ACC Baseball Preview: Virginia

Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams.  You can view all of our team previews to date here.  This preview features the Virginia Cavaliers.

Last season, Virginia had the second-best batting average of ACC teams, batting .296 as a squad.  The Cavaliers will suffer some turnover from that lineup, including top hitter Stephen Bruno.  Nonetheless, the returnees are strong enough to earn the Hoos third place in the Coastal Division in the preseason coaches’ poll.  With NCAA Tournament appearances in each season under head coach Brian O’Connor since his arrival in 2004, including three Super Regionals and two College World Series trips in the last four seasons, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Charlottesville.

The Cavaliers lose three of four starting infielders, as Stephen Bruno, Chris Taylor, and Keith Werman.  Bruno, drafted by the Chicago Cubs, was third in the ACC in batting average (.370) and fourth in doubles (23). Werman was a four-year starter named second-team All-ACC at second base last year.  Taylor batted .288 and hit five triples and five home runs in his junior season and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.

The returnees are led by sophomore outfielder Derek Fisher.  Fisher tied with Clemson’s Thomas Brittle for the ACC lead in triples in 2012 (8), batting .288 with 7 home runs, a .507 slugging percentage and 50 RBI to lead ACC freshmen in those stats.  However, he also struck out 61 times, which placed him second in the conference in that dubious category.  Fisher was named a Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger and the National College Baseball Writers’ Association last year,   Perfect Game gave Fisher Second-Team Preseason All-American honors this winter, and Fisher could certainly move up a team by the end of the year if he can limit the strikeouts.

Joining Fisher in the outfield will be junior Colin Harrington.  Harrington batted .305, getting on base at a .400 clip. Harrington has all the discipline Fisher lacked at the plate, striking out only 19 times in 2012.  Harrington also posted a .988 fielding percentage, committing only one error last season.

Reed Gragnani is expected to have a greater impact in his senior season.. Gragnani only started 19 games in 2012 due to injury, making only one appearance after March 31.  When he was involved, however, Gragnani batted .362 with 9 RBI.  He started 41 games as a sophomore, but was only a .271 hitter, so Cavaliers fans hope the improvement he showed in 2012 will carry over to a full season this spring.

The pitching staff will also feature experienced arms.  Senior Scott Silverstein figures to be a weekend starter after making 15 starts on the mound last season. Silverstein posted a 2-5 record, along with a 4.48 ERA and a .249 opposing batting average.  He had a rough finish to the season, but it was also Silverstein’s first full year following shoulder surgery.  Hopefully, he can improve on his numbers from last year and finish his collegiate career with a bang.

Junior Kyle Crockett was the best left-hander in the Cavaliers’ bullpen last season.  Crockett posted a 2.25 ERA, second best on the team, in 32 appearances.  Crockett held opponents to a .204 batting average, striking out 57 over 60 innings.  With Branden Kline now part of the Orioles organization and junior Artie Lewicki rehabbing from arm surgery, Crockett could move into the rotation. In two starts against James Madison and Radford, Crockett allowed two earned runs over nine innings and struck out 10 batters.

Whit Mayberry, like Artie Lewicki, is rehabbing from arm surgery.  Before suffering a season-ending injury, Mayberry had a 2-0 record and a 3.67 ERA in five weekend starts.  Mayberry seems more likely than Lewicki to have an impact on the 2013 Cavaliers, and his return would certainly help to shore up the Cavaliers rotation or add some depth to the bullpen.  The junior’s rehab could be an interesting storyline to track for the season.

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