(Photo credit to the Roanoke times, the picture can be seen here, on the Roanoke Times’ website)
We’re still almost five months before the first pitch is thrown in a new college baseball season, but that doesn’t stop us from looking ahead to February. The Virginia Tech Hokies return a lot of familiar faces from last year’s roster that finished 23-32 (9-21 ACC), but one new face in the dugout this year will be head coach, John Szefc. Szefc was hired away from the University of Maryland in June after he led the Terrapins to three NCAA Tournament appearances while compiling a 180-122 record. This season will also mark the debut of the renovated English Field at Union Park.
The one area the Hokies haven’t struggled over the past five seasons is on offense. Tech returns three players that were named All-ACC a season ago. Jack Owens (third team) returns and looks to build off an impressive 2017 campaign where he finished with 86 hits last season, good for T-44th in the nation. Tom Stoffel, who was named to the second team last season, returns and figures to hold down a spot in the middle of the order. Tom registered one the best ACC seasons in program history last year. In conference play, Stoffel had a .388/.636/.449 slash line AVG. Sam Fragale is the other returning all-conference member for the Hokies after making the second team in 2017. Fragale led Virginia Tech in slugging, home runs, RBI, and sacrifice flies last season. The Hokies also return Stevie Mangrum and JD Mundy, who both will look to build off of their great showings this summer. Look for Tech to again be one of the most powerful offenses – tied for sixth in home runs – in the country again this year.
Tech will return five position players that consistently started last year: Fragale (1B), Owens (2B), Joe Freiday, Jr. (C), Mangrum (LF), and Stoffel (RF). The defense last year struggled with making the routine play, evidenced by their .965 fielding percentage, 205th in the nation. The toughest player to replace in the field will be center fielder Rahiem Cooper. Cooper was one of the fastest and rangiest players in the ACC last season. The Hokies must also replace one side of their infield, as Ryan Tufts (SS) and Garrett Hudson (3B) have graduated. Look for a committee approach between some of the incoming freshman or junior college transfers at each of these positions. If the Hokies can sure up their defense given what they return on offense, they will have the chance to be very successful in John Szefc’s first season.
The biggest area of concern for the 2018 team will be pitching. Tech’s pitching over the past five years has been subpar to say the least. Fifteen Hokies made an appearance on the mound last year. Out of those 15, six of them return. Nine pitchers recorded a start last year for the Hokies. Out of those nine, four return. Like the defense, I believe we will see a bunch of different players get a shot at pitching this season. The key returners for this pitching staff include Andrew McDonald, Joey Sullivan, Luke Scherzer, and Connor Coward. These four seniors will really determine the success of this pitching staff. Outside of these four guys, there isn’t much experience on the roster. Dylan Hall, Nic Enright, and Paul Hall, Jr. are the only other pitchers on the roster that have logged significant innings. Tom Stoffel has also shown the ability to be a matchup left-handed guy out of the bullpen.
While Tech does have a very capable offense, the defense and pitching will hold them back this season. Given the inexperience on the mound and going against some of the best teams in the country week in and week out during conference play, the Hokies will have a tough time posting a winning record. I anticipate the team to post a winning record in non-conference play, which is something they’ve been able to do in two out of the past three seasons. A good conference showing would be recording double digit wins and possibly finishing around .500. Coach Szefc should be pleased with improvement from last year’s squad and getting younger players some experience.
Reasons for Optimism
- Fresh start (new coaching staff and facility)
Reasons for Skepticism
- Pitching experience
- ACC competition
Jack Owens, r-Jr, 2B
Tom Stoffel, r-Sr, OF/P
Sam Fragale, r-Sr, 1B
Joey Sullivan, Sr, P
Andrew McDonald, r-Sr, P
Ryan Tufts, SS
Mac Caples, OF
Rahiem Cooper, OF
Packy Naughton, P
Kit Scheetz, P
Gavin Hinchliffe, P – ranked #8 player in PA by Perfect Game
Darion Jacoby, OF – ranked #19 player in PA by Perfect Game
Zach Kokoska, P – ranked #20 player in PA by Perfect Game
Ian Seymour, P – ranked #13 player in MA by Perfect Game
Nolan Wilson, C – ranked #79 player in GA by Perfect Game