Predicting the solid 2023 baseball season for second-year Virginia DH Anthony Stephan should have been easy.
All that was needed was to have looked back to the summer of 2022, when Stephan was a Growler.
Playing for the Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League, Stephan was awarded the Rawlings “Big Stick” Award as a first baseman. The award is given to the player at each position who has the highest batting average during the league’s regular season.
As a Growler, Stephan batted .340 with 17 extra-base hits, nine doubles, seven triples and a homer and a whopping 48 RBIs in 56 regular-season games.
After appearing in 21 games of his first season at Virginia, with just 20 at bats, Stephan was more than excited about the opportunity to get regular at bats with the Cavaliers as the designated hitter this year.
When I asked Stephan about the adjustment of not playing the field and then stepping into the batter’s box, he said it was simply the mindset.
“When I step into the box my focus is on helping the team. I know I’m not out there making plays, but I don’t let that put too much pressure on me. I just concentrate on doing the job I’m up there to do.
Stephan said he’s adjusted to being in the dugout and embraced that time.
“I love being able to just talk with the other guys in the dugout, talking about the game. My teammates are great. It’s also great to congratulate the guys when they come in off the field as well,” said Stephan.
It’s easy to see why Stephan is so well-respected among his fellow Virginia players. While his personality is on full display, his dedication to his job gets plenty of attention as well.
Virginia’s new home run and RBI career leader, Jake Gelof, said Stephan’s work ethic is contagious.
“He just goes out every single day and works on his game. His swing has just gotten better and better,” said Gelof.
Stephan got going late in the 2022 season, coming off the bench to pinch-hit against North Carolina.
In the bottom half of the 10th inning, trailing UNC 7-3, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor inserted Stephan into the game as a pinch hitter to lead off.
Stephan laced a single to right, that helped fuel a walk-off 10-7 UVA win over the Tar Heels.
Entering the 2023 season, the possibility of Stephan falling into the DH position was more of a result of making the most of his opportunities.
“It was just making sure when the opportunities came. I was ready, doing anything I could to help the team.
Did he embrace the role?
“Absolutely. Anywhere they put me into the lineup, it wouldn’t matter. I just wanted to have an impact on my team. Trying to make a run at going to Omaha,” said Stephan.
Did a change in approach at the plate result in his postseason power surge?
During the 2023 regular season Stephan was solid at the plate, sporting above a .330 batting average the entire season, but hitting only two home runs in 53 games.
Against East Carolina and Duke, Stephan belted two round-trippers in five games, both moon shots to leftfield.
Was it a different approach at the plate, I asked?
“I’m not a big home-run hitter. I just try to make contact. I think it just comes from confidence, being more comfortable in my role. I try to put the barrel of the bat on the ball, get it in the air. No real change in my approach or swing,” noted Stephan.
From Ridgewood, N.J., Stephan was a first-team All-Bergen County selection as a senior, and the No. 4 rated infielder in the state of New Jersey according to Perfect Game. ￼
What was it that got Stephan to Charlottesville?
“The culture and the coaches, I think were the most important factors. Everything about the program was what I was looking for,” said Stephan.
“You know, baseball doesn’t last forever, certainly not as long as we may want it too, so academics played a huge part. The coaches’ emphasis is academics first. They know we have a life after baseball, and they keep us grounded. I like that.”