Story by Scott German
Here we go again. With a ton of talent, experience and motivation the Virginia baseball team find themselves in familiar territory. But when May arrives they must let the past be the past and rise to the occasion when it most matters – the postseason.
Despite the loss of several key offensive and defensive players, the Cavaliers are in solid shape to begin the 2008 campaign. Led by All-American infielders David Adams and Greg Miclat and Baseball America preseason pitcher of the year Jacob Thompson, Virginia is poised to make another run at the postseason. This time they hope to stay a bit longer. Last spring, after earning the opportunity to host opening regional play, the Cavaliers bowed out to eventual national champion Oregon State in the Charlottesville Region. With the returning talent and bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, Virginia appears ready to make a serious run at the College World Series. It now hopes to change its recent history of postseason play.
Here’s a brief look at the 2008 Virginia Cavalier baseball squad.
The Cavaliers return five everyday players from last year’s team, highlighted by a pair of All-Americans, shortstop Greg Miclat and second baseman David Adams. Miclat, rated by big-league scouts as the top defensive shortstop in the nation, battled through an injury-plagued 2007 season. Miclat still managed these eye-popping stats. A team-leading .376 batting average, and 44 RBIs. Miclat also had a .488 slugging percentage and a .486 on-base average. For good measure, the junior also stole 32 of 37 bases while playing nearly flawless defense. Fellow junior classmate Adams also had an impressive ’07 campaign, batting .372 with five homers and 43 RBIs while slugging at a clip of .522. Keep in mind that while Miclat’s and Adams’ offensive numbers may appear modest, they play over half their games in the Grand Canyon of college baseball – Ted Davenport Field.
Virginia will count on added offensive firepower from a trio of others. Patrick Wingfield, Tyler Cannon and Jeremy Farrell must each improve their offensive production if the Cavaliers are to make a lot noise in May and June. Wingfield, from Winchester finished last season with .297 batting average, while Cannon was at .270 with a homer and 32 RBIs. Farrell may be on the verge of a breakout season at the plate. In limited action last season (86 at bats), the junior from Ohio hit .349 with two homers and 16 RBIs.
On the Hill
It starts with junior righty Jacob Thompson, arguably the nation’s top pitcher. Thompson had a dominating sophomore year, going a perfect 11-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 114 innings of work. Thompson, now 18-0 in his collegiate career, will be followed all season by a mob of big-league scouts, who rave of the righthander’s curve as well as slider. During ’07, Thompson, another native Virginian on the roster (Danville), fanned 112 while walking only 32.
If Virginia is to be successful behind Thompson, then Pat McAnaney and Matt Packer will be counted on heavily. McAnaney appeared in 13 games as a junior, while Packer started 13 games for UVa.
Closing duties are somewhat up for grabs. Despite losing closer Casey Lambert to the pros, a couple of candidates appear capable of filling that role. Senior righthander Michael Schwimer will probably start the season as the closer, but Waynesboro’s (Stuarts Draft High School) own Jake Rule may also fill that role for Virginia. Rule had some good numbers last season in a workhorse role. In 29 appearances, Rule posted a 2.63 ERA, while striking out 43 and issuing just 18 walks.
With solid pitching in place, the Cavaliers focus is on scoring runs. The impetus from that could be from the freshman class. Virginia will not only be looking to but will need immediate production from Ryan Smith, Phil Gosselin, John Barr and a number of addition first-year players. Smith, a Notre Dame transfer, is expecting to take over duties behind the plate. As a freshman for ND, Smith hit .267 with two homers and 23 RBIs. Like his predecessor, Beau Seabury, Smith will also be counted on heavily to be a calming target for his pitching staff.
Since his arrival, head coach Brian O’Connor has made a spectacular splash in regular-season play. Postseason – another story. After an impressive 2007 regular season and hosting a regional, Virginia won its first game against Oregon State and was on the verge of advancing to the Super Regionals when leading the Beavers late in a rematch. Oregon State rallied and won the regional and advanced to the CWS, where they won their second consecutive national championship. O’Connor has gained a reputation in the college ranks as a top-flight recruiter and will now be pressed hard to start collecting hardware to show for it.
If You’re Going
The Cavaliers play their home baseball games at Ted Davenport Field, regarded as among the finest facilities in college baseball. The stadium is located across the street (Alderman Road) from University Hall. Free parking is in the surronding U Hall lots. On most game days, tickets can be purchased at the gate and range in price from seven to 10 dollars.
Scott German is a regular contributor to The SportsDominion.