2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 5 Virginia
Last season: 14-4
Final ranking: No. 17
Coach (record at school): Brian O’Connor (714-292-2, 17 years)
The good news: After missing back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2018-19, Virginia last season showed it was ready for a return to prominence with an impressive start to the season that culminated with a series win against North Carolina State to open ACC play. Now, nearly everyone returns from that team. The Cavaliers have an impressive offense with outfielder Chris Newell and third baseman Zack Gelof leading the way. Newell was at the front of the Freshman of the Year race in 2020 and brings five-tool ability to the lineup. Gelof has impressive all-around talent at the plate and is part of a strong infield, as the double-play combination of Max Cotier and Nic Kent return as well, keeping Virginia strong up the middle. Virginia has an enviable catching situation, as fifth-year senior Logan Michaels returns as a two-year starter and the Cavaliers also added freshman Kyle Teel, who was a top-100 draft prospect in 2020 before removing his name from the event. Virginia also stands out for its depth and talent on the mound. Righthanders Griff McGarry and Mike Vasil and lefthander Nate Savino return with starting experience and lefthander Andrew Abbott, one of the nation’s best relievers, is unexpectedly back following the shortened draft. He’s previously worked in a multi-inning role and now could also join the rotation, adding further depth to the group in Charlottesville. Sixth-year closer Stephen Schoch also returns at the back of the bullpen.
The bad news: While Virginia’s talent is undeniable, they have not proven themselves in the thick of ACC play or the postseason. Even most of the older players on the roster were not a part of the Cavaliers’ last NCAA Tournament appearance. So how they will hold up under the pressure of that kind of competition is unknown. From an on-field perspective, Virginia doesn’t have a lot of power threats. That’s not an unusual position for the Cavaliers to be in, but they will need to get the most out of Gelof and Newell, who accounted for about 40% of their 22 home runs in 2020.
Player to know: Chris Newell, OF.
Newell was a top-100 prospect in the 2019 draft and the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year became one of the top players in the class to make it to college. He made an immediate impact in the Cavaliers’ lineup, hitting .407/.545/.729 with four home runs and eight stolen bases in 18 games. His numbers likely would have regressed somewhat had the season continued, but he has five-tool ability and can impact the game in all facets.
Path to Omaha: Virginia hasn’t been back to the College World Series since 2015, when it won the national championship. This team certainly has the talent for a return to Omaha, but it must prove it has the mettle for the grind of ACC play and the postseason. While the Cavaliers aren’t as experienced in big moments as some other teams, they have collectively played a lot of college baseball and have plenty of depth around the diamond. If they’ve gelled as a team by the end of the regular season, there will be little to hold them back. Virginia can match up with nearly any team in the country on pure talent.
|C||Logan Michael, R-Sr.||.316||.403||.474||57||1||16|
|1B||Devin Ortiz, R-Jr.||.255||403||.418||55||2||14|
|2B||Max Cotier, R-Fr.||.338||.410||.527||74||1||15|
|3B||Zack Gelof, R-So.||.349||.469||.746||63||5||18|
|SS||Nic Kent, R-So.||.328||.451||.433||67||1||7|
|LF||Marc Lebreux, R-Jr.||.303||.425||.379||66||0||14|
|CF||Chris Newell, R-Fr.||.407||.545||.729||59||4||20|
|RF||Alex Tappen, R-Jr.||.235||.363||.294||17||0||1|
|DH||Brendan Rivola, R-So.||.320||.390||.420||50||0||11|
|LHP||Andrew Abbott, R-Jr.||3||0||1.35||13||28||0|
|RHP||Griff McGarry, R-Jr.||3||0||1.35||20||31||0|
|RHP||Mike Vasil, R-So.||2||0||2.45||22||23||0|
|RP||Stephen Schoch, R-Sr.||1||1||1.62||17||24||5|
|RP||Kyle Whitten, R-Jr.||0||1||2.61||10||9||0|