[Caveats: The purpose of Fall baseball is to assess the readiness of 1st year players for high-level college baseball and where they might contribute when the season starts next February. Veterans play different positions to allow a longer view of how these 1st years react to pressure playing in different positions and batting situations. In addition, I didn't see all the O&B games, nor see what the staff is working on during regular practices, so the following are truly random thoughts based on limited observations.]
Pitching: With Noah Murdock in recovery mode for most, if not all of next season, we will need several 1st year pitchers to step up and assume lead roles on the pitching staff. We need one weekend starter, two midweek starters and a closer which is a very tall order going into next season. Evan Sperling had a very tough end to last season (control and confidence issues) and must produce in the open weekend starter role. He started for Orange in Game 7 yesterday and looked like a weekend starter, hitting 93 mph on his FB, and seems to be BACK. Thus, I foresee the weekend starters as Lynch, Casey and Sperling to start next season. The relief core seems to be in place with returnees Sousa, Harrington, Paisley and Donahue all available. I didn't see any 1st year pitchers (remember limited observations) who were dominating our hitters to the point of a clear favorite for closer or the midweek starter roles. Andrew Abbott got some closing opportunities and did pretty well, but also put men on base. It appears that we will have our first LHP closer since Kyle Crockett, but with the built in drama of Casey Lambert. Robb Adams is another LHP who had some good moments and may be in line for a midweek starter role. Sousa also started and pitched 5 innings in Game 6 and might be a second weekday starter early in the year when we have several double midweek games. I didn't see any real big improvements over the previous year for Wilson and Nicholson, but they will get some innings and chances early next season. I didn't see Tedder or Blake Rohm pitch. The latter has some size, so let's hope he might be in the pitching mix also. First years Hughes Page and Griff McGarry got pushed around by our hitters in Fall baseball, but maybe the staff can get them some success in certain roles next reason. I saw Kyle Whitten and grad transfer Mack Myers pitch, but didn't see anything to think they would have break out years. In summary, pitching has the potential to be better than last year, but is a work in progress again. Finding a reliable closer will be job #1.
Hitting: We lost some tremendous hitters on offense, particularly power hitters, in Haseley, Smith and Clement. Our best chance for "replacing" their power numbers lie in McCarthy and Simmons with help from a few others from time to time. I would expect our power numbers to drop significantly this year and we will be playing small-ball even more than in the past. We do have some good hitters, but we will need them all feeding off each other, so I expect we will have roller-coaster games on offense - some games we will look like CWS candidates and others, our team may be shut down all game. In addition to McCarthy and Simmons (both likely for high draft choices after this year), Weber, Eikhoff, Richardson and Knight need to have outstanding years. We already know what Novak provides. I thought Allocca had an excellent Fall baseball session and should be in the mix for the vacant starting LF position with Cody, or at least as DH. First years Brendan Rivoli and Chritain Hlinka also looked good at the plate and might get some starts in LF or DH. Cayman Richardson had a very good Fall baseball session and played some at 3B to allow other 1st years to play SS. Remember that Fall baseball does not give a good indication of a potential break-out year. Last year at this time, I said I didn't see anything from JUCO transfer Caleb Knight after Fall baseball to expect him to have the year he had. We will need a couple of other "Knight-like" break-out years from unexpected sources to have a really good offense next season.
First Base - I think Ekhoff is the starter here, his bat is too valuable to be left at DH or platoon at 3B. Knight and Blakley also played 1B and did good jobs, so it's possible that against LHP, one of them might get into the early season lineup at First Base.
Second Base - Andy Weber is the starter here. If he struggles against LHP, then Novak could play here and insert a RHH to play 3B in Novak's place.
Shortstop - Richardson will start at SS, but again there is some flexibility because he looked good at 3B and maybe that is possible when we need to add RHH against LHP. Devin Ortiz had a tough Fall baseball session, a couple of errors in the field and not too productive at bat. And Andrew Papantonis did not play this fall. I don't know where Gerstenmeier will fit into the picture.
Third Base - Novak is still the most seasoned hot corner guy and gives you 110% every game.
Left Field - A lot of competition for this "open" outfield spot. Cody is probably the leading candidate, but Allocca's bat needs to be in the lineup and Hlinka could get some early time there to see what happens.
Center Field - Jake without question - the quintessential CF. Unfortunately, Harrison will have to wait another year to get playing time at this point.
Right Field - Simmons for sure. No one has said why he didn't play Fall baseball (other than the exhibition games), but that was probably not needed for him in the grand scheme any way.
Catcher - Knight and Comer are back for their senior years and could platoon based on the opposing pitcher. Each could also DH on days not catching, and it will depend upon Comer's hitting for him to stay in the lineup. Rivoli and Blakley could get a weekday start from time to time.
Leading off - McCarthy is the ideal leadoff guy (speed, bat control, power), but I think we need his bat for RBI production and he will bat 3rd on "my" lineup card. I would try Andy Weber at leadoff and adjust later.
2 - Novak because he can bunt and also square up on a ball to all fields.
3 - McCarthy because we need his RBIs this year.
4 - Simmons because we need his power this year.
5 - Eikhoff because he's the next best LHH on our team after McCarthy and Coach likes to alternate batters
6 - Knight and hope that he continues where he left off from last year. If not then the best RHH DH we have (maybe Cody if not playing LF or Gerstenmeier)
7 - Richardson (he looks to me to be the "most" ready for a break-out year at the plate)
8 - Comer (if catching and Knight is DHing), otherwise the DH bats here
9 - Cody or anyone else playing LF (would really be nice if we get a "second" lead off guy batting here.)
Final thoughts: The Staff has its work cut out for it again this year and will need all their magic to produce results similar to previous years. Our pitching could be better than last year, but who knows until the season starts. Our hitting should go down in power numbers from last year, but who knows until the season starts. We will play more small ball than last year, but who knows until the season starts. As we all know, the Staff likes to use the February games to give opportunities to a number of players "on the bubble" and see who seizes the moment. (Remember Knight last year, started on the bench with Comer and Blakely starting at catcher, only to take over that duty by the March ACC schedule time and really have a great season.) Who will be this season's Knight and who will take over Doyle's closing role, with or without drama, will go a long way toward what kind of season Virginia baseball will have. I always look forward to opening day because I am constantly amazed at how the Staff gets our players ready to be successful and play solid Virginia baseball. Our Staff is still the best in college baseball which should give us all optimism. See you in Orlando, FL.