When the weather warms up and spring approaches, Virginia fans know one thing — another season of Virginia baseball lies ahead. Last year, Virginia struggled in the first half of the regular season but redeemed itself, eventually earning a spot in Omaha, Neb. at the College World Series. There, Virginia made it past Tennessee and remained in after losing to Mississippi State — who ended up winning the title — but ended up exiting after failing to defeat Texas.
This year, the team looks to gather themselves and make it even further in the tournament, chasing a national championship title for the first time since 2015. Looking forward to what Virginia has in store, we’re here to break down everything you need to know about the upcoming season.
Players to watch
Kyle Teel — C/UTL
Sophomore catcher Kyle Teel has already been recognized by a handful of baseball media outlets and it would be remiss not to mention him as one of the Cavaliers’ key players heading into their 2022 campaign. As the son of an ex-MLB player and a New Jersey native, Teel was the No. 1 overall player in the state of New Jersey according to Perfect Game — leading to him being recognized as the 2020 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year before coming to Virginia.
Last year as a true freshman, Teel started in 53 of the Cavaliers’ games — 19 as a designated hitter, 19 as a right-fielder and 15 as a catcher. He made his collegiate debut against George Washington in early March 2021 and immediately made an impact in the game, recording his first hit and RBI in just his second at-bat. Throughout the season, he continued to have a positive influence on Virginia’s performance, and, by the end, he had appeared at-bat 209 times — tallying 70 hits and a total of 41 RBI.
After the season, Teel was showered with honors from D1Baseball.com, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Perfect Game. He has also been added to the Top-50 preseason power rankings by D1Baseball.com and ranked No. 23 on Perfect Game’s top 100 sophomores. Most recently, he was also added to USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List.
Going into the 2022 season, Teel is going to be a crucial player to watch for the Cavaliers. Coach O’Connor emphasized his talent, energy and athleticism, but emphasized his need to focus on two things — fundamentals and poise. If Teel can master these two elements and manage to stay consistent, he and his teammates will find success.
Nate Savino — LHP
With the plethora of pitchers the Cavaliers have in their arsenal, third year Nate Savino looks to be among the most promising for the 2022 season. So far, Savino has been ranked 66 on Perfect Game’s Top-100 junior list and was selected to play on the collegiate national team last summer.
Last season, Savino played in 16 games — 10 of which he started in and 7 of which the Cavaliers won. As a reliever, he racked a mere 2.03 ERA in 13.1 innings, only allowed three earned runs and struck out six batters against Wake Forest. Subsequently, he was added in as the Sunday starter beginning with the series against the Clemson Tigers — a role he held for the final six ACC series.
But arguably his most impressive feats come from the 2021 NCAA tournament. He pitched nine innings in his three appearances, started in the third game of the Super Regionals series against Dallas Baptist and threw a scoreless inning as a relief pitcher against the eventual national champion, Mississippi State.
As Savino still has two seasons left with the Cavaliers and has already gained such momentum with his successes last year, O’Connor is looking at him as a starter this season.
Series at Miami, April 8-10
One of the most crucial matchups for the Cavaliers this season comes in early April against the Miami Hurricanes. Last season, the Cavaliers came up just a smidge short of the Hurricanes in ACC standings with their record being 18-18 and the Hurricanes’ being 20-15 in conference play.
In last season’s series, we lost to the Hurricanes 8-6 in the third game of the series after our 4-0 blowout win in the second game.
This season, the series is smack in the middle of some of our most recognizable rivalries in college baseball. With the Georgia Tech series beforehand and the Chapel Hill series two weeks after, the Cavaliers’ performance against Miami will show two things — what the Cavaliers will do if they gain momentum or what will happen if they don’t win this game and if the Cavaliers have gotten at least one percent better.
Keys to the Season
Win, and win early
Last season, Virginia found itself in quite a bind by the mid-season mark. It went 4-12 in ACC play and was struggling to put on consistent, high-level performances.
“Certainly, what we did last year … you do not want to put yourself in that situation,” O’Connor said. “You need to be ready to go out of the gate and you need to take care of business early.”
This year, if the Cavaliers are able to win some early ACC ball games, they’ll find themselves in a much better situation than they did last year.
As important as returning pitchers like Savino are to the game, O’Connor pointed out that a key to success this season lies in the hands of some unlikely suspects — the freshmen squad.
“At this level of college baseball, first year players have to make an immediate impact because you lose so many players to the Major League Baseball draft after three years,” O’Connor said. “You’re always going to be young to a certain degree, so every year we’re going to need guys to emerge and step forward just like Teel [did last year].”
For this season, it’s going to be freshmen or first seasons transfer pitchers like Matthew Buchanan, Jake Berry, and Will Geerdes that will turn the tide.
The Virginia baseball season began Friday with the Jerry Bryson Classic tournament, when the Cavaliers took on Bellarmine at 1 p.m.