Five fall keys: Virginia hopes to avenge failure

Kendall Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Virginia coach Brian O'Connor grew up watching the College World Series, but for the first time ever he almost couldn't bear to watch any of the games last season.

It's understandable he felt that way.

The Cavaliers welcomed back one of the nation's most experienced teams last season. They also had an excellent offensive lineup and a solid pitching staff. They were expected to return to Omaha and play and perhaps win the national title.

Instead, Virginia was sitting at home when eight teams assembled in Omaha. The Cavaliers won the Charlottesville Regional before falling to red-hot Oklahoma in super regional action.

The pain of not getting to Omaha last season still is strong, but the Cavaliers are using that as extra motivation this fall. They're committed to finishing the job.

Some things must improve for that to happen.

For instance, the Cavaliers must find a way to replace closer Kevin Arico and four solid hitters from last year's club. They also have the chore of replacing weekend starter Robert Morey, who went 9-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 98 2/3 innings last season.

At the plate, the Cavaliers welcome back six hitters that earned significant playing time last season. The pitching staff welcomes back All-American ace Danny Hultzen, but must figure out the rest of the weekend rotation and settle on some bullpen roles.

Virginia is in the midst of fall workouts with a very talented team. It's now all about putting the pieces together between now and the spring.

Find a new closer

The Cavaliers had one of the nation's best closers last season in Kevin Arico, who recorded 18 saves in 29 appearances and compiled a 2.88 ERA in 34 1/3 innings. That is no longer the case after Arico signed this past summer. That leaves the Cavaliers with a big question mark with two weeks of fall workouts left. Primary candidates to replace Arico include senior Tyler Wilson and sophomore Branden Kline. Wilson, a right-hander, made 31 appearances last season and compiled a 3.41 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. Kline, meanwhile, started eight games, made 22 appearances and had a 3.62 ERA in 64 2/3 innings. It's possible Kline could shift to the weekend rotation if he doesn't earn the closer role. Both pitchers are very talented.

Replace shortstop Tyler Cannon

Virginia has the tough chore of replacing the steady shortstop this fall. Cannon finished last season with a solid .330 batting average, but he was even better in the field with just seven errors and a .966 fielding percentage in 59 starts. The Cavaliers are looking to Stephen Bruno and Chris Taylor for assistance. Bruno batted .388 with three homers and 30 RBIs last season, while Taylor was used sparingly, hitting .305 with just seven RBIs in 59 at bats. Whoever doesn't start will shift to the outfield. This will be an interesting race to watch the rest of the fall.

Replace the entire outfield

Easily the biggest question mark for the Cavaliers this fall, they must find a way to adequately replace a trio of very talented outfielders in Jarrett Parker, Dan Grovatt and Phil Gosselin. Parker was a Yahoo! Sports All-American last season while Grovatt and Gosselin batted .291 and .382, respectively. The Cavaliers will look to Stephen Bruno or Chris Taylor to occupy one of the three outfield spots in the spring. That leaves two slots open. Another likely will go to freshman Mitchell Shifflett, the freshman speedster that broke the national Perfect Game record in the 60-yard dash. The coaches are very pleased with Shifflett's progressions this fall. Other candidates for the remaining spot include John Barr, David Coleman and Reed Gragnani. The Cavaliers believe they have a plethora of talent in the outfield, but also are cognizant it may take time to get comfortable.

Rebuild at the plate

The Cavaliers have some legitimate holes to fill at the plate between now and the spring with the departures of Jarrett Parker, Dan Grovatt, Phil Gosselin and Tyler Cannon. However, they welcome back enough quality hitters to make another CWS run. The Cavaliers welcome back six hitters that earned significant playing time last season. There also is a possibility that ace pitcher Danny Hultzen could become more of a two-way player as he was as a freshman two seasons ago. John Barr, Stephen Bruno and Keith Werman each hit over .370 last season, while John Hicks hit .307, Steven Proscia hit .314 and Kenny Swab hit .328. There's no question they will miss Parker, Grovatt, Cannon and Gosselin, but this unit should be much better than some might think.

Round out the weekend rotation

The Cavaliers again will be in a great situation in series openers next season with left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen leading the way. Hultzen finished last season with a 2.78 ERA in 106 2/3 innings. He also limited opponents to a .193 batting average. The rest of the weekend rotation is the question mark. The Cavaliers return Cody Winiarski, who made 14 starts and compiled a 4.68 ERA last season. However, he must establish more consistency to stay in the rotation next spring. Branden Kline is another possibility after starting eight games last season, but he also is in the mix at closer with reliever Tyler Wilson. Will Roberts, Ryan Ashooh, Tyler Skulina and Kyle Crockett are other potential starters. The Cavaliers have potential in this area, but again, it's about finding the right fits.

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