that has elite vertical break. Right-hander Cullen McKay is a similar story, especially after an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League.
Do not forget about Aidan Teel either. He's not just Kyle’s little brother who is a source of entertainment in the dugout; Aidan, coming off of Tommy John Surgery, has tools that can translate on the mound and/or at the plate.
Lastly, if there is a true freshman that will rack up innings, it’s Charlie Oschell, a tall, overpowering right-hander from Phoenixville, PA.
While pitching is undoubtedly a question mark for the Cavaliers this season, it’s not outlandish to expect an established coaching staff paired with an immense amount of talent to pan out.
Next up, we will preview the position players, a group full of preseason accolades and MLB Draft talent.