The Virginia baseball team will open uts season this weekend at the University of Central Florida Tournament in Orlando, Fla. The Cavaliers will play three games over the course of the weekend — against UCF, Samford and Rice.
Virginia begins the season ranked as high as No. 15 by Baseball America. In a poll of ACC baseball coaches, the team was picked to finish second in the Coastal Division behind North Carolina, with the Cavaliers receiving two votes for the overall conference championship.
Coach Brian O’Connor returns for his 15th season as head coach of the Cavaliers. Under O’Connor, Virginia won the College World Series in 2015 and has made four total appearances in the College World Series.
Virginia junior outfielder Jake McCarthy was named a unanimous preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and D1Baseball.com. In addition, McCarthy was added to the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, presented to the top amateur baseball player in America each season. Last season, McCarthy hit .338 for the Cavaliers and led the ACC with 27 stolen bases.
Junior second baseman Andy Weber also returns for Virginia. Weber drove in 43 runs last season, good for fourth on the team, and batted .278.
However, outfielder Cameron Simmons, also a junior, will be out for the season after receiving surgery on his left shoulder. Simmons was second on the team and fourth in the ACC last season with a .352 batting average and hit. 374 in conference play. Simmons is expected to make a full recovery for next season.
The team has also lost several important contributors from last season, including two-way star Adam Haseley, now exclusively playing the outfield in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Last season, Haseley led the Cavaliers in batting average with .390 and in home runs with 14, as well as on-base and slugging percentages. In addition, Haseley went 7-1 in 11 starts on the mound, posting the highest ERA of any Virginia starting pitcher with 3.58.
First baseman Pavin Smith has also moved onto the professional ranks after being chosen seventh by the Arizona Diamondbacks in last year’s MLB Draft, one pick ahead of Haseley. Smith hit .342 with 13 home runs last season for Virginia.
Relief pitcher Bennett Sousa chose to return for his senior season at Virginia after being chosen in the 34th round of the draft by the Washington Nationals, though. Sousa made 24 appearances, all in relief, last season for Virginia. However, in the fall, he was primarily working as a starter and may make some starts for the Cavaliers this season.
"Personally, I just want to pitch, and that's how I feel about it,” Sousa said. “Do I think I could help as a starter? Yes. Do I think I could help as a closer? Yes, I would love closing.”
The Virginia starting rotation will be anchored by senior Derek Casey, who started 14 games last season, going 5-2 with a 3.79 ERA, second among starters only to Haseley. Lefthander Daniel Lynch, a junior, also started 14 games last season, going 7-5 with a 5.00 ERA. They will be caught by senior catcher Caleb Knight, who batted .301 last season, starting 33 games behind the plate — including the last 30.
Mack Meyer, a graduate transfer from the University of San Francisco, will add to the Cavaliers’ bullpen depth. Meyer redshirted last season after transferring, but made 29 appearances in his junior year, fourth all-time in San Francisco program history.
In addition to changes to the team, Davenport Field, the home venue of the Cavaliers, has seen some renovations of its own this offseason. The numerous upgrades include a new right-field entrance, a field-level club and lounge area for fans, expanded seating capacity, new restrooms and concession stands, a new home bullpen and a player development center including offices for coaches. The project cost $18.76 million in total.
"We are all excited for the season to begin and for our fans to have the opportunity to enjoy the changes at Davenport Field," O’Connor said.
The Cavaliers will take on UCF beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday at John Euliano Park in Orlando. The first home game for Virginia will take place Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Davenport Field. The Cavaliers will play 35 games at Davenport Field this season.