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WVU Baseball: 2019 Season Review

The Mountaineers far exceeded expectations in 2019 by winning 38 games and hosting their first NCAA Regional in half a century. Let’s review their historic season!

Team Huddle
John Lowe/The Daily Athenaeum

It’s taken me a little while to write this blog, as the heartbreak that was our loss to Texas A&M made it hard to think about WVU Baseball for a couple weeks. I suppose that, as a Mountaineer fan, I should be used to heartbreak and being let down, but I always let myself get my hopes up - probably just like each one of you.

However disappointing (and painful) the end of the season was for WVU Baseball, we can hang our hat on the fact that this team was extremely good and brought a lot of joy to our lives this spring. From having an ace like Alek Manoah, or studs like Darius Hill, Ivan Gonzalez and Brandon White, this team was just fun to watch and I’m so grateful to have been able to cover them as closely as I have this season.

A 38-22 (13-11) record is nothing to sneeze at. Anytime you push 40 wins as a college baseball team, you know you’ve had a heckuva year. The fact that we were able to do so well in as tough a conference as the Big 12 is even more impressive. Although our conference may never have the success in baseball that the SEC or ACC has, it was a dogfight for the Big 12 Title in both the regular season and conference tournament.

Back in my season preview, I projected that WVU would go (33-20) (11-13). Honestly, I thought I was being overly optimistic. Manoah really hadn’t proven himself yet, we had lost so many great players to the MLB Draft last June and our younger guys were still pretty green. I’m thrilled that WVU exceeded expectations and entered the NCAA Tournament as a regional host and #13 ranked team in America.

Standouts

(In no particular order)

Alek Manoah

It’s hard to understate how good Manoah was in 2019. A guy who, coming into this season, had a career ERA over 4.00 absolutely dominated this season en route to being named to 5 All-America First Teams and selected #11 overall to the Toronto Blue Jays.

He finished with a 9-4 record, a 2.08 ERA, a .91 WHIP, and 144 strikeouts in 108.1 innings pitched. DOMINANT.

It will likely be a couple years before AK makes his first appearance in the big leagues, but when he does, he’ll have the support of the entire state of West Virginia behind him. Congrats, big fella!

Coach Randy Mazey

This man just “secured the bag”, so to speak. Mazey was one of the lowest-paid coaches in the Big 12 coming into the season, but that won’t be that way much longer. He’ll have tons of offers to go coach elsewhere for a pay raise, and AD Shane Lyons will likely have to raise his yearly salary by a pretty hefty sum in order to keep him.

After leading the Mountaineers to a 38-22 record in 2019, Mazey’s career line sits at 227-176 (56.3%). Although that winning percentage isn’t “elite”, he has led WVU to the NCAA Tournament for 2 of the past 3 seasons and produced 14 MLB draftees in that time.

Mazey currently has a maximum possible salary (with incentives) of $449,000, but the Big 12 average sits at $601,662. Now, this is inflated a bit due to the hefty salaries of TTU Coach Tim Tadlock ($916,667) and TCU Coach Jim Schlossnagle ($1,179,996), but still - Mazey is underpaid.

Expect WVU to honor Mazey with a contract extension this offseason, with a ballpark annual figure of around $600,000. He deserves it.

The Bullpen

This may be an overgeneralization, as the bullpen did struggle at times, but most of the time, when Mazey brought in a reliever, they slammed the door.

Sam Kessler had 8 saves to go alongside a 3.19 ERA. His 36.2 innings pitched came in “crunch time” and he generally proved up to the bill. Evidently, the Detroit Tigers were impressed enough by his performance to take him in the 36th round (1,012th overall).

Nick Snyder, although not exclusively a bullpen arm, did make 3 appearances out of the ‘pen. He was simply amazing in 2019, giving WVU a legit chance to win every midweek game they played, which went a long way to securing a regional bid in the NCAA Tournament. Snyder went 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA, striking out 103 batters in just 68.0 innings. He was taken in the 11th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ryan Bergert (2-0, 1.85 ERA), Gabe Kurtzhals (2-0, 3.38 ERA) and Beau Lowery (0-2, 4.61 ERA) made a significant contribution as true freshmen. Coach Mazey turned to them quite often and they did their job effectively. It will be exciting to see the role they carve out for themselves in the 2020 season.

The Offensive Leaders

At times in 2019, the offense of the Mountaineers was stagnant. However, we were frequently able to “flip the switch” in the late innings and steal a handful of games from the opponent. Here are the most prominent offensive stars from 2019:

It all begins and ends with Darius Hill. The 4-year senior and team captain was undeniably WVU’s offensive leader all season long. He batted .315/.376/.521 with 25 doubles, 3 triples, 6 home runs, 41 RBI’s and 47 runs scored. His amazing career at WVU culminated in him begin selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round (612th overall).

Tyler Doanes had a fantastic year holding down 2nd base. With the departure of Kyle Gray and Jimmy Galusky in 2018, Coach Mazey needed a new tandem to play the tough middle infield; Doanes and true freshman Tevin Tucker delivered nicely. Doanes hit .316/.398/.500 with 21 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 32 RBI’s and 40 runs scored. He also was a threat on the base paths, stealing 20 bags. He’ll be the stud of WVU’s 2020 lineup, so I’m excited to see how much better he gets in the offseason.

Ivan Gonzalez was the epitome of a Mountaineer. Tough, fearless and a phenomenal leader, Gonzalez battled day after day to make WVU a better team. He played in all 60 games (which for a catcher is unheard of, even if he didn’t catch every day) and hit .294/.397/.407 with 15 doubles, 3 home runs, 31 RBI’s and 39 runs scored. Most importantly, though: he made sure the WVU pitching staff had as good a year as they had. He was rewarded for his hard work with being selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 8th round!

Brandon White, or “Mr. Highlight”, “Mr. SportsCenter Top 10”, or... well, you get it. White was a beast in the outfield for 3 years as a Mountaineer, and offensively, he wasn’t too shabby either. In 2019, White hit .272/.387/.308 with 5 doubles, 1 triple, 26 RBI’s, 37 runs scored and a team-high 26 stolen bases. He was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 17th round.

Marques Inman and Paul McIntosh were both huge catalysts offensively for the Mountaineers, and luckily for West Virginia, they’ll be back for the 2020 season. These two were the sluggers in the lineup, hitting a combined 19 HR’s and driving in 75 runs. I figure they’ll slot in near the top of the lineup next season.

Fan Support

Maybe this was due to our football and basketball teams having less than optimal seasons, but the engagement by Mountaineer fans to the baseball program was fantastic. Monongalia County Ballpark became a destination for fans to catch a ballgame and cheer on a really good team. So, great job, Mountaineer fans! Keep it up in 2020!

So, what’s next?

As the program transitions into its offseason session, Coach Mazey has some serious evaluation to do. First and foremost, WVU needs to secure Mazey with a contract extension. Then, Mazey needs to go to work figuring out his lineup for 2020.

With his top 3 starting pitchers being drafted, WVU will need to plug in some new front-line guys to take Manoah, Snyder and Strowd’s spots next season. We will have Jackson Wolf returning, but after his up-and-down 2019, will he be trusted enough to get the ball on Friday nights next spring?

WVU has also lost their closer in Sam Kessler. This isn’t as big a worry for me, because of the immense depth we have in young arms in the bullpen. Expect Bergert, Kurtzhals and Lowery to get a chance to be the closer in 2020.

In terms of position players, WVU has lost a tremendous amount of production in Darius Hill, Ivan Gonzalez, Brandon White and Andrew Zitel. New starters will be needed in CF, RF, and Catcher. I’d guess that Paul McIntosh will likely take over behind the dish next season, while Austin Davis will take one of those jobs in the outfield.

As we move through the summer months, multiple WVU players will be leaving campus to play summer ball elsewhere in the country. We’ll keep track of them and report on their progress as time rolls on.

When classes resume in August, WVU will officially begin their fall training program. This is when we’ll get our first look at the incoming freshmen class and see who Mazey installs as his regular players when we play our exhibition matchups in a few months.

Thanks for following along this season as WVU officially became a #BaseballSchool!

Let’s go, Mountaineers!