The Virginia Cavaliers baseball team returned to Omaha in 2021 for the College World Series for the first time since the Hoos won the national championship in 2015. It was also the first time that UVA qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2017.
We’re certainly very very proud of that opportunity that the team had last year,” said UVA head coach Brian O’Connor at an open practice on Tuesday. “It was a pretty special journey, a unique journey to get there.”
The 2021 season was a turning point for a Virginia baseball program that wants to return to a state where trips to Omaha are a regular occurrence.
But if the Cavaliers are to put together another successful season and a run at the program’s second national title, they will have to overcome an unprecedented level of roster turnover.
“We lost a ton of players,” O’Connor said. “I think we lost 80% of our innings off the mound, lost the left side of our infield. We’ve got a number of position players back but the pitching - the innings that we lost is so incredibly significant.”
In addition to losing a stellar class of graduating student-athletes like catcher Logan Michaels and internet-sensation closer Stephen Schoch, Virginia also had six players selected in the 2021 MLB Draft: Andrew Abbott, Griff McGarry, Zack Gelof, Mike Vasil, Nic Kent, and Zach Messinger.
“So that’s… two areas that are gonna be a real emphasis this fall,” said O’Connor. “One is who is going to man the left side of the infield for us. Two great players in [Nic] Kent and [Zack] Gelof that played every day for three years. Those are two spots that gotta be filled. And then a ton of pitching. I mean you think about all the guys we lost out of the pen, all the starters.”
Fortunately, the Hoos have a number of incoming talented players, including first years and transfers, as well as a group of veteran leaders who have the experience of a postseason run to Omaha to be able to mentor those new players as they adapt to the UVA baseball program.
“We have 18 new players in the program, the largest new group that we’ve ever brought in my 18 years here,” O’Connor said on Tuesday. “So there’s a lot of work to be done. A lot of fundamental, basic work that is an adjustment when you come to this level out of high school.”
O’Connor specifically mentioned Devin Ortiz, Alex Tappen, and Paul Kosanovich as individuals he hopes will play important roles in leading the team this spring.
Additionally, O’Connor is excited to see the continued progression of players like Kyle Teel and Jake Gelof, who were key contributors and made big time plays even as freshmen during the World Series run last year.
“You see the emergence of the young players in the lineup last year,” O’Connor said. “Look at the impact that [Kyle] Teel and [Jake] Gelof made in our lineup last year as true freshmen. They’re just up there attacking, having fun. They don’t have a lot of pressure. A lot of times in our game, youth can be a real advantage.”
While O’Connor is optimistic that solid contributors will emerge from the new batch of first years and transfers during fall ball, he maintains that “we have a ton of work to do.”