In less than a month it will be Opening Day for the 2020 college baseball season. The Hoos will be in Pensacola, Florida facing the Oklahoma Sooners in a three-game series.
As we approach that milestone every year, Kendall and I get together to power rank the upcoming season's roster. Over the course of several days, we hold a draft and make comments on the selections.
Before we jump into the results, there are a few points to consider.
Division 1 teams get a 35-player competitive roster. We limit ourselves to that restriction. We used the 37-player roster that UVA distributed during the 2019 Orange & Blue World Series. We added pitcher Nate Savino to the player pool. Nate graduated from high school early so that he could enroll at UVA in January while joining the 2020 team. And sophomore pitcher Sen Keneally elected to transfer from UVA to Amherst College during the semester break. With the one addition and one subtraction, the player pool stayed at 37.
As always, Kendall received the first pick.
Here are the results.
1st Pick: Nate Savino (LHP, Freshman)
Kendall: It was a close call for me between Savino and Andrew Abbott, but give me the upside of the kid rated by Perfect Game as #5 overall in the 2020 class.
Karl: Wow, Kendall out the gate with some high heat!
Kendall: Yeah, I'm a sucker for young power arms with tantalizing upside. Not sure if Savino steps in as our immediate Friday starter, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. (But one quick aside and a splash of cold water: I was saying the same things about Mike Vasil a year ago!)
The Hoos have done it again.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) November 14, 2019
Following in the footsteps of righthanders Connor Jones and Mike Vasil, lefty Nate Savino is expected to graduate early and head to @UVABaseball.
Read up on one of the best arms in the 2020 class: https://t.co/oHGi4q8imK pic.twitter.com/OBPw4XQHIa
2nd Pick: Nic Kent (MIF, Sophomore)
Karl: It remains to be seen if Kent will slot at 2B or SS this season. And his arm issue that prevented him from playing the field in the fall is a lingering question. But by all accounts, Kent was the second best-hitter on the team last season (as a freshman) behind Tanner Morris. And that makes him the best returning hitter in the program. Pick your favorite stat and Kent is a top two returning regular (OPS, SLG, OBP, AVG, SB, RBI, XBH).
Kendall: Yeah, Kent is no doubt one of our top hitters in 2020, but he could stand to clean up his defense a little bit. No doubt that's been a focus for him this offseason. Otherwise, he's quick and dynamic, pretty five-toolsy for an infielder. I like him a lot.
3rd Pick: Andrew Abbott (LHP, Junior)
Kendall: Abbott needs to bounce back a little bit after a somewhat ordinary season in 2019, but I do feel like he's our most "bankable" pitching asset heading into the 2020 season. That being said, don't sleep on Devin Ortiz, who I'm sure Karl is about to take at #4...
4th Pick: Devin Ortiz (RHP/IF, Junior)
Karl: Okay, you talked me into it. You can't go wrong with any of about four to five players here, but Ortiz has the biggest break out potential across the entire roster. Ortiz was a revelation at pitcher late in the 2019 season. He took the next step as a hitter, it seems, over the summer where he dominated in Florida which earned him a late roster spot on the Cape. The bat seemed to continue to sizzle during the fall as well. Ortiz has to play early and often this year.
Kendall: I think there are a lot of reasons for optimism heading into the 2020 season - Savino's early arrival, Kent and Gelof's development, a ton of bounce back capacity from guys like Vasil - but the top reason for excitement has to be the offseason Ortiz just had. He screams difference-maker to me.
5th Pick: Brendan Rivoli (C/OF, Junior)
Kendall: Not entirely sure where Rivoli is going to play in 2020, but I think we can safely say this: He'll be an everyday mainstay in the first half of the order. Among returnees, Rivoli has the most demonstrated pop in his bat, and is simply a presence that the 2020 Hoos are going to have to lean on offensively.
Karl: Rivoli's versatility will be huge for the team. If Michaels needs a rest behind the plate, Rivoli can do that. If you want to max out your OF defense, you just stick his bat in the DH slot. And he can be your everyday LF. Plus, the stats say he's the second-best returning hitter on the team. It's hard to believe but even with those numbers he's stayed under the radar.
Kendall: I'd love to see fans and MLB scouts begin to appreciate the quality Riv brings to the table. The guy is an everyday grinder. Also, the leadership mantle is there for the taking, and he's the most likely candidate.
6th Pick: Zack Gelof (3B/IF, Sophomore)
Karl: Gelof had a very good season as a freshman in 2019. He was one of the leading hitters on the team, handled the hot corner about as well as a freshman can, and was a threat in the running game. He gets most of the attention and hype from the media that the team receives. Another player coming off of an outstanding summer, Gelof has the potential to explode on the national scene in 2020. I'd like to see him improve on his strikeout numbers while adding more pop to the bat as well. Gelof almost certainly plays 3B again in 2020 but there's a better than zero chance that he's the starting SS as well.
Kendall: Gelof, to me, just really passes the eyeball test. We've seen a lot - A LOT - of really talented ballplayers out there in Davenport (now the Dish), and Gelof does not seem out of place. It's easy to imagine him emerging as a star. Reminds me a lot of Steven Proscia, actually.
Karl: I'm still having a really hard time with The Dish instead Davenport.
7th Pick: Chris Newell (OF, Freshman)
Kendall: Too early for a reach, but I'm intoxicated by Newell's potential for stardom. Couple that with our need for firepower and production from the outfield, and I like the marriage of talent and opportunity.
Karl: People that know things are tossing out the name Derek Fisher in comparison.
8th Pick: Chesdin Harrington (RHP, Redshirt Senior)
Karl: By all accounts, Harrington should be the face of the program this year. He's an exemplary UVA student, a leader on the team and on Grounds, and he turned down a sweet job in Austin, Texas to play his 5th year of baseball because the program needed him. At the end of the 2019 season, Harrington had joined the weekend rotation and was easily the best pitcher on the staff. One of the big questions in 2020 will be his role as new pitching coach Drew Dickinson may find Harrington's skill better served as a high usage reliever instead of a weekend starter. Wherever he ends up, expect good things when Harrington gets the ball.
Kendall: I'm a big fan.
9th Pick: Alex Tappen (OF/1B, Junior)
Kendall: It's a team rife with bounce back candidates, and Tappen is the biggest one in my mind. He sparkled at times as a freshman but spent the majority of his sophomore season scuffling. He's got the talent, now just needs to calm down and put it all together in his draft-eligible junior season.
Karl: Tappen's bat could be the difference between a really good season and a great one.
10th Pick: Griff McGarry (RHP, Junior)
Karl: New pitching coach Drew Dickinson's #1 job in 2020 is to get McGarry to throw strikes / eliminate a ton of walks. The junior pitcher has the raw stuff to be a top-level ACC starter but he must harness those skills. Otherwise, this team can't afford another year of revolving door walks from the pitching staff.
11th Pick: Mike Vasil (RHP, Sophomore)
Kendall: He was a 1st rounder in the 2018 draft, but instead doubled down on his commitment to UVA... and proceeded to disappoint thoroughly in the 2019 season, tossing a 5.93 ERA with a 1.56 WHIP. If McGarry is Mission #1 for Dickinson, then Vasil has to be Mission #1a. Vasil is still a fireballer, he just needs to hone his craft. And I think that's the easiest path to success for this team in 2020 -- Savino / Abbott / Ortiz / Harrington / McGarry / Vasil gels into an elite-level staff. All the pressure in the world on our new pitching coach!
12th Pick: Logan Michaels (C, Senior)
Karl: Not an exciting pick but Michaels was a great JUCO find for the Hoos. He was a plug and play backstop that exceeded all expectations his first year in orange and blue. This past summer, Michaels was one of the best hitters in the Northwoods League. He's never going to hit for power but at the bottom of the lineup he's more than capable of getting on base and moving runners along. Defensively, there are no complaints at all.
13th Pick: Marc Lebreux (OF, Junior)
Kendall: Here's a new name for many Hoofans. Lebreux comes to us from Seminole State College, a JUCO in Oklahoma. The French Canadian Lebreux really seems to have blossomed in his time in the Sooner State; he makes contact (.388), hits for nice power (.650+ slugging % / 18 homers), and is good in the field (.982 fielding %). Our intel suggests he's stepping into a starting role here at UVA, and will man one of the corner outfield spots from day one in the orange and blue. I'm excited to see if his offense translates from JUCO to the ACC... it could be a major boon to the 2020 lineup if it does.
Karl: I have high expectations here and that's giving me anxiety about spelling his last name correctly all season. I keep trying to stick an A in there towards the end.
14th Pick: Stephen Schoch (RHP, Redshirt Senior)
Karl: Schoch is a grad transfer from UMBC. So the links between the schools are bleeding over into other sports now. If you're still traumatized by the hoops game, may I suggest that you watch the 2019 NCAA Tournament highlights again. Or just do it anyway because it was awesome.
Now back to Schoch as he deserves to be profiled on his merits. There's a better than average chance that the right-handed submariner with the sweet mullet is your closer this season. In two seasons at UMBC (he began his career at Appalachian State for a year), Schoch saved 13 games, maxing out with 10 saves as a junior. He arrives at UVA with 169 strikeouts in 144.7 career innings pitched and only 51 walks. He also brings a 1.29 career WHIP and 3.06 ERA with him as well.
In the summer of 2018, Schoch was also a Cape Cod League All Star playing for the Cotuit Kettlers. That summer, during regular season play, he pitched 19 innings across 15 relief appearances. He earned 1 save while posting an ERA of 0.94, struck out 21, and walked only 6. It remains to be seen how he adjusts to facing ACC level talent over the course of an entire season but there's enough meat on the bone to think the Hoos found a gem in this grad transfer.
Kendall: A closer with a Kenny Powers mullet? Sign me up.
15th Pick: Walker Jenkins (MIF, Junior)
Kendall: The lightning-quick Jenkins is another JUCO transfer expected to play early and often for the Hoos in 2020. Pencil him in for the starting nod at second base, after hitting .342 with a nice .849 OPS, along with a tidy 30-for-30 on stolen bases. He could be a candidate for leadoff duties during his junior season.
Karl: Between Kent, Newell, Jenkins, and Lebreux, I'm expecting the Hoos to be ultra-aggressive in the running game this season.
Kendall: Oak back to his smallball roots. Now all we need is another Werman in the pipeline...
16th Pick: Matthew Wyatt (RHP, Freshman)
Karl: Wyatt almost seemed like an afterthought to me when I was profiling the recruiting class last May. Fast forward to the fall and reports start to emerge that Matthew Wyatt was a strong draft candidate but told MLB teams he was going to school. And then you see the big grin on Oak's face when discussing the first year from Maryland. Oak thinks that Wyatt has potential as a top of rotation starter but that his best usage this year will be as a reliever. He picked up some saves during the Orange & Blue World Series so he's certainly a legit closer candidate. He'll have the usual freshman adjustment to college baseball, but Wyatt probably jumps up this list considerably next year.
Kendall: Big Bulldog Brandon Waddell energy here, Hoofans.
17th Pick: Brandon Neeck (LHP, Sophomore)
Kendall: Neeck missed the 2019 season with an undisclosed injury after ranking as the #8 freshman in the ACC according to Perfect Game, as the #63 recruit nationally, and as one of the top lefties in the country. The injury robbed him (and us!) of his freshman season, but he was spotted throwing off the mound during the "meet Drew Dickinson!" videos... so we're optimistic that he's back for 2020! If he's really all the way back and ready to roll, he can be one of those out-of-nowhere horses that can power this staff back to elite levels.
18th Pick: Tate Ballestero (C/IF, Freshman)
Karl: The first year from Jersey was Perfect Game's 205th rated recruit in the 2019 class. That's ordinarily enough to get you excited about an incoming player's potential. But then you realize that Ballestero is a 6-3 switch-hitting catcher prospect. Now you're doing that slow nod from the crazed Jack Nicholson GIF.
This ranking is more about potential than expected 2020 production but there's definitely a role for Ballestero this year. He'll probably split backup catching duties with Brendan Rivoli. He might see some time at 1B and certainly at DH. And having a switch-hitter with a reputation for having a plus bat on the bench is baseball gold.
19th Pick: Zach Messinger (RHP, Sophomore)
Kendall: I'm dialing up another Dickinson Special, here. Messy has ~90mph gas and is a long, lean, whip-built pitcher who - like most of the 2019 staff - struggled with walks last season. There's nice, moldable talent inside of this 6-foot-6 frame.
20th Pick: Max Cotier (MIF, Freshman)
Karl: You mentioned the Wermans? I'm calling Cotier the third Werman brother. He's another guy that Oak already loves. Small, scrappy, quick, fast, hard-nosed. Take all of those adjectives and affix them to Cotier. The lefty first year doesn't have an obvious role on this team right now but, he's going to find his way on the field and at the plate somehow this year. And despite his size and frame, Cotier hits the ball with decided authority. You can also add him to the list of players expected to thrive in the running game this year.
21st Pick: Evan Sleight (OF, Freshman)
Kendall: Big, strong, athletic. Plenty of tools from which to build an excellent ballplayer. He'll likely soak in 2020, but his athletic profile projects as a future starter and difference-maker. I bet we see some immediate flashes.
Karl: I'd bet that Sleight manages to get a few corner outfield starts this season. The schedule and roster versatility will certainly allow for it.
22nd Pick: Paul Kosanovich (RHP, Senior)
Karl: About midway through the 2019 season, the JUCO transfer from California went down with a mystery illness that took him out of action for several weeks. Up until that point, Kosanovich was one of the top performing arms on the staff out of the bullpen. Whatever the illness, it took its toll on Kosanovich as he was nowhere near the same pitcher post illness. With a summer of work in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and then the fall and summer to get his strength and conditioning back, I'm interested to see if Kosanovich can regain his early form. If so, you've got a valuable veteran long reliever that can give you a spot start in a pinch.
23rd Pick: Evan Sperling (RHP, Redshirt Senior)
Kendall: The 12th pitcher in our draft, and he brings some experience (18 career starts at UVA) to the table. He has good stuff, no question, but the issues with Sperling have been his health... and between the ears. Once upon a time he was our Sunday starter and offered a world of potential with a projectable 6-6 frame. Now he's purely a reclamation project. Coach Dickinson has a few of those this season (McGarry, Vasil, Neeck, and Messinger) and if he makes hay with, say, three out of five, the Hoos will be in great shape. Sperling still has some nice upside that has been untapped, I firmly believe that.
Karl: I'm hoping all of Wahoo nation is behind Sperling this year. He could have taken the easy way out with a grad transfer but elected to go out a Hoo instead.
24th Pick: Kyle Whitten (RHP, Junior)
Karl: Another pitcher off the board! Whitten has been an enigma during his UVA career. He was decidedly average as a midweek starter and middle reliever. But he found his stride when he replaced Andrew Abbott as UVA's closer midway through the 2019 season. He responded with a team leading 9 saves. Given his frame and plus curveball, Whitten certainly has potential as evidenced by being picked to pitch in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2019 (Hyannis Harbor Hawks). The summer was nothing short of a disaster for Whitten, however, as he could not keep runners off base - 26 hits and 15 walks in 16.1 IP. Whitten is yet another Wahoo pitcher who has strong bounce back potential if he can harness his stuff and really limit the free passes.
25th Pick: Jayson Hoopes (RHP, Freshman)
Kendall: Steal of the draft at 25th overall and the 14th pitcher! (And let this be a stark reminder for Hoofans everywhere -- we've scuffled since the natty in 2015, and the Dish has been a bit of a mausoleum lately - but we are still LOADED with talent.) Sometimes it's just a matter of team chemistry, dumb luck avoiding injuries, or the spark provided by a change in leadership to get things turned around. In any case, Hoopes comes to Charlottesville after being drafted by the Cubs in the 36th round of the 2019 MLB draft. 6-3 frame, lean and lanky, up-tempo delivery, 91+ mph heat. Sounds like he has some mechanics to work out with his breaking ball, which puts him in the "project" category. But he has the feel and instincts on the mound that you'd look for in an eventual weekend starter. With clear next-level ability (at least according to the Cubbies organization), Hoopes at #25 here proves that our roster is stacked and just needs the right buttons pushed.
26th Pick: Christian Hlinka (1B/OF, Junior)
Karl: After graduating from high school early to come to UVA a year ahead of schedule, Hlinka's UVA career has been stuck in neutral. During the 2018 season he was simply depth in a crowded outfield. During fall baseball in 2018, he fractured the talus bone in his right ankle. It cost him the entire 2019 season.
Hlinka was able to return to action this past summer with the Charlottesville Tom Sox. He shook off the rust and began to show some potential as he hit .277 in 18 games this summer. Because he ultimately profiles as a corner outfielder, 1B, or DH you'd like to see more power numbers (2 homers and .426 slugging this summer) but he's travelled a long road back to the field.
This season, Hlinka looks to be the backup 1B while logging spot starts and an option to get occasional at bats at DH. If the bat does find some juice, he is a viable candidate to force himself into the lineup more often. I do think he's a year away from possibly being a regular player, however.
27th Pick: Blake Bales (RHP, Junior)
Kendall: The only pitcher anyone remembers from Major League is Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, the virtuoso fireballer with the nerd glasses. But I'm here to stan for good ol' reliable Eddie Harris. He's the one Lou hands the ball to to start the decisive game against the Yankees to win the pennant. Nobody remembers the eight innings Eddie worked through to give Ricky that chance at glory in the 9th. Blake Bales could be our Eddie Harris out of the bullpen this season -- he'll eat up some innings in middle relief but will probably never wow you with his stuff. And that's okay. That's a very valuable player.
He's literally Eddie Harris from Major League at this point. pic.twitter.com/4TFpSrkqjo— Healy Fulton Yates (@SamsonSimpson9) August 19, 2018
Karl: Agree 100% that Bales will fill an important role this year. I also think that Eddie Harris made a few starts for the Orioles in 2019.
28th Pick: Cristian Sanchez (RHP, Sophomore)
Karl: Sanchez missed the entire 2019 season due to injury. He pitched this summer with the Keene Swamp Bats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. It was his first competitive action in over a year. Just getting back on the mound was a big win. And he was able to participate in fall baseball for the Hoos as well. Now here comes the good part and why Sanchez is a steal this late in the process. Entering UVA, Perfect Game ranked Sanchez as a top 200 recruit and the number 2 recruit in Virginia. He throws gas and has a world of untapped potential. I'd expect Sanchez to be eased into action this year but going forward the sky will be the limit.
29th Pick: Billy Price (LHP, Sophomore)
Kendall: Big lefty. Untapped potential. Stop me if you've heard this before. But, look, at the 29th pick you're throwing a dart, and I'll always always ALWAYS side with a big lefty. (Price is yet another 6-6 pitcher on our roster. Oak loves the skyscraper profile, doesn't he? These tall dudes can sometimes look like trebuchets in their delivery.)
30th Pick: Jimmy Sullivan (OF, Sophomore)
Karl: Sullivan is my under the radar guy in 2020. I know of only one other bandwagon member now so there's plenty of room for others to join. The depth is prohibitive, but he had some games this summer that caught my eye. He played with Zack Gelof on the Kalamazoo Growlers (I love these summer team names) in the Northwoods League. During the season, he was selected to participate in the Northwoods League 2019 MLB Dreams Showcase event (along with Logan Michaels). After not playing during the 2019 season, Sullivan got 193 at bats this summer and batted .285. His 40 strikeouts were too high, but he also managed to draw 21 walks. He's not a power guy as evidenced by his 2 homers and 6 doubles. But he also managed to hit 3 triples and steal 7 bases. That's an interesting package in a 6-5 205 lbs. frame.
31st Pick: Jake Hodorovich (RHP, Freshman)
Kendall: HODOR! He's rocking an 88-92 mph fastball with a promising curve, and is guy for whom the staff made an effort to get some work in the fall. As the #31 pick in our draft and the 18th pitcher, I think it speaks to the depth and talent present on our staff... and maybe a big reason why Dickinson was attracted to the UVA position. 2020 is likely a sit-and-watch season for Hodor, but he's a young guy with a potentially bright future on the mound.
Karl: I can't pass up the opportunity, HODOR!
32nd Pick: Drew Hamrock (C/OF/IF, Sophomore)
Karl: Hamrock will likely be a more important piece of the puzzle than where he is drafted here. But he's a backup and fringe rotation player everywhere that he may play. I can see him getting a midweek start at catcher or in the outfield, but I don't see him as a regular anywhere. But where he could excel, and this is not meant to be a knock, is as a pinch runner, especially in close games. Hamrock can run and is a good athlete so there's utility there. The coaching staff may also feel comfortable with him as a late game defensive sub in the outfield as well.
33rd Pick: Kyle Petri (LHP, Sophomore)
Kendall: Oh man, I hope he still has that glorious blonde mullet. Killer Kyle is a big lefty like Billy Price, but the transfer up from D3 is pretty steep. He put up really good numbers at University of Chicago, though (1.13 ERA and 64 Ks in 40 IP). Petri's younger brother is a bigger prospect as a middle infielder and is committed to the Hoos. So this is a nice, big, 6-foot-6 dart to throw into the bullpen for 2020. (Interestingly, Petri gives us our third 6-6 skyscraper and THIRTEENTH pitcher at 6-4 or taller. Yeah, Oak totally has a type.)
34th Pick: Griff Agee (LHP, Freshman)
Karl: Ohh, another pitcher...and one that's listed at 6-4! I can't help but look at Agee and think Daniel Lynch. Coming out of high school in Virginia, they're both lanky lefties that didn't throw exceptionally hard (88 mph max fastball for Agee per Perfect Game). And they had very similar ranks as recruits: 349 overall / 5 in Virginia for Agee and 314 overall and 6 in Virginia for Lynch. Agee clearly needs developmental time and likely won't be rushed onto the mound this year. But if we can get a 3 to 4-year developmental curve from him that resembles Lynch's career then we're cooking.
35th Pick: Jake Baldino (LHP, Freshman)
Kendall: Annnnnnd another pitcher... annnnnd he's 6-4. Upper 80s fastball with a projectable frame. "Advanced pitchability," according to Baseball America. Some reports state that he comes to UVA already equipped with a three-pitch arsenal. We'll see about all that, but probably not until at least one or two years from now is our best guess.
Because we're limited to 35 picks, it's inevitable that a couple players won't get drafted. This year it's senior utility player Will Allocca and freshman corner infielder/outfielder Liam Deegan.
We love Deegan's size but by all accounts, he needs a redshirt year to adjust to the level of competition at UVA.
Allocca has had difficulty getting on the field at UVA throughout his career. He went undrafted in our draft last year too. Despite that, Will is a tireless worker, great teammate, and model citizen. He's everything we want in a student athlete at UVA. He's not well known outside of the hardcore UVA baseball fan but absolutely deserves a little recognition and exposure to a wider audience.
Coming next week...Lineup Projections