Baseball is back! Those 3 words are all you need to hear to know that spring is on the horizon, forget Punxsutawney Phil. The Mountaineers’ season begins this weekend down in Georgia, where they’ll play Kennesaw State, Georgia State and Georgia Tech over the course of three days.
We here at The Smoking Musket wanted to provide you with a preview of the season, along with a positional overview of who you can expect to see out on the diamond for the Mountaineers on a regular basis.
West Virginia has an uphill battle to earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. With a tough non-conference schedule and a Big 12 schedule that has five teams in the preseason Top 25 rankings, the Mountaineers will need to start out strong and finish even stronger to prove their worth.
As mentioned before, the Big 12 boasts five teams in the preseason Top 25 rankings, according to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America, led by #3 Texas Tech and followed by #16 Baylor, #18 Texas, #20 Oklahoma State and #21 TCU. In the preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll, the Mountaineers were picked to finish 6th, just ahead of the Oklahoma Sooners. For those wondering at home, the Big 12 only has 9 teams in baseball, because Iowa State does not have a Division 1 program.
WVU will travel to Corvallis, Oregon from March 1-3 to take on the defending national champions, the Oregon State Beavers. An obvious tough assignment, the Beavers come into this season ranked as the #8 team in America and have two players who have been named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List: Adley Rutschman (Jr, C.) and Kevin Abel (So., RHP).
WVU will host Kent State for their first series at Monongalia County Ballpark from March 8-10, followed by non-conference home matchups against Youngstown State, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Marshall and George Washington. During Big 12 play, WVU will welcome Oklahoma, #3 Texas Tech, Kansas and #21 TCU to Morgantown.
On the road, the Mountaineers will take on Kennesaw State, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, #8 Oregon State, Morehead State, William & Mary, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Penn State and Marshall for non-conference opponents, and will play #16 Baylor, #20 Oklahoma State, #18 Texas and Kansas State in enemy territory during Big 12 play.
You can find the full schedule here.
After the departure of impact players Michael Grove, Kyle Gray, Jimmy Galusky and BJ Myers to the MLB Draft, West Virginia has some big cleats to fill. Coach Randy Mazey admitted that the loss of those guys leaves the program with some holes “not just on the field, but off the field”, adding that, “it’s hard to replace senior leadership with freshmen.” However, the transition is made easier because WVU has a roster laden with veterans of the program. That fact is a testament to the quality of recruiting that Coach Mazey and Coach Sabins have been able to do over the past couple of years.
Four names that you definitely need to know are Alek Manoah, Darius Hill, Ivan Gonzalez and Sam Kessler:
- Alek Manoah (Junior) is a 6’6”, 260 lb. powerhouse on the mound. He has been named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, as well as the Preseason All-America Second Team by Baseball America. Last season, Manoah made 23 appearances, racking up a 3-5 record in tune with a 4.00 ERA, while also striking out 60 batters in just 54.0 innings. While those numbers may not be dazzling, his performance in the Cape Cod League last summer is what garnered him national attention. In 33.1 innings with the Chatham Anglers, Manoah struck out a league-high 48 batters, while pitching to a spectacular 2.70 ERA.
- Darius Hill (Senior) is a 6’1”, 190 lb. star in the outfield. He has been named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Last season, Hill batted .329 with 4 HR’s and 36 RBI’s, while also leading the team with 79 hits. Hill is a stalwart in the outfield, as he has tallied a .988 fielding percentage during his career at WVU.
- Ivan Gonzalez (Senior) is a 5’9”, 190 lb. stud behind the dish and at third base. Last season, Gonzalez batted .255 with 1 HR and 25 RBI’s, but his biggest impact is felt by something that cannot be defined as a statistic - his leadership. As the catcher, Gonzalez is calling the plays for the squad while they’re on defense. His rapport with the pitchers and experience in the program will likely be his greatest impact this season.
- Sam Kessler (Junior) is a 6’1”, 192 lb. lifeline out of the bullpen. Last season, Kessler made 25 appearances, tossing 28.1 innings to a great 2.86 ERA, while also striking out 32 batters and picking up 4 saves. He will be the Mountaineers’ best arm out of the bullpen, likely coming in to pitch those few last innings of tight games.
When WVU takes the field this weekend in Georgia, here are the guys you can expect to see on the diamond:
Darius Hill (Sr., RF), Brandon White (Jr., CF), TJ Lake (R. Jr., LF)
- Austin Davis (Fr.) can play any of the outfield positions and will definitely get some playing time this spring.
Ivan Gonzalez (Sr., C), Marques Inman (R. Jr., 1B), Tyler Doanes (So., 2B), Tevin Tucker (Fr., SS), Andrew Zitel (Sr., 3B)
- The middle infield is very up-in-the-air. Until two guys make a stake for it on the field, you can also expect to see Kevin Brophy (Jr., 1B/3B), Austin Davis (Fr., 2B/OF), Connor Hamilton (So., C) Paul McIntosh (So., C) and Tristen Hudson (So., RHP/3B) get significant playing time early this spring as Coach Mazey figures his lineup out.
Starting Pitchers: Alek Manoah (Jr., RHP), Kade Strowd (Jr., RHP) and Jackson Wolf (SO., LHP)
- You will also likely see Nick Snyder (Jr., RHP) and Daniel Ouderkirk (Fr., RHP) get some starts this season.
Relief Pitchers: Sam Kessler (Jr., RHP), Tristan Hudson (So., RHP), Zach Reid (R. Sr., LHP), Dillon Meadows (R. Jr., RHP), Brock Helverson (Fr., RHP), Ryan Bergert (Fr., RHP), Beau Lowery (Fr., LHP) and Zach Ottinger (Fr., RHP).
- Coach Mazey has a ton of pitchers at his disposal, so it will be up to those men to distinguish themselves from the group and earn their manager’s trust in late game situations.
West Virginia has an exciting season ahead! Although last offseason saw four legends of the program move onto the minor leagues, Coach Mazey has fielded another solid group of young men to carry the program on.
I think that WVU has the talent on this roster to make a run for the Big 12 title. Remember, they made it to the semi-finals of the Big 12 tournament last May! If the leaders of this team can set the bar high early in the season, I think we may be seeing this Mountaineers team goin’ dancin’ later this spring.
My projection: 33-20 (11-13) and #4 in the Big 12 regular season standings.
I will be back on Thursday with a preview of this weekend’s matchups against the trio of Georgia teams. Let’s go, Mountaineers!