Wednesday, June 29, 2011

what about next year, baseball edition

Helluva fun baseball season.  It's barely over and now we all want to know, can we do that again next year?  UVA loses a lot of talent this year, to be sure.  Baseball talent turns over a lot faster than lacrosse talent and even football talent, since fifth years are so common in football and not baseball, and there's a minor league system in baseball.

As we did with lacrosse, let's first see who's leaving.  Some are graduating seniors, and some are drafted juniors.  All the juniors that were drafted were taken in the 7th round or higher (and mostly by the Seattle Mariners) so expect them to be gone.  If they come back it's an amazingly pleasant surprise.  Here are the holes left in the lineup for next year:

John Barr - Senior (39th round, Indians) - Left field

One of two disappointing omissions from the draft. Edit - no he wasn't.  Screwy Draft Tracker.  Barr started in left field and batted in the 2 slot.  Good contact hitter, no power, but a good table-setter and perhaps more importantly, not charged with an error in the last three seasons.  Nothing flashy about Barr, just one of those good old-fashioned baseball players who got the job done every time.  If he was a basketball player they'd call him a glue guy.

Tyler Biddix - Senior (undrafted) - Utility

Little-used, mostly as a pinch-hitter.  This was the first year he got any at-bats in important situations.  Fun fact: In the last two years, actually hit more doubles than singles.

David Coleman - Senior (undrafted) - Right field

The other disappointing draft omission; it's probably because he doesn't walk, like, ever.  Less than Franco Valdes did.  Coleman was actually a bit of a revelation this year after being passed over last year, but Stephen Bruno's injury early one required some lineup shuffling and Coleman was the main beneficiary.  He took advantage by leading the team in batting average.  Coleman typically batted 7th, sometimes up or down a spot depending on the pitcher.  And believe me it was a major luxury being able to bat a guy like him all the way down at 7th.  He didn't have a lot of patience at the plate but he got the bat on the ball, making him a perfect post-cleanup hitter to finish driving in the runs.  He, too, flashed an excellent glove, committing just one error all season.  Will probably be best remembered for starting the Rally to Omaha by singling with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 9th against Irvine.

John Hicks - Junior (4th round, Mariners) - Catcher/First base

Mostly catcher after Kenny Swab was shifted permanently out to center field.  And a catcher that can hit for average and power, as well as gun down 16 of 36 basestealers, is going to be a coveted prospect in the majors.  That's Hicks for you.  At over .502, Hicks had the top slugging percentage on the team, and the second-highest batting average at .332.  Probably the biggest loss to the team outside of the pitchers.

Danny Hultzen - Junior (1st round, Mariners) - Starting pitcher

Like any more needs to be said.  We're losing the best baseball player in UVA history.  Friday starter, batted 5th when DHing.  The no-batting-gloves look and filthy hat are iconic.

Corey Hunt - Senior (undrafted) - Utility

Like Biddix, a little-used reserve.  Hunt got some good at bats in a reserve role his sophomore year, then dropped off the map the next two.  He did bring some wheels to the basepaths and so was sometimes used as a pinch-runner, and scored the winning run in the Rally to Omaha.

Steven Proscia - Junior (7th round, Mariners) - Third base

It's impressive that Hultzen set the career K record in three years, and equally so that Proscia did the same for RBIs.  Yes, he (along with Hicks) led the team in ribbies, batting from his cleanup spot.  Actually, it's really eerie how identical he and Hicks were on the stat sheet, with Proscia having just as many RBIs, homers, and triples, and only two fewer singles and two fewer doubles in two fewer at-bats.  But he walked two more times, so the plate appearances even out.  One fewer sac fly for Proscia, but one more sac bunt (Hicks was the only full-year starter without one.)  Lot of firepower departing here.

Will Roberts - Junior (5th round, Mariners [HA JK: Indians actually]) - Starting pitcher

Roberts was another revelation this year.  Perfect game, anyone?  Anyone see that coming?  Yes, you might have, but you were guessing Hultzen.  Roberts started off as the weekday starter (essentially, the fourth starter) but his performance made it impossible not to pitch him on weekends, and he finished up pitching on Sundays instead.  Finished with a 1.79 ERA and a 6.6 K/BB ratio, which is awesome and still not best on the team.  Roberts has already gotten his degree, so he has an extra foot out the door ahead of his fellow juniors.

Kenny Swab - Senior (21st round, Royals) - Center field

A solid bat and deceptive speed.  Swab was a juco transfer (which is where we get most of our catchers) who came in to play behind the plate but ended up shifted out to center field, thereby becoming the only player in baseball history ever to play both positions in one season.  Do me a favor and don't look that up because it isn't really true, but it's remarkable nonetheless.  It's like starting the season as a defensive end and finishing it as a wide receiver.  That's the kind of skill set switch we're talking about.  Swab didn't have the greatest range, but his arm is what put him out there.  And he's another in a long list of bats that will be missed.

Tyler Wilson - Senior (10th round, Orioles) - Starting pitcher

A reliever who moved in from the bullpen to take the Saturday job, Wilson absolutely flourished in the role.  For coming back for his senior year, among many other accomplishments, Wilson won the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award as well, a fairly prestigious award and emblematic of a lot of class and talent.  Best memory - no doubt his domination of California during the CWS, especially in his start in the third game of the week.  Not only that, but Wilson was undefeated on the year, going 10-0.

Cody Winiarski - Senior (36th round, White Sox) - Starting pitcher

It's not that Winiarski pitched badly on Sundays to get himself bumped to weekend duty, it's that Will Roberts pitched so damn well.  Cody finished with a sparkling 2.92 ERA, and did yeoman work in the tournament.  Sadly, it was his throwing errors that allowed the winning South Carolina run across the plate in the final game, but it shouldn't overshadow the great work he did elsewhere.  Cody has a limited repertoire of stuff, but he might have done the most with the least of any of the pitchers on the staff.


So, to summarize, this is what we have to replace next year:

The whole outfield
Third base
The whole starting pitching rotation

That's every hitter from 2 through 7 in the lineup.  A tall order.  How are we ever going to survive next year?  Let's go position-by-position again:

Catcher - If we were just going to fill this spot from the roster, the top choice would be sophomore Ryan Levine.  Levine hit fairly well early in the season but didn't make many appearances after the halfway mark, having been nudged out of the lineup in favor of Jared King, who hits with more power.  Levine will probably have his shot at the job, but he'll get serious competition from two juco transfers.  The first is Nolan Clark out of Arizona, who was named 3rd-team all-American in the NJCAA ranks and batted .388.  The other is Chace Mitchell, something of a defensive specialist.  I'd bet on one or the other of those two taking the job.  Brian O'Connor likes to platoon when he can, so there'll be room for everyone.

First base - Very sneaky of us to hide Jared King on the bench til the scouts were mostly done scouting UVA.  King is a junior and hit his way into the lineup by midseason.  He'll almost certainly stick at first base, and DH on occasion.

Second base - Keith Werman is too small to be seen except with binoculars, so the scouts overlook him.  He'll be back for his senior year.

Shortstop - So will rising junior Chris Taylor.  At least we don't have to worry about the middle infield.  Taylor is an outstanding leadoff hitter and solid with the glove.

Third base - Stephen Bruno had narrowly beaten out Taylor for the shortstop position, but a touchy hamstring that refused to heal kept him out of the lineup most of the season.  Double-play combos are something you want to keep going if they're working, and this one's working, so look for Bruno to get his shot at third instead.  Nolan Clark could be an outside-the-box possibility here, if Chace Mitchell's glove work turns out to be just that good and his bat good enough.

Left field - It appeared that by the end of the season, O'Connor had no faith in Reed Gragnani's center field abilities, or he wouldn't have sent Shane Halley out to field the position in the knockout game and pulled Gragnani's bat from the lineup.  (It's not that Grags's bat is amazing, it's that Halley's is bad.)  Gragnani started the season in center but didn't finish there; because his arm isn't all that great, left field is his likely landing spot.

Center field - Mitchell Shifflett runs like a cheetah with a rocket in his pants, so if he can hit even .250, the position is likely his.  But watch out for top incoming recruit Derek Fisher.  If he bypasses the big leagues (taken in the 7th round by the Rangers and could have gone much higher if he weren't sending out wanna-go-to-school waves) he could find a way into the lineup from day 1, and if so it'll probably be in center to start with.  Left would also be a possibility for Fisher.

Right field - This spot was occasionally manned by Colin Harrington, whose primary responsibility by the end of the season was to DH against left-handed pitchers.  He hit .353 in 51 at-bats and probably has a big lead for this position going into next year.

Rotation - The number one issue.  We have to replace all four starting pitchers.  The top two - that is, most likely - candidates are Whit Mayberry and Kyle Crockett.  Barring something crazy, those two will almost certainly get two of the spots.  Mayberry is a little like Cody Winiarski in that he doesn't have awesome stuff but he listens to pitching coach Karl Kuhn and attacks the hitters well.  Both he and Crockett have made starts in the past, and Crockett's pitching in relief of Danny Hultzen in the knockout game against South Carolina was outstanding.  The wild card is Branden Kline.  Kline has also made starts in the past, and threw over 100 pitches in relief against South Carolina, absolutely mowing down their hitters.  He might be the best option we have to rejoin the rotation, but he's also the best option at closer and has the closer's mentality and temperament.  Right now I'd lean toward him joining the rotation, but you never know.  If it's not Kline, look for Justin Thompson to give it a shot, and perhaps also Artie Lewicki, who only pitched a few innings this year but was outstanding in his limited chances.

Closer - If it's not Kline, it might just be a committee thing until someone stands out during the season.  Thompson is a possibility, as is Scott Silverstein, which would make a nice recovery story.


So, a nominal, safe-bet kind of lineup for next year:

C: Nolan Clark
1B: Jared King
2B: Keith Werman
SS: Chris Taylor
3B: Stephen Bruno
LF: Reed Gragnani
CF: Mitchell Shifflett
RF: Colin Harrington
DH: Ryan Levine
Friday pitcher: Branden Kline
Saturday pitcher: Kyle Crockett
Sunday pitcher: Whit Mayberry
Weekday pitcher: Justin Thompson

Batting order:

1 - Taylor
2 - Gragnani
3 - King
4 - Harrington
5 - Bruno
6 - Clark
7 - Levine
8 - Werman
9 - Shifflett

Or, maybe we're feeling a little adventurous.  Let's try a lineup that takes into account some of the alternate-reality stuff:

C: Chace Mitchell
1B: Jared King
2B: Keith Werman
SS: Chris Taylor
3B: Nolan Clark
LF: Derek Fisher
CF: Mitchell Shifflett
RF: Colin Harrington
DH: Reed Gragnani
Friday starter: Kyle Crockett
Saturday starter: Justin Thompson
Sunday starter: Whit Mayberry
Weekday starter: Artie Lewicki

And batting order:

1 - Taylor
2 - Gragnani
3 - King
4 - Harrington
5 - Clark
6 - Fisher
7 - Shifflett
8 - Mitchell
9 - Werman

And lastly, if you told me to pick one guy that I haven't even mentioned but could be worth watching in the offseason and as next year approaches, I'd waffle and pick two.  With so much outfield space up for grabs, Mark Podlas bears watching over the summer to see how he does in the wood-bat leagues.  Podlas will be playing for Keene, which is usually one of the better teams in the NECBL, a notch below Cape Cod (the elite) for summer ball.  And Kenny Towns, an incoming freshman, is a high school shortstop so he might find his path blocked by some of the veterans, but he hit well enough to be named the HS player of the year in Virginia by VirginiaPreps.  (Also at that link, note the name Josh Sborz, who played his junior season of high school ball this year but is committed to UVA for 2012-2013 - if he doesn't go pro.)

Keep in mind how little we really know about the potential of the incoming players, and even some of those already on the team.  For only about half the lineup do we have much of a clue as to their skills, and most have yet to play every day in college.  The pitching staff is a near-complete question mark, as even the pitchers we've seen will all be in brand-new roles.  There's reason for optimism, but you could be forgiven for a touch of apprehension as well.  To repeat 56-12 and get back to Omaha, quite a bit has to go right where a lot could go wrong.


Anonymous said...

Two guys you didn't name were Mike Papi and Nick Howard, both of whom are, to the best of my knowledge, committed to UVA for next year. Both show some corner ability/potential, and have the size for it, so it wouldn't surprise me if one of them ended up taking the 3rd base job (assuming Papi doesn't sign as a 30th round pick).

Of course, both were possible 2-way guys, and I don't recall hearing if O'Connor preferred them as hitters or positional guys.

It wouldn't stun me if something like this happened - Taylor in CF, Werman/Bruno up the middle, a freshman at 3rd, King at 1st, Derek Fisher in RF, and a platoon of some sort in LF.

I have to think that Kline will get every chance to be the Friday night starter. He's got starting caliber stuff and has the highest ceiling of any of the options.

Anonymous said...

Don't shortchange John Barr! He was drafted in the 39th Round by the Indians!

Love the blog. Keep it up

Brendan said...

Durn Drafttracker. Thanks. See what I mean about no flashiness at all? Correction made.

TimmyG said...

Barring repeated injury, Bruno will be in the starting line-up somewhere and hitting in the middle of the order - he's the best returning bat. I like him as a replacement for Werman, but BOC seems to have a man-crush on the Werm. With so much of our offensive firepower leaving this year, though, I just can't see how the lineup can tolerate a .220 hitter.

Don't be surprised if King isn't the 1b. It's too easy to move someone with a big bat but lesser glove over there. (Levine?)

To that end, don't be surprised if King ends up at 3B. He was a stud IF coming out of HS, so he could probably handle the hot corner.

Pitching-wise, I see Kline as the Friday nite starter, and Silverstein getting a full chance as a starter, assuming his shoulder can handle it.