Thursday, June 30, 2011

baseball recruits, part 1

Continuing with yesterday's theme about next year's baseball team, we'll get in a look at the freshman class of next year.  There're a lot of caveats to keep in mind here, of course.  The big one, as always with baseball recruiting, is the MLB draft.  How many players will we lose to the minor league ranks?  Happens every year, and one commit has already signed on the dotted line.  And even then there's attrition; we thought we'd dodged a bullet last year when top incoming recruit Tyler Skulina turned down the pros, only to transfer to Kent State in the fall. 
Another is that the baseball recruiting info that's out there is far, far less extensive than for football and basketball.  There's a whole cottage industry for football; not even the best baseball sites even list every single committed prospect.  So there's a lot of imperfect info.  I may not even be listing everyony.  Nevertheless, we press on in the face of adversity.  I'll divide this into two parts, as I did last year, because this is a lot of googlehunting.

Nathaniel Abel - LHP
Battlefield HS (VA)

The guy just sounds like he should be at Virginia, no?  With an American Revolution-sounding name like that?  Anyway, Abel was a late-ish commit to UVA as baseball commits go, offering his verbal to the coaching staff just last summer.  (Players often commit before their junior years.)  UVA's coaches make it a point to find lefty arms for the pitching staff every year, and Abel is one of two that'll join the team this fall.  Accolades include first-team all-district and honorable mention to the Washington Post's All-Met team.  Battlefield had some turbulent times and a losing season in 2010, but turned it back around to win a regional championship and reach the state semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Great Bridge.

Abel's not an accomplished hitter, but obviously that's not why he's here.  He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA and five complete games, and brings with him an 88-mph fastball.  With Kyle Crockett likely to move to the starting rotation, Scott Silverstein is the only bullpen lefty with more than three innings of college experience, and he's probably got an outside shot to be a starter too.  So as soon as he shows up, Abel will find himself in direct competition with Ryan Ashooh and Aaron Stull to be the second lefty out of the pen.  That's not a job that earns a ton of innings, but it's a start.

Christian Binford - RHP
Mercersburg Academy (PA)
30th round, Kansas City Royals

Those of you who dug the '90s sitcom scene, you'll have to put away your tool jokes because Binford is a pitcher and most of those hardware jokes deal with hitting.  Binford is a tall right-hander who brings a powerful fastball to the mound.  He was completely dominant during his senior season, allowing just five earned runs in 55 innings (and one in 39 innings in league play for an 0.18 ERA), an accomplishment made all the more impressive as it was two years after Tommy John surgery.  Yes, Binford's already made the dreaded trip to Birmingham, Alabama to see Dr. James Andrews.  That might have helped drop him to the 30th round of the draft, a little later than he might have gone.  Mercersburg also won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League tournament and made it to the state semifinals for Pennsylvania's independent schools.  You never really know how it'll go when a player is drafted, but most high schoolers drafted down in the 30th round typically choose college, especially when that college is UVA.  If Binford indeed chooses college, we'll get us a good one who could challenge for the rotation in his sophomore year.

Nolan Clark - C
Yavapai CC (AZ)

I touched on Clark a little yesterday.  This is one of the guys UVA will be counting on to help fill the vacancy behind the plate.  Clark feasted on the juco pitching in Arizona and earned a third-team all-American nomination in the NJCAA as well as assorted regional, league, etc. first-team selections.  UVA's gotten terrific contributions from juco players in the past, especially at catcher where you look for more maturity than you get from the average freshman.  Kenny Swab and Cody Winiarski were both juco transfers, as was Swab's (and John Hicks's) predecessor behind the plate, Franco Valdes.  Clark will hopefully jump right into the lineup and hit well.

Branden Cogswell - SS
Shenendehowa HS (NY)

No infielders in last year's class means plenty of 'em this year.  Cogswell is a lefty-batting infielder from New York who picked UVA over Purdue - the latter school being an option not because of a great baseball team, but Cogswell's desire to be a pilot and Purdue's aviation program.  He's moved steadily up the accolade ladder as he goes along - starting as a fourth-team all-state player as a sophomore, advancing to second-team as a junior, and as a senior....well, they haven't come out with that list yet.  Cogswell had nine home runs in fifteen games to start the season (can't find anything after that), and was first-team all-region and third-team all-American as named by the ABCA, so one imagines first-team all-state shouldn't be hard to achieve.  (That's a tough ABCA crowd.  Bubba Starling is Baseball America's top recruit and he only made second team.)  And Cogswell's coach has high, high praise for his glove.

There's little need for infielders in 2012, but Brian O'Connor didn't pick up three infielders for 2012 purposes.  Keith Werman graduates, Chris Taylor is a possible (if not likely) top-ten-round pick in the draft, and a good year might see Stephen Bruno leave too.  Cogswell is part of a wave of players that will inherit the infield in 2013.

Brandon Downes - OF
South Plainfield HS (NJ)
43rd round, Boston Red Sox

You have to like what we're getting in the outfield.  (Besides yet another "Brandon."  Various spellings of that name will be all over the field next year.)  Of the three outfielders, Downes was the only one I'd heard nothing of.  It's not like his name wasn't out there.  Last August, he was invited to the East Coast Pro Showcase in Lakeland, Florida so that scouts could get a good look at him.  He's described as a five-tool player with a cannon for an arm - he even does some catching as well as the outfield.  Scouting service Perfect Game named him as a preseason all-region player on the strength of his .484 season in 2010, in which he carried an 18-game hitting streak and hit for the cycle once.  Halfway decent 2011 season, too, as he played the starring role in New Jersey's All-Star Game.  This class of outfielders could have the current players looking over their shoulders a bit.

Derek Fisher - OF
Cedar Crest HS (PA)
6th round, Texas Rangers

If the Mariners are the good guys for drafting practically the majority of draftable players from the current UVA squad, the Rangers are the bad guys for drafting our prospects.  Every year there's a player you have to sweat the August 15 deadline for; this year, that's Fisher.  He's been a UVA commit since he was a sophomore, and now we'll have to see if he can resist the Rangers' overtures.  Some guys get compared to existing major-league ballplayers; Fisher gets compared to Roy Hobbs.  His MLB scouting report knocks his arm a little bit and suggests left field in his future, but also projects him as a 20-25 HR player in the majors, once he develops.  And I could go find any number of all-something-or-other selections, but we'll just summarize and go with Baseball America's placement as the 9th-best high school prospect in the nation.  Fisher has the potential to make an immediate mark on the lineup with his bat, and the fact that the 9th-best HS player in the nation (in the eyes of one service, at least) slipped to the 6th round is an encouraging sign for UVA fans.  (And articles about both Fisher and Downes call a UVA commitment an indicator of tough signability for drafted prospects.  So there's that.)

Nicholas Howard - INF
St. John's College HS (DC)

I think I know why Nick Howard was offered by the UVA coaches:
“I was just looking to center the ball up and drive something, home runs are an accident,” Howard said after hitting his first homer of the season. “I was just trying to hit a line drive right back up the middle.”
Yup, that's the O'Connor way.  Howard is his team's shortstop and top pitcher, though it's suggested the corner infield is in his future.  (This class is a touch light on pitching and Howard's arm is possibly college-worthy, but I don't think that's in the cards.  But you never know.)  He's the star player for a St. John's team that won the always-tough WCAC championship this year - the league is familiar to UVA fans as it includes football factories DeMatha (which St. John's beat for the title) and Good Counsel.  As with the rest of the infield class, Howard is likely to sit glued to the bench in 2012 and then join the no-holds-barred competition for one of the many open positions in 2013.

Check back either tomorrow or Tuesday for part 2 of this series.  Or Wednesday.  Depends on how my priorities look.  This is a lotta googlewebbing and the recruiting board is already woefully obsolete two days after its last update.

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

the recruit: Mark Hall

Name: Mark Hall
Position: OLB
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Green Run
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210

24/7: 85; three stars
ESPN: 73; two stars; #96 OLB
Rivals: 5.6; three stars; #64 OLB
Scout: three stars; #55 OLB

Other offers: none

It's time to get this party started and get a closer look at the incoming class of 2012.  First to commit to UVA was Green Run linebacker Mark Hall, carrying over Mike London's success in Hampton Roads from 2011 into 2012.

It was a decent start to the class, too.  When final rankings come out, Hall should be a consensus top-20 player in the state, maybe top-15 depending on his season.  As with many (if not most) top football players, Hall plays both ways on the football team (tight end) and basketball as well.  And the ranking services are pretty consistent on their evaluations; the outlier is ESPN, the only unenthusiastic outlier among the four.  Hall committed practically on the spot after receiving his UVA offer, which was his first and only.  He and his family are highly enthusiastic about UVA, which dissuaded any other schools from offering.

Hall follows his former teammate David Dean's footsteps to UVA, but with Dean gone, Hall will be the leader of his Green Run defense this year.  Green Run missed out on the playoffs last year by a game; I think that's likely to be their ceiling again this year, as they're breaking in a new QB.  Hall made the all-District team as a TE instead of an LB last year; this coming season, I think that'll be reversed.  If he doesn't lead his team in tackles it'll be because teams never ran to his side.  To combat that, expect Hall to show up on the field all over the place, from defensive end to safety.

That said, once he gets to UVA he's a linebacker, and in for a redshirt year.  His first year in the program, there'll be four senior linebackers eating up playing time, two of whom (Laroy Reynolds and Steve Greer) are already starters as rising juniors.  Reynolds plays on the weak side, which is where I see Hall ending up.  Possibly.  When they graduate, there looks to be a young contingent of starters a couple years behind them ready to go, with Daquan Romero and Caleb Taylor the nominal placeholders on the outside.  Hall, however, is a recruit along very similar lines as those two and should provide a fair amount of competition.  The depth chart seems to show a bit of a logjam in the recruiting class of 2011 at linebacker, but D.J. Hill seems to be a candidate to move to fullback and Kevin Green is a candidate for driving me crazy because nobody has any idea where he might end up.  Linebacker is a best-guess.  The short answer: Hall will redshirt and then jump right into the fray.  The likelihood of him being a starter as soon as he's done with his redshirt year is small; the likelihood of him being on the field, contributing, after that redshirt year, is large.

As an aside, Mark Hall's younger brother is Devon Hall, a rising sophomore the age of a rising junior (he reclassified backwards a year) and a big recruiting target of Tony Bennett and his hoop squad.  Devon has potential to be a much, much bigger basketball recruit than Mark is a football recruit, and given how quickly Mark and his family came to the conclusion that UVA was the place for them, expect the Hoos to be serious players for Devon as well, if not the favorites.


We're going to coincide this with a quickish recruiting board and map update, as follows:

- Removed OT Eric Olson from green (chose Northwestern.)

- Removed WR Deontay McManus from yellow (chose West Virginia.)

- Removed QB Brendan Nosovitch from red (probably will choose South Carolina; at any rate I think the QB ship has sailed and I don't see us taking any more this year.)

- Added RB Alden Hill to yellow.

- Moved OT Sean Karl and ATH Canaan Severin from yellow to green and reclassified Severin as a WR.

Monday, June 27, 2011

the quest that stood on the edge of a knife

I guess I've waited procrastinated long enough; it's best to wait a little while after an awful loss to compose oneself before one puts words out in public that one might regret, or at least that's what I tell myself as an excuse not to write anything all weekend.  (That, and it's now officially the offseason, which means weekends pretty much entirely off, anyway.)

But if the players themselves can go meet the fans less than 24 hours after maybe the most crushing loss in program history, I can probably nut up and write a column.  I guess it's our turn to be on the wrong end of very well-intentioned words that are ultimately of small comfort.  In a year or so, when baseball is back in the spotlight (largely with a very new lineup) we'll still have, on the permanent record for 2011, the most wins in program history**, the highest CWS finish in program history, and another CWS banner on the outfield wall, not to mention the ACC championship.  That'll erase the sting of how we exited.  (Mostly.  Except when something like this happens again, because this managed to remind one of Arkansas and the 2009 CWS with stunning clarity.)

From a much larger perspective, which is a much better way to view Friday night's game, I remind you again of the record-setting season, as well as this: that record-setting season came on the heels of having to replace the majority of the batting lineup and a big chunk of the useful pitching staff.  It's the nature of baseball and draft-eligible juniors; turnover is ever-turning.  Next year we'll see even more of it.  A lot of it.  It would have me extremely apprehensive about the future, but for the successes of this year.

**More years of Brian O'Connor's tenure at UVA have been spent breaking the seasonal wins record than have been spent not breaking it.  At 56 wins it's wicked doubtful that trend can continue but there's still a little bit of room.


Bullet points:

- Filed under "things that sucked about Friday's game," and possibly right on top, was the lost chance to see Danny Hultzen at his magnificent best.  The damnable cruel fates and their whimsical illnesses that strike when you least need them. Here's a guy who's a top-five athlete in Virginia history, proving it: he struck out eight of the ten batters he faced.  A 24-strikeout pace!  The potential was there for the greatest pitching performance in CWS history.  South Carolina fans will say and have said many things about the Friday game, but on the top of the list ought to be "please heathen gods accept this sacrifice of ten virgins in exchange for your benevolence in striking down the most feared warrior of the enemy."  There's no way South Carolina wins that game if Danny Hultzen's innards aren't infested with viruses sent by Beelzebub himself.

- Another awful thing about being on the wrong end of a game that swung on the edge of a razor: the natural instinct to second-guess.  I shouldn't, but I can't help myself.  Personal top two: given the lack of success at the plate, I'd have given some real thought to a suicide squeeze, and is Reed Gragnani's glove in center really so bad that you'd rather have Shane Halley's bat?  I was taken aback to see Gragnani replaced after pinch-hitting.  It came back to bite us in the worst way when Halley bounced weakly into a bases-loaded double play.

- Besides Hultzen, the second-most deprived player of the day was John Barr, whose heroics are now lost to the annals of time.  Barr went 3-for-6 and hit the ball on the screws in his final at-bat.  His only failure was a violation of Willie Keeler's maxim ("hit 'em where they ain't"); had his line drive been directed a couple of feet in any other direction he'd have been the hero of the hour with a 4-for-6, 2-RBI performance in a likely win.  And no, I don't fault Colin Harrington for getting doubled off, Barr's liner was hit too hard and he had little to no chance to get back to the bag.

- More silver lining from Friday: Tyler Wilson earning the Senior CLASS Award.  I tend to balk at awards where the first name in it is the name of a moneymaking company, but this is one where you make an exception.  In this case it means you have the privilege of rooting for some very outstanding people, so congratulations are in order from all corners.

- A three-part series is coming up in the near future wherein I will offer up a look at next year's lineup possibilities and quickly profile the incoming freshmen.  That starts Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 24, 2011

game preview: South Carolina

Date/Time: Friday, June 24; 7:00


History against the Gamecocks: 27-36

Last matchup: USC 7, UVA 1; 6/21/11; Omaha, NE (College World Series)

Last game: UVA 8, Cal 1 (6/23); USC 7, UVA 1 (6/21)

Blogs of the enemy: Garnet and Black Attack, Leftover Hot Dog

South Carolina possible lineup:

C: Robert Beary (.290-3-35)
1B: Christian Walker (.358-10-62)
2B: Scott Wingo (.345-4-28)
3B: Adrian Morales (.288-3-40)
SS: Peter Mooney (.276-3-36)
LF: Jake Williams (.274-2-38)
CF: Jackie Bradley, Jr., (.264-6-27)
RF: Evan Marzilli (.297-3-31)
DH: Brady Thomas (.313-4-40)

Pitching probables:

LHP Danny Hultzen (12-3, 1.41, 157 K's) vs. LHP Michael Roth (13-3, 0.97, 103 K's)

South Carolina's bullpen:
RHP John Taylor (7-1, 1.17, 63 K's)
LHP Steven Neff (3-1, 2.45, 29 K's)
RHP Jose Mata (3-0, 1.76, 16 K's)
LHP Tyler Webb (3-1, 3.21, 28 K's)
RHP Matt Price (6-3, 2.12, 68 K's, 18 sv)

Last night's game was, well, it was kinda like Tuesday's game in reverse.  Like South Carolina on Tuesday, UVA did enough to win on their own but used mistakes by the opposition to make the score uglier.  No matter how "loose" Cal was as claimed by the ESPN commentators (all....week....long) they didn't play like it on the field.  The Golden Bears helped the Hoos' cause tremendously by throwing 55-foot curveballs, heaving force-out balls into right field, hitting three batters (ok, two different ones, with Chris Taylor being victimized twice), and misplaying a number of batted balls, the sun probably being a factor in this last set of mistakes.  UVA ruthlessly took advantage of Cal's miscues.  Some led directly to UVA runs (center fielder Matthews's three-base error on Kenny Swab's single that turned it into an unofficial inside-the-park home run; wild pitches) and others took runs off the board for Cal (leadoff hitter Anthony Booker sliding past second base after initially stealing successfully; the next batter doubled.)  A season to remember for Cal fans, but not that game.

Tyler Wilson pitched magnificently, of course.  He kept the Cal batters off balance for 7 2/3 innings, inducing a ton of harmless infield (and many foul) popups.  Cody Winiarski finished off the GBs with little trouble.  UVA will need that kind of performance again today from Danny Hultzen.

All UVA fans, regardless of interest in baseball, should really be tuning in tonight, for what will possibly (but hopefully not) be Danny Hultzen's last appearance in a Virginia uniform.  There shouldn't be any doubt Hultzen is the most dominant pitcher in UVA history; I don't think I'll get much argument when I say he's simply the best baseball player in UVA history too.  Truthfully, Hultzen has established himself as one of the best athletes in UVA history, period; right up there with Ralph Sampson and Ed Moses.

And this is a fitting stage for an athlete of his caliber.  Omaha, the College World Series, in an elimination game against the defending national champs and their ace pitcher, Michael Roth.  The odds are stacked against him.  Hultzen will need better run support from his teammates than they gave Will Roberts on Tuesday, but if there's any pitcher in the land that can win a 1-0 game, you know who it is.  If the Hoos lose this game, it by no means tarnishes Hultzen's legacy, but winning this one would be a hell of a way to shine it up a little.  But this is the guy you want on the mound.  Period.

There's a tough uphill road to climb, but step 1 of 3 is out of the way.  If the Hoos lose tonight, they'll still have achieved the best finish in school history.  If they win, then it's on to a winner-take-all on Saturday.  Cross your fingers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

recruiting board update

A quick glance before baseball begins.  Find ye the board here and the map here.

- Added OG Michael Mooney to orange.  Mooney committed last week, bringing the total to 11 and the offensive line total to two.  That puts us right on pace.  11 is about half the class, maybe a little less, and I expect about four, maybe five, offensive linemen.  Mooney and Ryan Doull appear to be reasonably solid prospects, not flyers, but I think there's a need for some higher-profile guys on the line as well.

- Moved DT Tyrell Chavis from blue to orange.  Several of the DTs on the depth chart are converted from elsewhere, either bulked-up DEs or moved from offense, so Chavis is a big pickup in that he's a natural DT that only needs to replace a little baby fat with muscle but is otherwise ready for the position from the get-go.

- Added OT Sean Karl and CB Mike Tyson to yellow.

- Removed OT Blake Bars from yellow, whose top five is Virginia-less.

- Moved RB Wes Brown and OLB Devin Vandyke from yellow to red.

Also, the depth chart is updated since there are like four or five new commits since last time I did that.

Lastly, don't forget to vote in the COY poll at right!  For real, it's very close.  Very.  Every vote really does matter here.  Please don't be that guy who clears his cookies, ok, because this isn't exactly a poll with thousands and thousands of voters like on ESPN, but do vote once.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

game preview: California

Date/Time: Thursday, June 23; 7:00


History against the Bears: 1-0

Last matchup: UVA 4, Cal 1; 6/19/11; Omaha, NE - College World Series

Last game: South Carolina 7, UVA 1 (6/21); Cal 7, Texas A&M 3 (6/21)

Blogs of the enemy: California Golden Blogs

Cal's possible lineup:

C: Chadd Krist (.297-2-43)
1B: Devon Rodriguez (.283-5-35)
2B: Tony Renda (.333-3-43)
SS: Marcus Semien (.279-5-35)
3B: Mitch Delfino (.265-4-21)
LF: Austin Booker (.310-1-24)
CF: Darrel Matthews (.274-0-18)
RF: Chad Bunting (.274-7-25)
DH: Vince Bruno (.301-0-13)

Pitching probables:

RHP Tyler Wilson (9-0, 2.33, 119 K's) vs. RHP Dixon Anderson (4-3, 3.90, 41 K's)

Cal's bullpen:

RHP Kevin Miller (6-4, 2.78, 86 Ks)
LHP Kyle Porter (6-0, 1.89, 57 Ks)
RHP Logan Scott (1-2, 3.09, 30 Ks)
RHP Matt Flemer (4-2, 1.86, 41 Ks, 6 sv)

Well, we meet again.  South Carolina used a sizable streak of luck to beat the Hoos 7-1 yesterday, placing UVA in the loser's bracket against Cal, again, which beat Texas A&M in the early game.  The other Carolina was the beneficiary of some of the screwiest base hits I've ever seen - one ball bouncing off home plate and over Keith Werman's head into right field, another hit off the tip - not the end of the barrel, but the tip - of the bat.  Both drove in a run each.

But it's not like they needed the lucky bullshit to actually win the game.  UVA did it to itself - Steven Proscia's first-inning error was costly to the tune of three runs, and the bats finally petered out after running on fumes in the past couple games.  And South Carolina's line drives to the gap finished the job.  They fielded well - even made Sportscenter with a web gem - and minus the bunts, out Virginia-ed Virginia.

If the Hoos are to earn a rematch against South Carolina, they'll have to do it against Cal's third starter, huge right-hander Dixon Anderson.  Anderson hasn't pitched since Cal eliminated Rice in the regionals two weeks ago - he wasn't needed in the supers as the GBs dispatched Dallas Baptist in two games.  Anderson is 6'6", and while his 23 walks aren't an alarming number at all, his 41 strikeouts - below 2 every 3 innings - are well below average.  He was drafted in the ninth round this year, which is down from last year (he's a redshirt junior) where he was drafted in the sixth.  Scouting reports from last year indicate a fastball that tops out at 94 and below-average command.  Can't say how he's progressed this year but I would guess he hasn't improved those weaknesses much, as he's slipping in the draft.

Tyler Wilson should be able to go for the Hoos, having thrown under 40 pitches on Sunday in his last outing.  The UVA bullpen should be fully stocked; I don't know if we can say the same about the Cal bullpen, with closer Matt Flemer having thrown 54 pitches yesterday against A&M.  Strictly using the one-hour-per-pitch rule of recovery, Flemer won't be ready, but this is the CWS, man, so I ultimately don't think Cal will hold him back.

UVA is in a hole, no doubt about it.  The difference between winning and losing on Tuesday is having to win just one of two, vice having to win three in a row.  But optimism should reign supreme on Thursday.  This is how the three games this weekend break down:

1) as little disrespect as possible to Cal (I can't say this and honestly claim none at all), but if UVA sends Tyler Wilson to the mound and he can't outpitch Dixon Anderson (whose high draft status is based more on projectability than results) and UVA can't beat regional-3-seed Cal, then we had no chance anyway.
2) after that, Danny Hultzen will take the mound.  Probably against South Carolina's Michael Roth, but still - Danny Hultzen, man.
3) anything goes.

So.  One step at a time.  The Hoos gotta buckle down, see the ball better out of the hand of the pitcher, and get one job done at a time.  It's been done before - ask Sakerlina.

video time

Like I said, some days I'd be putting up nothing and working on videos instead.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Click over to the videos page and you'll find the final two games of the lacrosse tournament, the Denver and Maryland games, posted for your viewing pleasure.

Just for your edification, this process is, if I may speak in a foreign language for a bit, a right pain in the arse, lads.  I don't have my Tivo right now, I have something else, and Tivo is what lets you download right to the computer so that's causing what should be a simple four step process (record, download, edit, upload) to turn into at least twice that (record, download to laptop through special box, download to PC, change file format because video editor doesn't like special box's file format, edit, check for parts that the video editor didn't like because of how much data loss there probably is, re-edit to get rid of those parts, check again, upload.)  But we are working hard on this, yes.

Later today: Cal preview part deux.  Fooey, I was hoping to get to the recruiting board today and not to have to do a baseball preview til tomorrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

game preview: South Carolina

Date/Time: Tuesday, June 21; 7:00 PM


History against the Gamecocks: 27-35

Last matchup: USC 8, UVA 2; 6/3/2006; NCAA Tournament, Charlottesville regional

Last game: UVA 4, Cal 1 (6/19); USC 5, Texas A&M 4 (6/19)

Blogs of the enemy: Garnet and Black Attack, Leftover Hot Dog

South Carolina possible lineup:

C: Robert Beary (.296-3-35)
1B: Christian Walker (.357-10-60)
2B: Scott Wingo (.350-4-28)
3B: Adrian Morales (.281-3-39)
SS: Peter Mooney (.276-3-35)
LF: Jake Williams (.273-2-38)
CF: Jackie Bradley, Jr., (.259-6-26)
RF: Evan Marzilli (.299-3-30)
DH: Brady Thomas (.305-4-39)

Pitching probables: RHP Will Roberts (11-1, 1.58, 91 K's) vs. RHP Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.78, 70 K's)

South Carolina's bullpen:

RHP John Taylor (6-1, 1.25, 63 K's)
LHP Steven Neff (3-1, 2.45, 29 K's)
RHP Jose Mata (3-0, 1.76, 16 K's)
LHP Tyler Webb (3-1, 3.21, 28 K's)
RHP Matt Price (6-3, 2.13, 68 K's, 18 sv)

UVA took care of Cal the same way they dispatched UC-Irvine: threatening most of the time and then finally stringing the hits together in the later innings.  Danny Hultzen threw 6 1/3 innings with his Sunday-best slider but lousy fastball command, and didn't allow a run; he left with no possibility of a decision because the score was 0-0 at the time.  It took - of all people - Keith Werman to get things going, setting the table with a single to lead off the seventh and driving home a run in the eighth with another base hit.  Jared King followed up three absolutely awful at bats with an eighth-inning triple just over the right fielder's glove and scored on Werman's slap single to left.

The (slightly) bad news: the 0-0 game required Brian O'Connor to stretch Hultzen's arm as long as possible instead of holding back a little, and when he went to the pen it was for Tyler Wilson, who threw 2 1/3 innings in relief before giving way to Branden Kline for the final out.  That means Will Roberts will take the hill on Tuesday instead of Wilson.  Hultzen, of course, is right out.

In terms of starting pitching, Roberts should have the advantage.  (Cue Gamecock fans: he didn't pitch against ess-eee-cee competition though.)  He'll go against right-hander Colby Holmes.  He's likely to pitch deeper into the game than Holmes is; South Carolina sometimes has a quick hook with Holmes.  They yanked him in the fifth inning of their super-regional game against UConn despite only being down 2-1 at the time.  He also got totally bombed out of the Ole Miss game.  Holmes has a tendency to give up the gopherball; of the 26 home runs allowed by the South Carolina pitching staff, 12 are Holmes's responsibility.  Holmes is one of those pitchers who throws three or four pitches but doesn't have consistent command of most of them yet.  There's nothing that our hitters like better than a 91-mph fastball that isn't accompanied by a slider or change that gets over the plate.  (That was Irvine ace Matt Summers's problem.)  Holmes could have the breaking stuff working and have a fair amount of success; if not, he'll be pulled in the third inning and leave behind some tired outfielders and probably a sizable deficit.

However, the gopherball isn't a UVA specialty, and the CWS stadium is a big one, so don't expect anything to go flying out of the park.  It's been playing very homer-unfriendly so far.  And if UVA hitters can't jump on Holmes quickly, South Carolina may well be able to neutralize the UVA advantage on the hill by going to their bullpen early.  The only unavailable pitcher after their game against A&M is the starter, Michael Roth, who wasn't pulled until the eighth inning.  South Carolina will have a full bullpen; UVA will as well, but with Wilson's availability in question, doesn't have a long-relief horse like the Gamecocks' John Taylor.  And closer Matt Price is lights-out and a 6th-round pick.

Roberts will have his hands full with the South Carolina lineup, of course.  Christian Walker was a super-late round pick out of high school two years ago by the Dodgers, but being picked 1477th overall doesn't inspire one to try the professional track, and South Carolina is much the better for it.  Walker has hit 10 home runs this year, driven in 60 runs, and bats .357.  Scott Wingo, the walkoff hero of the A&M game, also bats .350+.  He's an 11th-round pick this year.  But the highest draft pick isn't Price, or Walker (who's only a sophomore), or Wingo - it's 9th hitter Jackie Bradley, picked 40th overall by the Red Sox.  Bradley's had a disappointing season, batting only .259, which is why he's in the 9th slot, but his presence there just reinforces the notion that Roberts won't be able to relax just because he got to the bottom of the order.  Bradley still packs a little pop in his bat and obviously, the major leagues think he's got a pile of talent.

I'd remind you that South Carolina is the defending national champion, but ESPN will probably take care of that for most of the game's duration, so I won't.  One thing that is interesting is that this is the first time in quite a while that they've won their first CWS game.  And of course, this being only UVA's second trip, it's the first time ever for UVA in the winner's bracket, too.  Both teams have been to Omaha before, but still it's the Omaha debut for both pitchers; neither pitched in their respective teams' previous appearances here.  I don't know if Gamecock fans are worried about Colby Holmes's mentality, but with a perfect game under Will Roberts's belt, I'm not worried about his handling of pressure.

What worries me is this: In seven previous games in this tournament so far, we've faced a three-seed five times, a four-seed once, and a two-seed once, and that two-seed had burned up its pitching staff and wasn't a very good two-seed anyway.  This'll be UVA's first tournament test against a regional host, and a national seed at that.  I won't call it luck, I call it the benefit of being the national #1 seed - your part of the bracket is likelier to flame out than the rest of it.  But it's time to play with the big boys now.  Can we get this done against an honest, legitimate title contender, the first such opponent in this tournament run?  UVA will get no respect from Ess-Eee-Cee fans or most pundits - I mean, actual they-could-actually-win-this-tournament respect - until we beat one of their own, someone who's been all the way to the top before.  UVA opened some eyes in 2009 by eliminating Irvine and Ole Miss, but there's a next step to be taken now, and Tuesday is our chance.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

vote for the 2010-2011 Cavalier of the Year

OK.  I've done my part; now it's your turn.  Voting is underway, on the right, for the 2011, and 3rd annual, FOV Cavalier of the Year award.  You've read about the best the orange and blue has to offer, now you decide who is the best of the best, the most deserving to wear the badly photoshopped Cavalier outfit that I paste onto a picture of the winner.

The poll is open for two weeks, and the winner will be crowned on or shortly after the July 4 weekend.  If you need a refresher or still find yourself undecided, the profiles are below.  Happy voting!

COY profiles:


Saturday, June 18, 2011

FOV Cavalier of the Year, #11/#12

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the
entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athletes are Sinead Farrelly and Steele Stanwick.

Sinead Farrelly - Women's soccer - Midfield

Team accomplishments:

- Advanced to round of 16 in NCAA tournament

Personal accomplishments:

- UVA Female Athlete of the Year
- First-team NSCAA all-American
- Herrmann Trophy semifinalist
- ACC Offensive Player of the Year
- Four-time first-team all-ACC selection
- 2nd overall pick in WPS draft
- Team scoring leader with 12 goals and 7 assists in 22 games

I think this is the first year I've nominated a women's soccer player for this award thing, and Sinead Farrelly made it easy by being named Female Athlete of the Year at UVA.  As we've seen already, there is serious competition there.

As a 2-seed in their quarter of the 64-team bracket, the ladies' soccer team hosted three tournament games and earned 3-0 shutouts in the first two before falling 3-2 in the third round.  Farrelly was the team's offensive leader, not only earning OPOY honors in the conference, but becoming the 10th player in conference history to earn four straight first-team all-ACC honors.  And the fifth in school history to be named a first-team all-American.  Without a doubt, Farrelly established herself as one of the elite women's soccer players in the country.

Steele Stanwick - Men's lacrosse - Attack

Team accomplishments:

- National champions

Personal accomplishments:

- Tewaaraton Trophy winner
- ACC Player of the Year
- USILA first-team all-American
- Two overtime game-winning goals

We now have the answer to a question a lot of people were asking before the Tewaaraton Trophy was awarded: Do regular season or playoff results matter more?  Cornell's Rob Pannell had the statistically gaudier regular season, but Steele Stanwick was the playoff hero.  He tallied 21 points in four games to lead UVA to the promised land - a 2011 national championship - and earn his standing as the nation's best lacrosse player.

And he's only a junior, which means he can come back and do it again next year.  Stanwick is the quarterback of a UVA offense that has nigh-unlimited potential - it just needs Steele Stanwick to either operate it or draw so much attention from the defense that other players are virtually ignored.  One or the other usually happens.  Stanwick is perhaps the most precise and accurate attacker UVA has had in the last decade, which, given the tradition of supremely talented attackmen, is high praise.  His passes are nearly always perfect, and he has a real knack for finding the one small opening between the goalie and the net and depositing the ball inside.  He's the Peyton Manning of UVA lacrosse - extremely intelligent and extremely clutch.  As a freshman he apprenticed, you might say, under Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, and this year he truly came into his own.

Friday, June 17, 2011

game preview: California

Date/Time: Sunday, June 19; 2 PM


History against the Bears: 0-0

Last matchup: Never

Last game: UVA 3, UCI 2 (6/13); Cal 6, DBU 2 (6/12)

Last weekend: UVA 2-1 over UC-Irvine; Cal 2-0 over Dallas Baptist

National rankings: this is Omaha, brutha, forget that stuff, just play ball

Blogs of the enemy: California Golden Blogs

Cal's possible lineup:

C: Chadd Krist (.304-2-43)
1B: Devon Rodriguez (.288-5-34)
2B: Tony Renda (.335-3-42)
SS: Marcus Semien (.277-5-35)
3B: Mitch Delfino (.260-4-20)
LF: Austin Booker (.319-1-24)
CF: Darrel Matthews (.275-0-18)
RF: Chad Bunting (.276-7-23)
DH: Vince Bruno (.301-0-13)

Pitching probables: LHP Danny Hultzen (12-3, 1.49, 151 Ks) vs. RHP Erik Johnson (7-4, 2.91, 100 Ks)

Cal's bullpen:

RHP Kevin Miller (6-4, 2.59, 86 Ks)
LHP Kyle Porter (5-0, 1.59, 53 Ks)
RHP Logan Scott (1-1, 2.89, 29 Ks)
RHP Matt Flemer (4-2, 2.08, 36 Ks, 5 sv)

It's Omaha Time.

Let me just get you ready right now for the storylines that'll be beaten over your head during the game on Sunday:

- Cal was ready to drop baseball last fall, but a bunch of donors stepped in and saved the program, and now they're in the College World Series.
- Virginia nearly did the same ten years ago, and now they're in the College World Series as the #1 seed.
- How crazy is it that these two teams are meeting?

Now that we've done ESPN's job for them and gotten that out of the way, let's talk Cal baseball.

The week's big question was whether Cal's lefty starter Justin Jones would be ready to go on Sunday.  Answer: he won't.  That probably means right-hander Erik Johnson, who might be a better pitcher anyway.  Johnson is a big, legit pro prospect, drafted with the 80th overall pick by the White Sox.  He can throw four pitches well, but two consistently (a low-90s fastball and a good slider) and has control issues.  Johnson's issued 54 walks this year (more than one every two innings) which is more than twice the number of walks issued by any UVA pitcher.

UVA should be throwing CyberDanny Hultzen, of course.**  The #2 pick in the draft.  Cal will get some confidence out of having already beaten the #1 pick in the draft - they beat UCLA and Gerrit Cole last month, but it should be noted, the Cal batters scored just once off of Cole and UCLA never scored at all, their hitting being thoroughly miserable.  And they were dominated by Trevor Bauer the next day.  So, have no fear.  As ever, the only thing that can really slow down Danny Hultzen is Danny Hultzen, and even then he pitched six shutout innings against Irvine with his worst stuff of the season.

The Cal lineup is nothing to write home about.  I think Irvine's was probably better.  Cal didn't attract much attention from MLB drafters, although partly that's because their best hitter, Tony Renda, is a sophomore.  Renda leads the team in batting average and total bases and is just shy of the RBI lead, too.  Not much home run power, though.  Cal can spread some of that around the lineup, but no one hitter is a huge danger.  Chad Bunting leads the team with seven, and White Sox draftee Marcus Semien (sixth round) has five, as does Devon Rodriguez.  UVA isn't a home run-hitting team, and still we have John Hicks with eight.

Unlike the other baseball previews this season, this is a one-game shot.  So it comes down to this: Will Danny Hultzen be effective?  If so, we win.  Cal neither strikes out nor walks very much.  They like to get the ball into play.  The Rob Deer Fan Club does not approve.  This is A Good Thing; UVA's fielding percentage is fifth-best in the country, and Danny has a good shot at cruising through some of these innings with fewer than 10 pitches.  One the flip side, Johnson's propensity to walk hitters (if indeed we face Erik Johnson) should be helpful; a big strength of the UVA lineup is making you waste good pitches and then driving your mistakes into the gaps.  Look for UVA to go into full-on get-on-base-however-you-can mode.  I'm hopeful of getting this CWS kicked off on the right foot.

**Some folks see the setup of the tournament, which is a repeat of the last two weeks (a double-elimination four-team "regional" and then a best-two-of-three series, and assume we should use the same pitching strategy.  That is, save Hultzen for the all-important Game 2.  This is incorrect.  The CWS offers a day of rest, or two, between games, meaning if the best happens and we win two in a row, Hultzen can pitch Sunday and then pitch again on Friday.  The rest time in Omaha allows you to shorten up your pen.  Last time, Hultzen started both Game 1 and Game 3 (albeit after throwing just three innings in Game 1) because they were far enough apart, and Sunday starter Andrew Carraway found himself in long relief in both Games 2 and 3.  It may well be possible to get through the "regional" round of the tourney alternating Hultzen and Tyler Wilson, with Will Roberts and Cody Winiarski throwing in relief.  A guy like Will Roberts coming out of the pen?  Nasty.  On the pitching staff, UVA has the best horses in Omaha; it's time to ride.  Shorten the pen, shorten the rest, and win with your best.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FOV Cavalier of the Year 2011, #9/#10

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the
entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athletes are Robby Andrews and Liz Downs.

Robby Andrews - Men's track & field - Middle distance

Team accomplishments:

- 25th place finish at NCAA championships
- One of 18 teams to score at all three seasonal track events (cross-country, indoor, outdoor)

Personal accomplishments:

- National 800-meter champion at NCAA outdoor meet
- Penn Relays Athlete of the Meet for relay events
- Anchored Penn Relay 4x800 meter champion relay team
- 2nd-place finish in 1500-meter at ACC championships

As with swimming, there are quite a few choices for the top athlete on the track teams.  (It ought to be noted that if I had 13 nominations instead of 12, Stephanie Garcia would be in.)  But part of the reason the choice is so hard this year is because Robby Andrews missed two-thirds of it.

Unable to defend his indoor 800-meter championship because of a foot injury, Andrews said "oh well" and won it outdoors instead, and with a personal best time at that.  In doing so he became only the second Cavalier ever to win an outdoor NCAA championship and the sixth to garner multiple all-American nods outdoors.  Andrews called it the biggest win of his career, which is saying something considering last year's indoor championship came at the expense of a Beijing Olympian.

That'd probably have been enough to earn him a nomination, so maybe the Penn Relays honor is just icing.  Or maybe not, given the prestige of the Penn Relays.  This is the second year in a row Andrews has anchored a Penn Relays championship relay, and he's only a sophomore.  Definitely one of UVA's rising stars.

Liz Downs - Women's lacrosse - Defense

Team accomplishments:

- Made NCAA tournament

Personal accomplishments:

- One of 24 Tewaaraton Award nominees
- All-ACC
- All-South Region team
- Second-team IWCLA all-American

In past years, Liz Downs has been a little overshadowed by her teammates, because, well, she's a defender and that usually happens.  Gaudy stats get the pub.  And her teammates put up some big numbers this year, too, but the difference is this: none of them are on their second all-American selection.

In fact, Downs is described by as "the best true defender in program history."  That and having been voted Team MVP by her own teammates means: no more being overshadowed.  She was one of just three defenders voted to the position-nonspecific all-ACC team, and one of just four defenders nominated for the Tewaaraton Trophy for the country's best lacrosse player.  I like when I get a chance to give a little recognition to the people who don't show up on the stat sheet much, and Liz Downs fits the bill perfectly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

recruiting board update

This was one strike away from happening on Monday, which would've been officially the beginning of the offseason if the RALLY had never happened.  And it would've taken awhile because I'd've been all depressed, reduced to one-finger hunt-and-peck, a... time.  Bleyah.

But lucky us, it's not the offseason just yet.  But recruiting rolls on, and Mike London added three (three!) commits since last we looked at this bloody thing.  It was camp weekend, see, and players rolled in and did their thing in front of the coaches, some got offers, and for some it was the Big One and committed on the spot, or nearly so.  Happens every year.

The big prize of the week, though, was somebody who we've had our eye on for almost a year now: big Michael Moore, son of WR coach and QB legend Shawn.  Moore and Moore, attorneys at law defenders extraordinaire, are forming a very solid defensive nucleus to the class.  Just wait'll Eli Harold joins the party.

Here are the changes to the board and map:

- Added WR Maurice Canady and QB Matt Johns to orange.  Looks like we got our QB for the class.  Interesting: Johns is a big guy with NFL size (once he puts on a little weight) and a strong arm.  When it comes to styles, the polar opposite of David Watford.

- Moved DE Michael Moore from blue to orange.  Moore, of course, is as legacyriffic as a legacy prospect ever gets, but even so, you beat Florida for a player, you got yourself a good one.

- Moved RB Chris Mangus and DT Tyrell Chavis from green to blue.  Mangus is a little bit green/blue borderline, but I'm not making a teal category and I figure the blue needs a little repopulation.  Chavis is definitely not borderline.  Oh, and I changed him from OG.

- Moved QB Brendan Nosovitch from yellow to red.  Guy's had a UVA offer since Februrary - at which time we were his only one - and dragged on, postponed visits, and generally sent the message that he really wanted other offers.  If he really did have genuine interest in UVA, it's probably too late, which is why....

- Removed QB Chad Voytik and QB Greyson Lambert from red.  We got a QB, I wasn't even sure we'd take one for sure, and now that we have one I really can't see us needing two.  Voytik, we kind of slow-played, and probably shouldn't have, but oh well.

- Removed DT Pat Gamble from yellow; committed to GT.  That plus another DT commitment to GT could really help out with Rod Chungong, though I still think he'll end up in Atlanta anyway.  But you remember Al Groh; not the sort to load up on one position.  When the door was closed, it was closed.  Then again, the buck doesn't stop with Groh at GT.

- Added DE Eli Ankou to green.

- Added OT Blake Fromang to yellow.

The other thing I've done is instituted the return of the most-wanted list.  I limited it to eight prospects, which there'll be at all times until there isn't room anymore for eight more players.  Those are highlighted in orange.  Consideration is given to

- talent (mostly star ratings)
- depth-chart need
- mass appeal (how many other schools are after them?)
- attainability (is the player someone that not only we definitely can get, but is also the kind of guy we shouldn't be letting get away?)
- and the need to keep them the hell away from Blacksburg and College Park and, to a lesser extent, Chapel Hill.

Players in red don't get consideration because that's I-want-a-pony land.

Here's who's on the list and why, and in no order except top to bottom on the board:

- WR Anthony Cooper: Virginia Beach guy, highly-ranked in the state, we need one really good wide receiver
- RB Chris Mangus: we definitely need one good running back, and Mangus has the big offer list (VT, ND, etc.)
- DE Eli Harold: maybe the top player in the state, and has been favoring UVA for so long it'd be a crushing blow to lose him now.  (No, I'm not real worried.)
- OT Adam Bisnowaty: star-wise the best O-lineman on the board
- MLB Kaiwan Lewis: hugely sought-after linebacker, would make this class just incredible at that position
- WR Stefon Diggs: five stars, dude
- LB Quanzell Lambert: see Kaiwan Lewis
- LB Ken Ekanem: see Kaiwan Lewis, and he's a top Virginian besides

If someone comes off the list, either by committing or by dropping out into red-land or committing elsewhere, they'll be replaced.  Eight at all times.


Summer programming notes.  The Cavalier of the Year series continues on Thursday and finishes up on Saturday, and you'll have two weeks to vote on the winner.  Friday will be the first College World Series game preview - UVA plays Cal - and then this place will probably be all CWS, most of the time, til it's over for UVA.  Hopefully we don't go two or three and out.  What else is there?  A need to start profiling the 2012 football recruits, that's what.  Sometime next week we'll get to Mark Hall, the first of nine so far, and go from there.

Once the baseball team is done baseballing, that's when things get slow.  Which is probably good because I need to spend some time working my way through the videos I've been piling up.  By my count I have 12 highlights I've promised and totally not delivered on, and with any luck at all the baseball team will generate even more in the next couple weeks.  So if I skip a day here and there, that's why.  It's for the greater good.  Oh, and of course there's my summer hiatus which starts on the second-to-last weekend in July this year and goes til the middle of the following week.  After that, guess what - FOOTBALL SEASON IS GO.  Previews of every ACC team and every team on the schedule.  Only seven weeks away, can you believe that?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

FOV Cavalier of the Year 2011, #7/#8

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the
entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athletes are Keith Payne and Lauren Perdue.

Keith Payne - Football - Running back

Team accomplishments:

- Didn't embarrass themselves

Personal accomplishments:

- ACC touchdown leader
- ACC per-game scoring leader
- Second-team all-ACC
- Invited to NFLPA All-Star Game
- UVA's leading rusher

OK, so, of all the sports featured in this year's nominations, football definitely had the worst showing.  And still you can tell things are improving because they didn't even get a nomination last year.  Speaking of redemption stories, here is probably the biggest and best for the season, and probably in quite a while.  Until 2010, the high point of Keith Payne's UVA career was the day he committed.  It went all downhill from there, as hype gave way to the doghouse that Payne slowly and steadily worked his way into.  He finally quit the team midway through the 2009 season when it became evident Al Groh had no intention of putting him on the field again.  Groh was a stubborn guy who wasn't big on second and third chances, but a lot of Payne's problems were Payne's own fault.

When Mike London was hired, Payne asked for another chance, to have a senior season back.  London laid down the conditions and Payne met them all, and when the season opened up, there he was, back in uniform, and with no less a position as the starting tailback.  He scored four touchdowns in the season opener and ended the year with 16 touchdowns, three more than his closest competition in the ACC, and could have had more if injuries hadn't slowed him up at the end of the year.  Payne scored so much that he ended up as the ACC's per-game scoring leader and in fourth place overall, on the list normally reserved for kickers.  Of the top ten per-game scorers in the conference, Payne was the only non-kicker.  Just exactly what Hoo fans envisioned for his senior year after all.

Lauren Perdue - Women's swimming - Sprint freestyle

Team accomplishments:

- Fourth consecutive ACC championship
- 13th place at NCAA championships

Personal accomplishments:

- ACC Swimmer of the Year
- 2-time ACC Swimmer of the Championships
- Set ACC record in 200-yard freestyle, 100 freestyle and 200 yard free relay
- NCAA 200 free runner-up
- NCAA 50 free 8th place
- Led off UVA's all-American 800 freestyle relay
- Two-event ACC champion
- 4-time ACC Performer of the Week

The epitome of ACC dominance at UVA is either men's tennis or the swim teams, and it's the swim teams that are setting records.  And in this case it's one of the youngest COY nominees; Lauren Perdue is just one of two sophomores (and no freshman) nominated this year.  Perdue broke a passel of ACC records at the ACC meet, broke them again at the NCAAs, and helped her team come from behind to win their fourth straight ACC championship, sealed when the relay that Perdue leads off took first place in the final event.

Perdue's also proven to be an elite swimmer on the national level, earning a couple of all-American awards (which in swimming are given for being top-eight in an event) and earning a second-place finish in her best event, the 200 free.  Potential future national champion?  Perhaps.  It takes a deep lineup to win the ACC title, but Perdue stands well above a crowd of teammates that's awfully hard to stand above.

Monday, June 13, 2011

i said OMAHA!

Holy shit.

It's times like these I wish I were Bill Simmons.  Not for the fantastic pile of shekels he must be sitting on; or the fact that he gets to live inside the velvet rope in Hollywood; or the fact that he can do both without having to take shelter from the paparazzi storm; or the fact that he got that way for being a sports fan with a talent for the pen.

OK, actually all that would be pretty cool.  But.

No, I just wish I had that talent with the pen sometimes.  Like right now, after seeing Chris Taylor bring to real life the dreams of every eleven-year-old kid in the country who ever picked up a bat.  If Bill Simmons were a UVA fan he'd do that pop-culture-sports weave thing he does and the magnitude of the moment would get even bigger somehow because it'd be just like some movie from 1987 and you'd all nod your heads and forward the link and I'd get paaaaaiiiid.  Eventually.  There's some steps between "write good" and "profit" but Step 1 can be awfully elusive.**

Then again, who needs it?  The narrative, I mean.  The moment speaks for itself.  You'll watch baseball the rest of your life and maybe the only time you'll ever see that kind of thing happen again is when your kid is throwing the ball to himself in the backyard.  And then it'll only be ghost runners.  Bases loaded, two outs, down by one - maybe not a full count but if you're that picky about your drama then you hate life - Chris Taylor lived the dream and we got to see it play out.  That's baseball drama, it doesn't get bigger than that.  Fuck LeBron, man - Nike should've saved their Witnesses ad campaign for a moment like that.

Course, to have that much drama, you need a worthy opponent.  I sort of hate to say it because it sounds condescending - when you're bleeding to death with a sword in your gut, "you died well" is of small consolation - but in many ways you couldn't ask for a better opponent.  Irvine isn't the most talented team in the land, and it's fun to make Irvine Baseball jokes about the announcers (at least this year the commentators were lavishing praise upon both teams, and boy were they lavishing) but you had to admit they were right.  Irvine does play an exhausting brand of baseball and they do it exceedingly well.  Classy coach and a team with guts and fight all the way to the end - it's hard not to feel a bit bad to see a team like that lose that way.  There are other teams I'd rather rip the hearts out of.  UVA is the more talented team but Irvine knows every trick in the book to close that gap in a hurry.

So here's the part that's gonna read like an Oscar acceptance speech (eat your heart out, Simmons) but hats off to Chris Taylor for obvious reasons, Kenny Swab for a huge homer to erase the memories of his centerfield error yesterday, Reed Gragnani for that huge pinch-hit walk, Taylor and Keith Werman for teaming up on a zillion double plays especially the one that held Irvine to one run in the ninth, Will Roberts for a gem, Tyler Wilson for another gem, Danny Hultzen for another gem with his worst stuff of the season (that's why he's the #2 pick!), Branden Kline for the guts to put a lot of adversity behind him and make some clutch-ass pitches, Jared King for some big-league hits at big-league times, and especially the coaching staff for keeping a level head, making all the right calls, trusting their players, and working with a steady hand at all times.  And oh hell, all the rest'a'you lugs I didn't mention.  Have yourself another dogpile.  If anyone's earned one it's this baseball team.  After the greatest ninth inning in UVA baseball history, Omaha beckons.

**HOWEVA, up until a week or so ago I did have something Simmons didn't: my own canvas with the freedom to be as, um, colorful as I want.  Seriously - this Grantland thing he's started really boils down to just one major difference between it and the ESPN space Simmons has: freedom to use swear words and potty language.  You can see why I like this independent thing.  Bill Simmons has parlayed sports fandom into the dreamiest of dreamy dream jobs and he still felt constrained enough to want to start up a whole new operation just so he could put "fucking" in front of the occasional adjective.



Sunday, June 12, 2011

FOV Cavalier of the Year 2011, #5/#6

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the
entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athlete's are Mustapha Farrakhan and Michael Shabaz.
Mustapha Farrakhan - Men's basketball - Shooting guard

Team accomplishments:

- First winning record in three years and highest ACC tournament seed in four (OK, that's really reaching.  Not much to brag about.  Still, more than in recent years with a sweep of VT.)

Personal accomplishments:

- Team scoring leader
- Honorable mention all-ACC
- First 30-point game by a Hoo since 2009 (Sylven Landesberg)
- Tied school record with eight straight three-pointers against Howard

On paper, there's nothing much to brag about when it comes to the basketball team's results this year.  Objectively, it's not too exciting going 16-15 and dropping out in the first round of the ACC tournament.  But you'n'I know better, especially given the results of previous years.  It would appear that the Hoos played above their heads and overachieved this season, but they pass the eye test a lot better than they once did.  And Mustapha Farrakhan, here, is the perfect microcosm.

Mu Farrakhan spent most of his first three years here as a role player - specifically, a tremendously gifted athlete (his Thunderdome dunk against NC State is Exhibit A) who was enormously prone to wild inconsistencies in his game.  Three-for-fourteen shooting nights weren't uncommon - in fact, they were just about expected if Mu had just shot well the previous game.  But Mu was a tri-captain this year along with Mike Scott and Will Sherrill, and when Scott went down with an ankle injury, it was time to see what Farrakhan could do.

The answer was: lead the team in scoring.  As the ACC season rolled on, it became eminently clear whose team this was on the floor.  And to be brutally honest: I never would've guessed Farrakhan had the leadership chops.  Consider me proven wrong - Farrakhan straightened out his shot and knocked them down with the consistency you need from your captain, and earned himself an honorable mention to the all-ACC squad.  Does that sound like much?  No.  If you take into account where Farrakhan came from in previous years?  It's as big a step forward as any Hoo cager has taken in a long, long time.

Michael Shabaz - Men's tennis - #1 singles/doubles

Team accomplishments:

- Fourth straight national indoors championship
- NCAA tournament #1 seed
- Advanced to NCAA championship final

Personal accomplishments:

- Advanced to NCAA singles semifinals
- Advanced to NCAA doubles round of 16 with Drew Courtney
- ITA National Senior Player of the Year
- 3rd straight all-ACC recognition
- Five-time ACC Player of the Week
- Selected to travel to Chile with United States Davis Cup team

Michael Shabaz came to UVA as a #1 recruit, and never did anything to put any doubts to those kind of expectations.  Shabaz has national championships under his belt - in fact, during his career, UVA never failed to win an ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) indoor title, though they were never quite able to translate that success to the outdoor courts.

Still, national championships are great and wonderful, as is being named national Senior Player of the Year by the ITA, but the biggest honor has to be the Davis Cup thing, doesn't it?  Shabaz was chosen to travel to Chile with the team for their World Group matches as a practice partner for Andy Roddick, John Isner, and the rest of that gang, surely one of the highest honors accorded a UVA athlete all year.  Maybe more than all year.