As the cold, wintry days still hang around the foothills of West Virginia, there is one phrase that is a sign of better weather to come, “BASEBALL IS BACK”.
Yes, “BASEBALL IS BACK”, in all caps. Let’s be honest, it has been a whirlwind of a year for WVU sports and the baseball program hopes to end the school year on a good note and bring excitement back to the university in 2019.
Head coach Randy Mazey is heading into his 7th season as the Mountaineers skipper and has really built this program from the bottom, up. He led the Mountaineers to its first postseason appearance in 21 years in 2017 and will look to restore some of that magic in 2019 after an injury riddled 2018 season. Mazey is 189-154 at West Virginia, which makes him the programs fifth winningest coach.
Big 12 Sneak Peek
There is no question that the Big 12 Conference is clearly one of the best conferences from top to bottom across all of college baseball. This year, five of the nine teams are ranked in the preseason top 25; #3 Texas Tech, #15 Baylor, #18 Oklahoma State, #19 TCU and #23 Texas. Those five clubs will be a handful, along with the Oklahoma Sooners who are coming off their 2nd straight 35+ win season. The Mountaineers finished 7th in the league in 2018 and the “experts” are not expecting much of an improvement in 2019 as show below.
Big 12 Preseason Projected Standings
1. Texas Tech 2. Baylor 3. Oklahoma State 4. TCU 5. Texas 6. Oklahoma 7. West Virginia 8. Kansas 9. Kansas State
(For those who don’t follow baseball closely, Iowa State does not have a baseball program)
Breaking Down the Schedule
The conference schedule is certainly challenging, but aside from that, it is a pretty manageable slate considering how much this team lost from last year. West Virginia will start of its season in the Peach State in the Atlanta Challenge where it will take on Kennesaw State on Feb. 15th then will battle against Georgia State and Georgia Tech. Following the early season tournament, the team will travel three hours to Statesboro, Georgia for a three game set vs Georgia Southern before it’s marquee series with the reigning national champions, Oregon State on the road in Corvallis.
The Mountaineers will open their home schedule at Monongahela County Ballpark on March 8th for a three game series vs Kent State, who went 40-18 a year ago. The schedule also includes single game home and homes vs Marshall, Pitt and Penn State and single road games vs Maryland and Virginia Tech.
Position Players Preview
So long are veterans Kyle Gray and Jimmy Galusky who have both began their professional careers in the minors, but returning is the majority of the 2018 starting lineup.
Key returners are headlined by outfielder Darius Hill, who hit at a .329 clip last season and finished 2nd on the team in the RBI department with 36. Joining him in the outfield is speedy Brandon White. He started all 56 games for Mazey’s club last year and successfully stole 22 bases and held an impressive .392 on-base percentage. White is a guy that can easily help improve the teams run production if he just finds ways to get on base, which means bunt for a base hit which he will do at times.
Two other big pieces coming back are starting catcher Ivan “Pudge” Gonzalez and super utility man Braden Zarbnisky. Gonzalez started 52 games behind the dish last season and led the team in putouts with 348 and only 8 errors. Zarbnisky is Mazey’s Swiss Army knife as he can do a little bit of everything. Need a relief pitcher, pinch hitter, solid fielder all combined into one? Braden Zarbnisky is your man. He led the Mountaineers in on-base percentage in 2018 (.403) in his 49 starts and knocked in 19 RBI. Also, don’t want to forget to mention that he led the team in stolen bases with 27.
The power you ask? Leave that up to redshirt junior first baseman Marques Inman and junior first baseman Kevin Brophy. Both hit six home runs a year ago, which led the team. Brophy had an injury shortened season, so we only got to see a glimpse of his power potential. He did however, hit three home runs in one game in the Myrtle Beach tournament last year and each one had no doubt clearing the fence.
Other notable players:
(SO) Tyler Doanes- .317 AVG 1 HR 20 RBI .407 OBP
(r-JR) Chase Illig- .206 AVG 5 HR 17 RBI
(SR) Andrew Zitel- .235 AVG 1 HR 16 RBI .318 RBI
West Virginia will be in the hunt for some quality starting pitching in 2019, which is something they lacked a year ago. B.J. Myers, the teams ace, was lost to graduation and Michael Grove signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being drafted in the 2nd round of the First Year Player Draft.
The coaching staff does have some options as the cupboard is not bare by any means, but the production level will certainly have to step up. Flame throwing junior Alek Manoah or “AK47” as they call him, is a guy that might slide into the starting rotation on a permanent basis if he shows consistency. He is by far the Mountaineers most attractive prospect, in terms of the MLB Draft, but his control is something that must improve for him to take that next step. Manoah was selected to Baseball America’s Preseason All-America team back in January.
Juniors Kade Strowd and Sam Kessler are two other candidates for the rotation. Strowd pretty much has locked up a spot in the rotation, as that’s where he been utilized the most and was 2nd on the team last year with 13 starts. Kessler did all of his work in relief in 2018, but is a veteran guy and pitched really well when called upon and could slide into a starters role. That will be a tough decision for the staff to potentially move their most reliable reliever into the rotation, but it is a move that has worked many times before.
Other notable pitchers:
(SO) Jackson Wolf- (1-1) 17 appearances/2 starts, 4.07 ERA, 24/15 (K:BB)
(SR) Braden Zarbnisky- (2-3) 15 appearances/4 starts, 4.62 ERA, 35/15 (K:BB)
(SO) Tristen Hudson- (2-0) 24 appearances, 5.13 ERA, 25/15 (K:BB)
2019 DVN Projection
The Mountaineers have an opportunity early on to get off the new season to a good start, but it will ultimately come down to the performance of the pitching staff. Scoring runs won’t be a problem in 2019, but finding enough capable arms to go deep into games is going to be a tall task for Randy Mazey.
The starting lineup is veteran heavy, whereas the pitching staff is quite the opposite. Guys like Manoah, Strowd and Kessler will likely carry the bulk of the load, but guys like Nick Snyder, Cody Wood, Jackson Wolf and Zach Reid will need to step up as their roles expand.
If the ‘Eers can squeeze at least one game out @ Oregon State or potentially win the series, it helps the build the tournament resume immensely. Outside of the Big 12 and Oregon State, there are some very winnable games/series.
Final record prediction: 29-24 (5th in Big 12)
|2/15||Fri||West Virginia||@||Kennesaw State||4 pm|
|2/16||Sat||West Virginia||@||Georgia State||2 pm|
|2/17||Sun||West Virginia||@||Georgia Tech||1 pm|
|2/22||Fri||West Virginia||@||Georgia Southern||6:30 pm|
|2/23||Sat||West Virginia||@||Georgia Southern||3 pm|
|2/24||Sun||West Virginia||@||Georgia Southern||11:30 am|
|3/1||Fri||West Virginia||@||Oregon State||5:35 pm|
|3/2||Sat||West Virginia||@||Oregon State||1:35 pm|
|3/3||Sun||West Virginia||@||Oregon State||1 pm|
|3/8||Fri||Kent State||@||West Virginia||3 pm|
|3/9||Sat||Kent State||@||West Virginia||2 pm|
|3/10||Sun||Kent State||@||West Virginia||1 pm|
|3/12||Tue||West Virginia||@||Morehead State||4 pm|
|3/13||Wed||West Virginia||@||Morehead State||4 pm|
|3/15||Fri||West Virginia||@||William & Mary||6 pm|
|3/16||Sat||West Virginia||@||William & Mary||4 pm|
|3/17||Sun||West Virginia||@||William & Mary||1 pm|
|3/19||Tues||Youngstown State||@||West Virginia||3 pm|
|3/22||Fri||West Virginia||@||Baylor*||6:35 pm|
|3/23||Sat||West Virginia||@||Baylor*||3 pm|
|3/24||Sun||West Virginia||@||Baylor*||1 pm|
|3/29||Fri||Oklahoma*||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|3/30||Sat||Oklahoma*||@||West Virginia||4 pm|
|3/31||Sud||Oklahoma*||@||West Virginia||1 pm|
|4/3||Wed||Pittsburgh||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|4/5||Fri||West Virginia||@||Oklahoma State*||6 pm|
|4/6||Sat||West Virginia||@||Oklahoma State*||2 pm|
|4/7||Sun||West Virginia||@||Oklahoma State*||1 pm|
|4/10||Wed||West Virginia||@||Maryland||4 pm|
|4/12||Fri||Texas Tech*||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|4/13||Sat||Texas Tech*||@||West Virginia||4 pm|
|4/14||Sun||Texas Tech*||@||West Virginia||1 pm|
|4/17||Wed||West Virginia||@||Penn State||6:30 pm|
|4/19||Fri||Kansas*||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|4/20||Sat||Kansas*||@||West Virginia||4 pm|
|4/21||Sun||Kansas*||@||West Virginia||1 pm|
|4/23||Tue||Penn State||@||West Virginia||7 pm|
|4/30||Tue||Marshall||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|5/3||Fri||TCU*||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|5/4||Sat||TCU*||@||West Virginia||4 pm|
|5/5||Sun||TCU*||@||West Virginia||1 pm|
|5/8||Wed||West Virginia||@||Virginia Tech||6 pm|
|5/10||Fri||West Virginia||@||Kansas State*||6 pm|
|5/11||Sat||West Virginia||@||Kansas State*||4 pm|
|5/12||Sun||West Virginia||@||Kansas State*||1 pm|
|5/14||Tue||Pittsburgh||vs.||West Virginia #||6 pm|
|5/16||Thur||George Washington||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|5/17||Fri||George Washington||@||West Virginia||6:30 pm|
|5/18||Sun||George Washington||@||West Virginia||2 pm|