With their convincing win over Arkansas, Oregon State closed out the 2018 college baseball season. With that chapter closing, we can begin to look towards the 2019 season even if we're a bit premature. Unlike MLB, college baseball doesn't have the traditional hot stove league to carry the offeason. But there's plenty of time between now and the season opener in February 2019 for rampant speculation and guessing.
And that brings us to this post. A couple weeks ago on the UVA 247 Sports message board, Kendall gave me a homework assignment. He wanted to know my early projection for the 2019 starting lineup. Here's what I'm thinking today but don't hold me to it because this is filled with lots of wild ass guessing and speculation.
Catcher - Cameron Comer and Brendan Rivoli
I see this one as a timeshare throughout the season. Comer will bring experience to the position as the returning vet. He doesn't have a ton of that experience but he acquitted himself well after being forced into extended action during the second half of last season.
Rivoli, on the other hand, only had the chance to catch a few innings throughout the season. But he's a catcher at heart and wants to play the position. He's also catching this summer for the Kalamazoo Growlers in the Northwoods League. With only one other catcher expected on the roster that's seen any live game action behind the plate in their career in Drew Blakely (recovering from Tommy John surgery), it's important to get another catcher experience during the season as Comer is a senior. Expect Rivoli to be that guy.
First Base - Nate Eikhoff
This is one of those positions that could go in any number of different directions depending on who is on the roster next season. Eikhoff went undrafted as a junior and is playing with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League this summer. As the incumbent first baseman on the team, he's a logical choice to fill the position next season. Eikhoff has the ability to play third base as well.
Second Base - Devin Ortiz
I'm assuming that Andy Weber signs with the Cubs prior to the MLB Draft signing deadline. He hasn't as of June 28 but there's no reason to expect otherwise. There isn't an obvious heir apparent to him at second. On the surface, Ortiz makes a lot of sense. He came to UVA as a pitcher and shortstop prospect. But it's unlikely that shortstop will come open during his career at UVA due to Tanner Morris. Moving over to second would be a small adjustment. And this summer, Ortiz has played exclusively in the infield for the Kenosha Kingfish of the Northwoods League seeing time at every infield position.
Shortstop - Tanner Morris
Write this one down in sharpie.
Read: Tanner Morris (@UVABaseball) swinging a hot bat early, leads the Mariners with team-best .357 AVG (8th overall @Official_CCBL), writes @_LiamFlaherty (📸: Emily Reed)https://t.co/EcNa8op2su pic.twitter.com/uLHbGRJqdm— Harwich Mariners (@HarwichMariners) June 28, 2018
Third Base - Zack Gelof
Justin Novak is out of eligibility, so we're due a new regular at the hot corner. Alex Tappen or Nate Eikhoff are obvious options here but I have other plans for them. Instead, I'm projecting true freshman Zack Gelof into this spot. My best evidence is that the coaching staff has Gelof playing third for the Brockton Rox in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England (he's crushing it there too). Gelof, the Delaware state high school player of the year in 2018, was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 38th round of the 2018 draft. Rest assured, however, because Gelof will suit up in orange and blue.
Completely impressed by Cape Henlopen 2018 SS Zack Gelof. Big, strong, athletic, fast, agile. Found barrel every at-bat in state championship against D1 arms and scored from second on sac fly to CF. Kid is gonna be unreal in college at @UVABaseball #stud— Dave Whigham (@DWhigham7) June 6, 2018
Right Field - Alex Tappen
Prior to the Cincinnati Reds drafting Mike Siani in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB draft, I would have pencilled Tappen in at first or third as he's a natural corner infielder. He only played right field as a fill in for the injured Cameron Simmons last season. But with the Reds drafting and signing Siani, a big hole in the Hoos' outfield was created. It makes sense for Tappen to stay in right as the corner infield positions have logical assignments as well.
Tappen began playing his summer baseball at first and third base for the Baltimore Redbirds of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The plan seemed to be a transition to one of those positions but after Siani's selection, Tappen shifted immediately to right field and has spent almost all his time in the outfield this summer.
Center Field - Cayman Richardson
Richardson found a home in center as Jake McCarthy's injury replacement last season for much of the season. If Siani had enrolled in Charlottesville, Richardson likely would have moved to left field or taken a spot in the infield. Instead, he's an obvious selection to stay in center this upcoming season where his athleticism was a great fit.
Left Field - Cameron Simmons
The 2018 season received a swift kick in the nuts when it was announced that a shoulder injury would keep Simmons out for the duration of the year. A possible All ACC and All American player yanked from the middle of the lineup on the season's eve is never easy to recover from. Despite Simmons missing the entire season, the Texas Rangers drafted him anyway in the fifteenth round this June. There's been no news one way or the other regarding his intentions for next season, but it's assumed that his plans for the next year include UVA.
Despite playing right field throughout his career to date, I like him better in left for the upcoming season. His athleticism will be a better fit there than Tappen who is still learning to play the outfield at this level.
Designated Hitter - Cameron Comer and Brendan Rivoli
The other half of the Comer-Rivoli platoon at catcher lands in the DH spot. I'd expect to see Jack Weiller get some time here too as his finish to the season certainly earned him at bats next year. The only downside to the Comer-Rivoli combo is that they're both left handed batters (Weiller too). At some point in the fall and practice leading up to the season, a right handed option will likely emerge as part of this timeshare.
Weekend Starting Pitchers - Noah Murdock, Evan Sperling, Mike Vasil
Although it cost him a year of eligibility, and hastened his exit from UVA to professional baseball, getting Murdock some innings at the end of the last season will prove beneficial next year. Building strength in his arm and facing live hitters in game action are two important factors of Tommy John surgery rehab. Doing both last season will make Murdock a much more impactful pitcher for UVA in 2019.
Sperling began to show glimpses of his potential last year before a forearm strain cost him a large portion of the season. Carrying that confidence into next season will be crucial for Sperling because the team will be relying on him heavily. Sperling is pitching for the Keene SwampBats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League this summer. His recent returns appear promising.
Evan Sperling picked up his first win of the summer ⬇️— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) June 27, 2018
He's fanned 26 batters in 15.2 innings pitched https://t.co/HpkLbNuowB
Rounding out the projected weekend rotation is freshman phenom Mike Vasil. The right hander out of Boston shocked the professional baseball world when he announced his intent to honor his commitment to UVA instead of remaining in the 2018 MLB Draft. Vasil was projected to be a first round pick in the draft but instead will now play at least three seasons at UVA. This will be a name all UVA baseball fans should come to love in the future.
IN DEPTH: @BCHigh Mike Vasil's journey from a three-year-old prodigy to one of the top high school pitchers in the country. Why he made the decision to skip the @MLB Draft and attend @UVA https://t.co/UhiHKClp0P pic.twitter.com/fitbLjVXxQ— Tom Leyden (@TomLeyden) June 11, 2018
BC High RHP Mike Vasil's final career numbers: 22-4, 5 saves, 1.06 ERA, 217 Ks and just 129 hits in 191.1 innings. Over his final 105.1 innings, he allowed just 10 total runs.— Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612) June 17, 2018
The only thing missing from this group is a lefty so fellow freshman Brandon Neeck or sophomore Andrew Abbott are darkhorse picks to grab a weekend rotation spot.
Mid Week Starter - Griff McGarry
McGarry was certainly inconsistent as a freshman but there's a reason the coaches kept rolling him out there as a starting pitcher. He has the most potential among Bobby Nicholson and Kyle Whitten. And he's more experienced than first year options like Neeck or Ben Harris. I think he begins to tap some of that potential this year if he cleans up his mechanics this offseason.
Closer - Andrew Abbott
The rising sophomore lefty is starting this summer for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League but I still like him in the closer role at UVA. He was UVA's best reliever at the end of this past season and I think he could dominate opponents when closing out games. He'd make a nice option as a left handed weekend starter too if the coaches want to go that route, but on my lineup card he's following in the footsteps of Josh Sborz, Casey Lambert, Kyle Crockett, and so on.