#5 Virginia Baseball 2016 Preview

Virginia Cavaliers
Overall Rank: #5
Conference Rank: #2 ACC
 Virginia Logo
Virginia won its first national championship in program history last season as they won the best of three College World Series Finals rematch against Vanderbilt 4-2 in game three. The Cavaliers displayed tremendous passion and resolve throughout the entire postseason and were able to reward one of the best, if not the best coaching staffs, and one of the most loyal fanbases with a national championship. Now, the bar has been raised for the Virginia as they will get everyone’s best shot and then some in 2016 and it will be very interesting to see how the Cavaliers respond to the challenge.
2015: 44-24, 15-15
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Brian O’Connor
Field Players:
Scoring runs should not be a problem for Virginia in 2016 as there is a strong balanced mix of youth, experience, power and speed that will tough for opposing teams to deal with. Junior catcher Matt Thaiss was named Third-Team All-American catcher by Louisville Slugger and the NCWBA after hitting .323 with ten homeruns and 64 runs batted in, including several clutch hits in the postseason. Junior shortstop Daniel Pinero will provide plenty of offense as well once again after hitting over .300 and making the All-College World Series team. Now, the next step for Pinero will be to reduce the number of errors from 20 back down to about 10-12.
Pitching Coach Karl Kuhn has a bit of a challenge ahead of him with the weekend rotation since only Connor Jones is back and he will be the Friday night starter. The Saturday and Sunday slots in the rotation on the other hand are up in the air. Initially, Adam Haseley is probably the Saturday starter and the Sunday starter will be either Tommy Doyle or Jack Roberts. The other huge question will be closer as Josh Sborz was brilliant during the College World Series and you don’t just easily replace 15 saves. Alec Bettinger, Kevin Doherty and David Rosenberger all recorded saves in relief last season. Doherty was 3-1 with a 3.40 earned run average and collected three saves. Doherty should be an early favorite to get the first shot at closer, but it could be a fluid situation all season long.
Who to Watch:
Pavin Smith will be primed to build upon a great freshman season where he collected 83 hits with seven homeruns and 44 RBI. Smith also came up huge many times during the NCAA Tournament, including the go-ahead single in the fifth inning of game three of the CWS Finals. Incoming Freshman Ryan Karstetter should be a leading candidate to start from day one at third base. Karstetter hit .412 during his senior season at IMG Academy and was ranked 84th nationally by Perfect Game. On the mound, if Derek Casey can recover from Tommy John Surgery by the back half of the regular season, then it should set the Cavaliers up with some more depth to deal with the gauntlet of the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
Final Projection:
Virginia should be able to hit the ground running as the schedule has the right balance of early tests against Coastal Carolina and East Carolina in the opening two weekends of the season. The showdown with Louisville on the road at the end of March will give the Cavaliers a great opportunity to gain an upper hand in the Coastal Division and within the ACC as a whole. North Carolina State will visit Davenport Field the following weekend for another critical series that will the test Virginia’s ability to avoid having a letdown after playing Louisville. If the pitching can develop a little bit of depth and the team as a whole is more consistent offensively starting from game one, then Virginia should be in position to host a regional and be in the top eight national seed conversation for the NCAA Tournament with a great opportunity to return to Omaha.
Projected Postseason: College World Series
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Adam Haseley, OF/P, 276
Hits: Pavin Smith, IF/OF, 83
Home Runs: Matt Thaiss, C, 10
RBIs: Matt Thaiss, C, 54
Runs: Daniel Pinero, IF, 60
Stolen Bases: Daniel Pinero, IF, 9
Wins: Connor Jones, P, 7
Innings Pitched: Connor Jones, P, 115.2
Strikeouts: Connor Jones, P, 113
Saves: Two with three each
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#5 Connor Jones
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#26 Doak Dozier