2002 University of Virginia Baseball Outlook with UVa Head Coach Dennis Womack
Jan. 22, 2002
New Season, New Stadium, New Start, Same Goal
When the University of Virginia baseball team begins its 2002 campaign, the Cavaliers will be playing in a new stadium. UVa is scheduled to open the new UVa Baseball Stadium on February 16, 2002 with a doubleheader against the Bucknell Bison. There will be some newcomers on the club, as Virginia welcomes 10 players who will wear the Orange and Blue for the first time. There will be a new assistant coach on the staff, as Neil Schaffner enters his first season at UVa. There will also be some new non-conference opponents and stops on the schedule with trips to Charleston, South Carolina and St. Petersburg, Florida along the way.
The one thing that will not be new to UVa is the team’s philosophy – to win. With 19 letterman returning, including 10 pitchers and four starting players in the field, a very talented class of newcomers and head coach Dennis Womack at the reigns, Virginia is once again primed and ready for another season of excitement on the diamond and in the ACC.
This may be the most talented and deepest pool of pitchers in quite some time at UVa. The Cavaliers welcome back ten of the 12 pitchers it had from the 2001 roster, including three newcomers who may have an immediate impact on the pitching staff.
There is no second-guessing who the Cavaliers’ ace is going to be in 2002. Following a season where he was named a First Team All-ACC selection and was chosen as both the ACC Pitcher and the ACC Player of the Week, Dan Street will look to close out his senior season as a Cavalier with a bang.
“Dan Street will be our number one starter, there is no question about that,” said Womack. “He had a great year last season and we need to get him in the rotation every weekend series.”
According to Womack, four pitching candidates have surfaced and are vying for the other starting roles, with each player possessing a starter’s mentality.
“The four guys that are the furthest along coming out of the fall are Jeff Kamrath, Chris Gale, Joe Koshansky and Canon Hickman, maybe even in that order,” said Womack. “The guy out of that group that probably made the biggest stride during the fall was Gale.”
Womack was quick to point out that even though those five pitchers are front runners in the preseason, nothing states the rotation will stay exactly that way all season.
“Nothing has been solidified for sure,” said Womack. “Ty Collins was also very impressive in the fall, I think he will be knocking on the door for some innings. We also have three newcomers in the program, Gabe Spooner, Adam Laird and Andrew Dobies, who could each make a case for themselves and should put some pressure on the starters.”
“Spooner is a competitor, he has gotten better and better and I think he’s really going to push some of the guys,” said Womack. “Laird is a guy we expected to come in here and try to nail down a starting position as a first-year. He has baseball savvy and was a prized recruit. We are anxious to see how Laird responds. Dobies has a pitchers body with strong legs, and he happens to be a lefty, which is always an asset.”
The Cavaliers appear to have two proven closers waiting to step on the mound and do their thing.
“Right now, the two guys we have groomed to be our closers are Chris Marinak and Greg Hansard,”said Womack. “However, we also have some guys that are trying to find their niche, whether it is in middle-relief, as a starter or as a closer. Those guys are Shooter Starr, Alan Zimmerer and Mark Hurrie. Starr is making great progress after suffering an injury, and Zimmerer and Hurrie are returning guys with game experience. We are just not sure yet where they are going to figure into the rotation.”
Overall, Womack feels the pitching staff is one area of the team he feels most comfortable about. The staff possesses a solid mix of experience, varied strengths and plenty of strong and capable arms for any situation.
“On paper, from top to bottom, we probably have the most depth in our pitching staff than we have had around here in a long time if we are healthy,” said Womack.
After spending the last two years in a back-up role, Andrew Riesenfeld is looking to become the main fixture behind the plate.
“Riesenfeld should be our starter after being the number two catcher last season,” said Womack. “He played some catcher last year and he got his feet wet. It is now his job to step up and provide what we need behind the plate. Riesenfeld is strong, has a good arm and physical ability, he just needs to play.”
Look for first-year Scott Headd to back up Riesenfeld at catcher. Although his playing time may be limited, Womack would like to work him into the rotation to get some game experience under his belt.
“Headd is a very sound and solid defensive catcher who is a hard worker and very capable to play the position,” said Womack.
Third-year first baseman Robert Word looks to nail down the starting position for the Cavs this season after making 43 starts a year ago. He will be expected to combine clubhouse leadership with his play-making ability in the field and at the plate.
“Word will be our starting first baseman,” said Womack. “He will probably also bat fourth for us in our batting line-up. Word is head and shoulders above everyone else right now at that position.”
If there is one position on the team that is unsecured heading into the spring, it is second base. Coach Womack and his staff are looking for someone to step to the forefront and secure the spot.
“It is going to be a battle here,” said Womack. “If we were starting at the end of fall practice, our starter would be Kyle Werman. He probably understands the game of baseball as good as anyone on the team. But Eric Christensen is a wildcard. He won second base last year before suffering an injury. Christensen is versatile, he could see some playing time anywhere in the infield – at second base, third base or even shortstop. It is a toss-up right now between Werman and Christensen.”
Fourth-year Rob Newton will most likely begin the season as a back-up at second base despite making 21 starts a year ago. He should also figure into the mix before the final decision is made.
Like its second base neighbor, there is also a heated battle for the starting shortstop position. Probably the most critical fielding position in the infield, shortstop will most likely be won by a first-year player.
“Two first-year players have surfaced at the position and our starter right now would probably be Mark Reynolds, said Womack. “Reynolds would be our starter right now and would probably have to hit somewhere in the middle of the line-up (5 or 6). He runs pretty well and has good defensive ability. He is above the learning curve of a typical first-year player. Miguel Luina is also battling Reynolds but will probably be the back-up at shortstop.”
The versatile Dan Street will hold down the staring third base position when he is not on the mound pitching. Street, who has recorded time at first, second and third base in his career, looks to anchor the Cavalier infield and provide a source of power the offense may need with his bat.
“We are going to need a valet for Street because when he goes to the mound, we are going to need a third baseman,” said Womack. “You will probably see either Christensen or Priest start at the third base when Street pitches.”
Womack can rest assured with his starting left field spot because it is set in stone – as in David Stone. A three-year starter and an Academic All-American, Stone looks to use his excellent speed and experience to become on of the most dangerous players in the ACC.
“He will probably set the UVa career record for stolen bases as he is only 15 away from the record. Stone will be our lead-off batter and I think a lot of what we do offensively will revolve around him and how much he gets on base. Stone is a very good college baseball player.”
After starting all 55 games in right field last season, Chris Sweet will move from right to center field this year after displaying his strong throwing arm last season. “Sweet was pretty good defensively last year,” said Womack. “Sweet has the strongest arm on the team and has as good of an arm as anyone in the conference.”
Look for the returning duo of Shawn McCleary and Matt Street to compete for playing time in right field in Sweet’s absence. Although the pair will be fighting for playing time on the field, they may also share the bulk of the load as the designated hitter as well.
“Which ever one of McCleary or Street who does not start in right field, could also see time as the designated hitter in that particular game,” said Womack. “Matt Street has made a lot of progress and McCleary probably had the best fall he has ever had. Paul Gillispie should also see more playing time and is probably our fifth outfielder.”
The versatile McCoy should also see some playing time in right-field, as could first-year newcomer Ty Grisham.
“Grisham made progress and knows the competition is tough and there is a lot to learn,” said Womack. “He played hard in the fall and is learning how to use his speed.”
Womack was quick to point out he also likes what a couple of other players can do with their bats to fill out the designated hitter spot.
“I like McCoy at DH too, he is the kind of guy who can run and swing the bat well,” said Womack. “McCoy, Gillispie, Priest, Matt Street and McCleary, any one of those guys could see action at DH.”
Final Thought by Dennis Womack
“As a whole, I feel pretty comfortable with our team chemistry,” said Womack. “We have a solid team-oriented baseball club. Sometimes you run into a team, in any sport, that has a few prima donnas on the club, but we do not have any of those kind of guys on this team. We are going to scratch and claw at times to get some wins and we are going to need to play close to our potential to be successful. In terms of how I view the team – and this is a complimentary term – I think we have a few more ‘Dirtbags’ on this club, and that is good. I like Dirtbags – guys that get out there, they play hard and they play team baseball the whole way through. I think these guys are going to be a fun group of kids to coach.”