With the college baseball season right around the corner, we start previewing every team in the Big 12. Here’s a closer look at the West Virginia Mountaineers.
2017 Record: 36-26 (12-12 in Big 12 play), Runner-up in Winston-Salem Regional
Head Coach: Randy Mazey, 6th season (160-127)
Last NCAA Regional appearance: 2017
Big 12 Coaches Prediction: 5th (38 points)
In The Box
People know who the Mountaineers are this year. Playing hide and seek is over. This team has made amazing strides under skipper Randy Mazey. Now, they’ve been there and done that. The lineup will return six of its nine starters from 2017. However, the elephant in the room is the missing 21 combined home runs from MLB draftees Jackson Cramer and Kyle Davis. Also missing from the lineup will be Cole Austin’s seven home runs after he transferred to Arizona State.
If this team decides to make up for lost power, Kyle Gray is the likely man to step up. While he was low on the totem pole in homers as a sophomore with just three. He was the only Mountaineer to crack the top 10 in batting categories for conference play. Gray produced seven doubles and two triples against Big 12 squads last season, proving that he’s the leader against quality competition.
Outside of power, this is quality hitting squad. Three regular returners hit above .300 last season. If Braden Zarbinsky gets on base, opposing batteries will have their hands full. Zarbinsky doesn’t hit every game, because he’s also a pitcher. In 17 conference games, he still managed to rank third in the league with eight stolen bases as a sophomore. The dude has wheels. Speed is something Mazey appreciates.
“I love this team,” Mazey said. “We have speed at the top and the bottom. We have guys in the middle who can run the ball out of the yard. We can do some different things and play an up-tempo game. We’re going to win some games that way, we’re going to win some games by slugging the ball, we’re going to win some games by pitching, and we’re going to win some games defensively. I don’t think we’re a one-dimensional team by any stretch of the imagination. It’s nice to know that you have a team that’s capable of winning in different ways. We’ve got a lot of options.”
Other names to look out for are Ivan Gonzales (.336 avg., .384 slg., .359 obp), Darius Hill (.307 avg., .422 slg., .440 obp.) and Marques Inman (16 starts before injury, .351 avg, .544 slg., .387 obp.)
On the Rubber
The weakness of the 2017 squad may become a strength soon. Legendary coach Dave Serrano is now on West Virginia staff, and his specialty is pitching. For those who do not follow college baseball closely, Serrano has led UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series as a head coach. Most recently, he tried his luck out in the SEC at Tennessee. After six seasons and zero NCAA Regional appearances, he resigned.
“They’re buying in to what he’s teaching, so I think he’s got their attention,” Mazey said of Serrano. “Whether that be his background or his pedigree or the fact that he’s won national championships and been on Team USA. You get instant buy-in even before you meet him, so I think they’re buying in to the success that he’s had and his ability. I think he’s coached 34 pitchers who have gone on to pitch in the big leagues, so how can you not buy in? If you don’t, that’s your fault, it’s not his.”
The known starters are senior RHP B.J. Myers (5-5, 4.52 ERA, 16 starts) and sophomore RHP Alek Manoah (1-1, 3.07, 10 starts, 18 appearances. The third spot in the rotation will feature a battle between experienced sophomores Isaiah Kearns (5-0, 4.75 ERA, 8 starts, 15 appearances) and Kade Strowd (1-3, 5.76 ERA, 8 starts, 17 appearances).
West Virginia can reclaim its status as the Nomads this season, as they likely will every season. Their first 15 games are on the road. That’s nothing new to this team as they are in a state that doesn’t warm up until April, at best. They start off visiting Jacksonville, a team who won 36 games in 2017. The Mountaineers follow that up playing VCU, Illinois and Coastal Carolina at the Brittain Resorts Invitational. VCU is picked second in the Atlantic 10 this season. Coastal Carolina won the 2016 National Championship. The Mountaineers will also make trips to Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech before opening their home schedule March 16 against Canisius. Out of those, Tech is likely the best team as they are the preseason favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference. During their conference bye week, the Mountaineers will host UNLV. Other games include playing Penn State, Pitt and Marshall. This is not a strong schedule at all. West Virginia may be relying on their road record if they become a bubble team at season’s end.