I usually write this series earlier in the year, but then, the baseball season usually ends earlier in the year. The baseball team is going to have quite a few holes to fill in the field next year - more holes than we had semi-regulars. The pitching staff is OK, but the lineup loses the majority of its composition, with openings at first, second, catcher, left, and center.
Catcher is probably spoken for with Robbie Coman likely to fill in for Nate Irving, and I'd guess from here that John LaPrise will take over at second while Matt Thaiss is the top candidate to fill in the DH spot left open by LaPrise. It's too bad Rob Bennie decided to leave the team because with two outfield slots coming open, he'd have been a prime candidate. Other than returning starters, the full list of other unmentioned position players on the roster is Thomas Woodruff, Tyler Allen, and Tony Butler. Woodruff is a rising senior who's played in 24 games with no starts in three years; the others might have more untapped potential, but their appearances were extremely limited this year.
So incoming position players, particularly outfielders, have about as good a path to immediate playing time as could be expected. The Hoos also lose four key bullpen pitchers, but are a little more capable of filling from within, so probably at most one or two of the incoming five pitchers might play decent-sized roles.
There were 11 commitments for the year, 10 of which will show up in the fall; time to see about them.
Derek Casey - RHP
Hanover HS (VA)
Drafted: 22nd round (675th overall), Cardinals
Don't be fooled by the low-ish draft selection. Casey is one of the most college-ready pitchers in the nation, and had a much higher draft projection going in. In fact, he had an offer from the Chicago Cubs for a $900,000 bonus if they took him in the 3rd or 4th round, and turned it down. The 22nd-round pick is just a flyer at that point.
Casey is a really hard thrower, with a fastball that reaches 94, 95. The MLB scouting report suggests his secondary stuff is behind his fastball, developmentally, but Perfect Game likes his stuff just fine. It could be that Casey will follow the Nathan Kirby path, where Kirby's perpetually hanging curve and flat fastball led to him being beaten around as a freshman, but once he figured it out - whoa. In any event, Casey looks like a prime candidate to see a lot of time on the hill right away. He likes the idea of closing, though Oak and K's may want a more polished pitcher in that role in the short term (Sborz?). But the sky's the limit here, and while most of the top roles on the staff are likely spoken for next year, one of them - weekend starter, closer, etc. - is Casey's for the taking eventually.
Charlie Cody - INF
Great Bridge HS (VA)
UVA kept the Great Bridge pipeline going (Cody will follow Connor Jones from the Wildcats to the Hoos) and beat out a few pretty big teams for his commitment. UNC, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina were all on Cody pretty hard. Cody has been a prospect for a long time, hitting .477 as a freshman and never really letting up his whole high school career.
Except, that is, this year, when he broke his hand early in the year and lost most of his senior season. Cody plays third base for Great Bridge, and might've gotten a later-round pickup from a major league team without that injury. He's described as having good speed and very good, though not quite elite, all-around skills as an infielder and a hitter.
UVA has a veteran third baseman coming back next year in Kenny Towns, but Towns is a senior, making Cody a candidate for that job as a sophomore in 2016. Earlier playing time, if any, is likely to be found at second if Cody can make that demanding transition, or possibly first base (though he wouldn't be the only freshman candidate for that job, and Pavin Smith would be tough competition.) Cody's no sure thing to pan out as a full-time starter, but should be considered at least a strong candidate.
Tommy Doyle - RHP
Flint Hill HS (VA)
Drafted: 35th round (1054th overall), Nationals
Not quite on the level of Casey as a prospect, Doyle was nonetheless on the radar screens of the pros. He's another one that might've been picked higher had he not been committed to UVA. I'm going to attach a healthy level of skepticism to the "first three rounds" projection from "a scout" as there's much less concrete foundation for that than Casey's much more solid offer, but there's still plenty of evidence for his being a real prospect in the draft.
Doyle finished his senior season as the co-Player of the Year in VISAA's Division I (this is the private-school league in the state) and allowed just one earned run all season. Doyle's a big, tall, hardthrowing righty - his fastball isn't quite the speed of Casey's, but perhaps most important for his projectability, Doyle already pitches from that little squat that Karl Kuhn teaches. Doyle already looks remarkably like a UVA pitcher, and as such, should be a top candidate of this class to at least fill one of the open bullpen roles in 2015.
Devon Fisher - C
Western Branch HS (VA)
Drafted: 20th round (614th overall), Red Sox
Fisher signed following the draft for about a $300K bonus, so he won't be coming to UVA. In an interview which I can't find anymore, Fisher mentioned that college was a back-up plan all along, which makes you wonder - if so, why commit to one that effectively puts a PROS STAY AWAY sign on your back? $300K is a way-above-slot bonus for a 20th-rounder, but even so it seems possible Fisher would've earned more money by signing with a different school. At any rate, "backup plan" is something he certainly never mentioned to the UVA coaches, who won't recruit a player whose pro leanings are too heavy. Best not to shed too many tears over this one and move on.
Jack Gerstenmaier - INF
Freeman HS (VA)
Reportedly a package deal with Cody, Gerstenmaier joins a somewhat crowded infield. Like most top infield prospects, he's a high school shortstop, and he's a good enough athlete to be a pretty good football player too, playing running back his senior year at Douglas Freeman. (An idea which BOC not only supported, but encouraged.)
Not much is available on Gerstenmaier other than the usual lineup of accolades - all-state team, that kind of thing. Baseball America calls him "a heady middle infielder with a contact-oriented bat who will likely move to second base in the pros" which sort of suggests he might make that move sooner rather than later. I've been wrong before (see Waddell, Brandon) but the best guess here is that Gerstenmaier will stash for a year before being a really serious candidate for a starting job. He could turn out to be a four-year rather than three-year player, a glue-guy regular or semi-regular as a veteran.
Adam Haseley - OF/LHP
The First Academy (FL)
Could be that Haseley is the best undrafted member of the class. A lefty at the plate and on the mound (precluding his ever moving to the infield except as a 1B) Haseley is tough to project, because he's expected to continue his two-way game in college. MLB's scouting report calls him "one of the best two-way talents in this year's Draft class" and his outstanding two-way results got him on Baseball America's second team of all-American high schoolers, a list that no other UVA commit made. (And first overall pick Brady Aiken? Third-teamer.)
Haseley is one of two outfielders in the class, and the roster next year projects to be so thin on outfielders that it's highly possible an infielder makes the move back. Haseley and fellow freshman Christian Lowry join returning players Joe McCarthy and Tyler Allen. Right field is spoken for, but the rest of that competition is wide open. Like Nick Howard, then, Haseley could start his career in the field and continue to work on his pitching, and blossom later as a pitcher. For 2015, it's likely we'll see his bat before we see his pitching arm, and he's as likely as any to find himself in the starting lineup come the spring.
Five more players to go, who'll be chronicled next week.