2003 Virginia Baseball Preview With Head Coach Dennis Womack
Jan. 27, 2003
2003 VIRGINIA BASEBALL PREVIEW
Last season, the Virginia Cavaliers moved into a new home – Ted Davenport Field at the UVa Baseball Stadium. Virginia suited up and had the luxury of playing its 2002 season in one of the finest college baseball facilities in the country. This year, the 2003 Cavaliers would like nothing more than to make Ted Davenport Field at the UVa Baseball Stadium a place opposing teams dislike having to play in. Not because of the facility itself, but because of the team the opposition would be facing in it – the 2003 Virginia Cavaliers.
PITCHING – Starting Pitchers, Relief Pitchers & Closing Pitchers.
On paper, the 2003 Virginia baseball team has the potential to be one of the best teams ever coached by Dennis Womack. Entering his 23rd season as the head coach at UVa, it does not take Womack long to explain why. He and his staff believe pitching is the team’s biggest strength this season.
“Overall, my coaching staff and I believe we are going to have more depth than we have ever had before,” said Womack about his pitching rotation. “We feel pretty confident with our first couple guys at this point and time in terms of who we are going to use as starters, who would be throwing those first couple games for us.”
The first person that comes to Womack’s mind on the mound is third-year RHP Jeff Kamrath (7-4, 3.28 ERA), a returning Second Team All-ACC pitcher in 2002. Kamrath solidified himself as UVa’s bonafide starter last season after leading the team with a 3.28 ERA and a team-high seven wins and 67 strikeouts. He also held opposing batters to a meager .227 batting average. Although the Cavaliers’ rotation is loaded with experienced arms, Womack feels one of Virginia’s best is from a newcomer to the team – first-year LHP Mike Ballard. “Right now, heading into the start of the season, Ballard is our number two guy,” said Womack. “He can really pitch.”
The third guy in the starting rotation may be handled by a rotating committee, and Womack has plenty of talent to choose from. “The third guy right now is really up for grabs, and we have got quite a few candidates to choose from,” said Womack. “One being Andrew Dobies (0-2, 9.67 ERA), who is a left-hander and is coming off a good first year. Chris Gale (2-2, 6.36 ERA), who was in that rotation last year, is a right-hander who is coming off an injury but is looking better and better. Canon Hickman (5-5, 6.62 ERA), who had a few starts last year, is looking pretty strong too. Also, Joe Koshansky (2-5, 5.94 ERA) pitched a lot for us last year and should see some time on the mound. But Koshansky also has to share duty at first base.”
After naming several returning pitchers who could challenge for the number three spot in the rotation, Womack also feels a pair of newcomers could join Ballard and also make a push for time in the weekend rotation. “We have got two other young guys who could be a weekend starter,” said Womack. “One guy is Daniel Tanner. Tanner has a good arm – good follow through with force. Another candidate as a starter is Matt Avery, he has got some good stuff. We have got quite a few candidates for that number three slot and then of course there is going to be times when you are going to need a fourth starter and a fifth starter. So out of that group, I think only the first two spots are secure. The other ones are so close right now, it is very hard to call.”
As is the case with his starting pitchers, Womack feels just as comfortable with the group of relief pitchers he has in the bullpen. “You can pretty much put Greg Hansard (1-3, 3.98 ERA) at the top of the list” said Womack. “Hansard has always been primarily a relief guy, and he has had a couple starts in his career, but he has got a really good arm coming out of the pen. We have also got returning pitcher Adam Laird (0-1, 10.06 ERA) coming back. Laird has a rubber arm, he can just go out there and throw and throw.
“LHP Scott Morgenthaler joins us and is a transfer from Liberty,” said Womack. “He is a soft-throwing left-hander. Morgenthaler has a nice change of pace and he has a really good move towards first base. Josh Myers, who is another newcomer, is a guy who made our team as a walk-on this fall. I am not quite sure where he is going to land at this point in time, but he is still trying to work into the system. Gabe Spooner (0-0, 15.12 ERA) had a pretty good fall for us. He went out and threw a lot of innings and was pretty effective. Returning tri-captain Shooter Starr (1-3, 9.98 ERA) is battling a little bit of an injury, but he is experienced and should hopefully be ready to go by the start of the season. We expect Starr to be a relief guy too.”
With the wealth of talent Womack has with his pitching staff, the guy who he is looking to the most to close out a game might be left-hander Alan Zimmerer (1-3, 4.35 ERA). “Zimmerer sort of took over as the closer last year so I expect him to be able to go to the mound on a consistent basis this year,” said Womack. “What we are looking for in a closer is a guy who can come in during the eighth or ninth inning who can go out there and close out a game for us. We need a guy who can step up and take over that role – a guy that wants that role. It might be done by a committee, but right now, Zimmerer looks to be our closer.”
INFIELD – Catchers, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop & Third Base.
With as strong of a pitching staff as Virginia has in 2003, it is just as important to have quality players behind the plate to round out a top-notch battery. The Cavaliers have a pair of polished and experienced catchers in fourth-year Andrew Riesenfeld (.286, 32 hits, 21 RBI) and second-year Scott Headd (.202, 17 hits, 6 RBI). In 2002, Riesenfeld gunned-down 13-of-35 baserunners and Headd took care of 14-of-42 baserunners attempting to steal a base.
“I feel pretty comfortable with both Riesenfeld and Headd as our catchers,” said Womack. “They both catch well, they both throw well, I think we have got two quality guys. They are also both going to bring a little something different to the plate by swinging a bat. Riesenfeld has got some power, he is going to hit some home runs for us this year. Headd does not have a lot of power at this point in time, but he is more of a contact hitter – you can hit and run with Headd. I do not plan on catching one guy all the time, we will alternate between those two guys. I do not know if it will come out even, but I feel pretty comfortable at times if we need to put one guy in over another that we have got another guy right there, ready to step in and go.”
Look for second-year returner Mike Priest (.222, 11 RBI, 10 hits) to possibly see some playing time behind the plate as well as a first base. “Priest is going to do a couple things for us,” said Womack. “I think we are probably going to play him a little bit as at catcher and probably work him some over at first base.”
Looking around at the infield positions, Womack feels his group of infielders are going to be very sound. “Going into this spring, we looked at this defensive team on the field – the starters – as being as good of a group as we have had in quite some time,” said Womack.
Despite losing last year’s first baseman Robert Word to the MLB Draft, Womack does not expect a whole lot of drop-off with the multi-talented Koshansky defending the bag. “Koshansky is one of the keys to our club,” said Womack. “We are asking him to do a lot for us this year. We are asking Koshansky to move in and play at first base when he is not pitching for us on the mound. He will probably also be batting in the middle of our lineup, we are asking him to bat in the four spot. We have put a load on him, so to say that it is important for him to be a quality player for us, that is not an understatement.
Along with Priest, another guy who could see some back-up playing time at first base when Koshansky in on the mound is Miguel Luina (.167, 10 hits, 5 RBI). “Luina is going to see some playing time as both a back-up at first base and in the outfield,” said Womack.
Playing next door at second base will be the talented duo of third-year Kyle Werman (.280, 44 hits, 21 RBI) and first-year Matt Dunn. “Right now, Werman is the starter,” said Womack. “He worked really hard over the summer to add some strength. If you look at him, you can tell that he has added weight, but the weight is primarily muscle. Dunn is probably going to be the swing guy between shortstop and second. He is a left-handed hitter and he has some quickness. Dunn has a pretty good arm and he knows how to play. He is a guy that we expect to get better and better.”
The shortstop duties will once again be filled by Mark Reynolds (.283, 58 hits, 43 RBI). Last year, he was named a 2002 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and set a UVa record for most home runs by a first-year player with a team-high 15 HR’s.
“Reynolds had a good fall for us defensively. He is probably going to hit in the middle of our lineup, he will probably be our number three hitter. We expect a little bit more out of Reynolds this year, we expect his entire game to step up a notch. Does that mean that he is going to hit 15 home runs again this year? I have no idea. I do not really want him up there trying to hit them, I just want him to swing the bat. Reynolds is also one of our key guys in terms of being a quality hitter. And if you play shortstop, you had better be able to catch and throw, and he can do both for us.”
With the departure of Dan Street at third base, Womack will look to fill that void with talented first-year player Ryan Zimmerman. “Zimmerman is the starter at third base,” said Womack. “He won the job in the fall and really caught the ball well for us. I think some of our players were amazed at some of the plays that he made at third base. Zimmerman is a young guy with the bat but he normally makes contact. He does not have a great deal of power yet, but I think as he adds strength, that is going to change. Zimmerman is probably going to hit five or six in our lineup.”
Womack expects fourth-year player Eric Christensen (.231, 3 hits) to back-up Zimmerman at third base after rehabilitating from an injury. “Christensen has some good versatility in the infield, but he will most likely see time at third base,” said Womack.
OUTFIELD – Left Field, Center Field, Right Field.
UVa only lost one starting outfielder from its 2002 squad in left-fielder David Stone, but he was a good one. However, Womack does not expect his outfield to miss a beat despite the loss of Stone. With two returning starters and a core of returning players coming back, the outfield may be even stronger than it was last season.
“Left field is really up for grabs and we have got quite a few candidates fighting for the position,” said Womack. “There are a lot of candidates. To win that spot, with the guys we are looking at, you could go right down the line: Jordan Ghrist (.250, 1 hit), Paul Gillespie (.167, 2 hits, 1 RBI), newcomer Tom Hagan, red-shirt Ty Grisham and also Luina. There is so much competition for that left field spot. Hagan is a guy who has got some ability. To begin with, he is an athlete. Hagan can run pretty well and he is a left-handed hitter. So that kind of gives him a leg up because you are looking to have some sort of flexibility out there swinging the bat. Gillespie and Luina probably played the most for us in left field during the fall. But they are neck and neck with each other. It is really up in the air.”
One position that is not up in the air is center field, where the strong-armed Chris Sweet (.298, 64 hits, 25 RBI) returns to patrol the outfield. “We are thrilled to have Sweet coming back this season and he is our starting center fielder,” said Womack. “He needs to play every day, he is very important to us. Sweet can really throw the ball and we also worked him a little bit on the mound too. Sweet could possibly see some time on the mound again this year as well. But right now, he will be our starting center fielder and will most likely be our lead-off guy, batting number one.”
Expect second-year Grisham to back-up Sweet in center field if he does not win out a spot in left field. Grisham red-shirted last year and made improvements to his game in the fall.
Just like in center field, Virginia also returns its starting right-fielder with the return of third-year player Matt Street (.301, 53 hits, 29 RBI).
“I think Street has improved a lot,” said Womack. “He made as good of a play as there was made the whole fall for our club in the outfield. I expect a lot of good things from him again this year. Street will probably hit number two in our line-up, so you should see both returning outfielders hitting one and two.”
As with the case with Grisham, if Ghrist does not win a spot in left field, he will provide depth and back-up Street in right field.
Once again, Virginia has a very competitive schedule on hand for the 2003 season. Aside from the rigorous ACC schedule, the Cavaliers will also face the Auburn Tigers and the Miami Hurricanes, opponents from the Big Ten, Big East, Conference USA and the always-tough CAA, along with numerous quality in-state and regional opponents.
“We always try to play a really good schedule,” said Womack. “We have a very demanding schedule again this year and there is no let-up for us. My personal point of view is, if you have a good club, this is the kind of schedule that prepares you for the next level. I think it is the best thing for the players and I know they enjoy playing this type of a schedule and competition.”
— UVa —