Untested outfield no problem for O'Connor: Virginia lineup features young outfield, veteran infield as season begins Friday night

By Meredith Hulley Cavalier Daily

February 20, 2008

Charlottesville, VA (UWIRE) -- The Virginia baseball team looks to continue its record of excellence as it heads into the 2008 season. Last year, Virginia made it to the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual national champion Oregon State University in the regional final.

Since then, six Cavaliers were selected in last summer's Major League Baseball draft, a school record, and the team graduated several other key contributors. This means the Cavaliers will go into this season with 16 new players on the roster.

With so many new faces in place, questions pertaining to the starting lineups are bound to arise. Perhaps the biggest question mark with this year's team rests in the outfield, as the only outfielder from last season's roster is redshirt freshman Mark Riffee.

But if anyone has concerns about the undecided nature of the Cavaliers' outfield, nobody is showing it.

"It's still pretty early to tell," coach Brian O'Connor said. "But, I think we have four freshman outfielders that I have a lot of confidence can play right away for us and help us win."

Junior infielder and team captain David Adams agreed.

"I think ultimately the younger guys [are] smart enough, they're talented enough; they can just jump in and they'll fit in right away," he said.

O'Connor also said he is not worried about having the starting outfield set by the first game of the season.

"We'll mix and match a bunch of different guys for the first 10 ball games or so and find out which combination works the best," he said.

One of the options available to O'Connor is playing senior Patrick Wingfield in left field to provide an experienced presence in the outfield.

Wingfield can expect to "get some time at third base and probably some time in left field," O'Connor said, adding that the veteran will also likely play designated hitter this season.

Though he does not have a set place for Wingfield yet, O'Connor said he believes it's important to keep him in the lineup.

"He's a veteran guy," O'Connor said. "He's played a lot over three years and he's done a nice job."

Wingfield will share his time at third base with sophomore Tyler Cannon, who will also play shortstop until junior Greg Miclat recovers from shoulder surgery at the end of last season and returns full-time. Cannon may also have the opportunity to exercise his talents at catcher; O'Connor described him as "an option back there."

Virginia has other options behind the plate, as well. The Cavaliers are hoping to avoid the loss of catchers Beau Seabury and Ryan Hudson with sophomore transfers Franco Valdes and Ryan Smith. Smith, a transfer from Notre Dame, proved himself with the bat last season, ranking fourth in batting average for the Irish. Valdes joins Virginia from Broward Community College in Miami.

One of Virginia's strongest points heading into this season is the return of a veteran infield.

"It plays a huge role," Adams said. "You don't have to worry about getting that adjustment with the younger guys."

Joining Adams as returning infielders will be Wingfield, Cannon, Miclat and junior Jeremy Farrell.

Even with a strong infield core, however, there will be some adjustments, particularly in regard to Miclat's return to the lineup.

"Coming off of shoulder surgery [is] a challenging thing to do," O'Connor said. "His throwing program has progressed very well ... We're at the point right now where it's got to apply to a baseball game."

Even with some questions still unanswered, the team is excited to get the season started.

"All the guys are ready -- we're anxious, we can't wait," Adams said. "I've been talking to a bunch of freshmen and a couple other guys the past couple days, and I don't think anybody's more excited than we are."

(C) 2008 Cavalier Daily via UWIRE

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