Despite the massive snow storm approaching Charlottesville, and the fantastic run the basketball team is on, it's time to start paying attention to what will be the best Cavalier team of this year, the baseball team. The aforementioned snowstorm will allow me to hopefully get this out in two pieces today and tomorrow. This first piece will focus on the pitchers, and tomorrow's piece will focus on the hitters. If you aren't excited about this team yet, you will be after tomorrow, I promise.
Aces: Virginia has incredible depth in the rotation that hasn't been seen from this program...well ever. The staff has announced that Brandon Waddell will start Friday in the season opener against Kentucky. He will be followed by Nate Kirby and Josh Sborz. This might be a surprising threesome for the first weekend, specifically Nate Kirby's inclusion, but these three have proven they have the stuff to compete. Coach O'Connor has said Kirby has looked dominant in the scrimmages, and played very well over the summer, which has done enough in their eyes to overcome the inconsistencies he showed last year when he posted a 6.01 ERA. Brandon Waddell is back into his familiar Friday night role where he excelled as a true freshman last season, before appearing to succumb to the length of his first collegiate baseball season. With a summer in a college conditioning program, I expect we will see a consistent, top shelf Friday night guy for the entire season. Sborz is also coming off a solid 2013 campaign where he pitched well, but struggled to really find his perfect role on the team. My high school coach, who has been coaching in Northern Virginia for going on 20 years, says Sborz might have the best stuff of anyone he's ever seen. But while these three are very talented and could be in the rotation of any team in America, they will be pushed by some equally talented newcomers and veterans that are hungry to steal one of their spots.
Wiley Vets: The Hoos have two players who have become to the Virginia baseball program what Tyrese Rice was for the BC basketball team. The guys who you hear announced and say, "Wait he's STILL on the team?" Those players are Artie Lewicki and Whit Mayberry. Both players are coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2012. Mayberry made a significant contribution last season, but this season will mark the true return of Artie Lewicki, who had grown into the Friday night starter at the end of 2012. Both these players will not only push the young arms in the rotation and provide excellent innings in relief, but will also be a steady source of confidence, as they have experience with a team that has been to Omaha. That's a very valuable asset to have on a team with such lofty goals and high expectations.
Newcomers: The Hoos have two prominent freshman arms coming in in Jack Roberts (you may remember his brother Will) and Connor Jones. While Roberts is good, I'm going to focus on Jones as he has a very real chance to become the next Danny Hultzen to come through this program. That's high praise for a kid that has thrown exactly zero innings in college at this point, but all indications are that this kid has the goods to become the Friday night starter for the Hoos sooner rather than later. Considering how stacked the staff is this season, that is extremely high praise. I saw Jones throw in the orange and blue world series with friend of Wahooze Tripp Eason and he was very impressive, I would say he was the most impressive, but a position player beat him out, how's that for a teaser. Jones is currently set to start the midweek game by all indications. His ceiling will be set by how quickly he can adjust to Coach Kuhn's style and assimilate himself into the college game. I will tell you one thing, I would hate to be Bill and Mary or VMI, our first two midweek games.
Bullpen: We've already referenced the two vets that will start in the bullpen, but there are three more prominent names to keep your eye on for the upcoming campaign. It looks like Nick Howard will start this season as the team's closer, with Austin Young working in the setup role. Howard was our Sunday starter, third baseman, and short stop last season. Where he will fit into the lineup is going to be an interesting problem for the coaching staff, but I think he will be the next in a line of great closers at UVA. I've always loved Howard's stuff and I think this is the role that can balance his position playing and pitching. Austin Young will most likely also see some work as the closer, especially if Howard has been playing the field in previous games. I think their one two punch pretty much ends games after the 7th.
Another familiar name for Hoofans is my man David Rosenberger. I tried to make the pitching version of Keith Werman stick last year, but it didn't. Consider this my second attempt. Rosenberger will not blow you away, he will out think you on the mound and cut his fastball and drop in enough off speed stuff to drive you insane. I think Rosenberger will be the first lefty out of the pen, as we have more than enough pitchers to find another long man, but I also wouldn't mind seeing him get a start to see how good he can be.
The Rest: That sounds a little disparaging but there are some players that have a chance to make their names this season if the opportunities present themselves. Brett Lisle has always intrigued me with his massive 6-9 frame. As a lefty there is a real chance for him to get some relief appearances if Rosenberger has already been used, or needs a break. Cameron Tekker was a highly touted kid coming in last season, I'm interested to see how he will do in his opportunities as well.
Outlook: This staff is insane. Not only do I think this is probably the best group we've had in a while, but I am fairly certain this is the best staff we've ever had here. Coupled with the lineup we will be previewing tomorrow I think we are in for a very special season. I think Coach O'Connor will be able to not only field a dominant team, but keep them well rested thanks to a combination of big leads and a depth of quality arms. This will be a good year. The only concern I have is a constant shuffling of arms leading to us dropping some early games we shouldn't, similar to the struggles basketball faced early in the season, but our lineup will hopefully cover that period.