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Baseball Cavs top preseason polls

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Posted: Monday, January 27, 2014 10:24 am | Updated: 11:06 am, Mon Jan 27, 2014.

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Friday, the league coaches pegged them as the ACC favorite. Monday, a couple of respected publications pegged them as the nation title front-runner.

The Virginia Cavaliers are Baseball America's preseason No. 1 team as well as Perfect Game's preseason No. 1 team.  It's the third time in the past five years UVa has topped the polls. In 2010, it was preseason No. 2.

Here's what Baseball America had to say about the loaded Wahoos:

Hitting: 75*. With seven juniors and a 2013 freshman All-American (Joe McCarthy) returning from a team that ranked in the nation’s top 10 in scoring, doubles, triples, slugging and walks, Virginia has a chance to be the best offensive team of college baseball’s BBCOR era. With a 54-36 career walk-strikeout mark, Branden Cogswell is an ideal table-setter. Derek Fisher established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the 2014 draft class last summer in the Cape Cod League, and Mike Papi led the nation in on-base percentage last year while also hitting for power. John La Prise led the Northwoods League in hitting last year and looks poised for a breakout. Every player in the lineup is capable of hitting for average and driving the gaps. The addition of talented freshmen SS Daniel Pinero and C Matt Thaiss provides enviable depth, and both figure to push for playing time.

Power: 70. Fisher, Papi and McCarthy form a fearsome trio of lefthanded sluggers. The loose, wiry Brandon Downes does not have as refined a hitting approach but brings real righthanded power, while Kenny Towns and Nick Howard offer additional pop from the right side.

Speed: 65. Fisher has been clocked at 6.35 seconds in the 60-yard dash, while the similarly physical McCarthy can run a 6.6, making both surprisingly fast runners. Downes and La Prise are also above-average runners, while Cogswell has solid-average speed and Papi has fringe-average speed. The Cavs are very aggressive going after extra-base hits and going first to third.

Defense: 60. Cogswell is a sure-handed field general, but Pinero has more arm strength and range and has a chance to push him to second. Irving has solid catch-and-throw and leadership skills, and Downes is a standout with a plus arm in center, making this team good up the middle. Papi played left field last year and is just adequate at first, and Fisher has a long way to go in left despite his speed. Towns defends well enough at third to allow Howard to focus on pitching and DHing.

Starting Pitching: 60. Brandon Waddell’s competitiveness and feel for pitching with an 87-91 fastball, a solid curveball and changeup helped him succeed as the Friday starter from the onset of his career. Nathan Kirby is much more electric, with a fastball that touches 94 and a wipeout breaking ball, and his mound presence and command improved in the fall, though he could miss a week or two early in the season while recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Howard’s four-pitch mix is highlighted by a low-90s fastball that can reach 95 in short stints, making him a candidate to close as well. Fr. RHP Connor Jones has advanced feel for an 89-94 sinker and a good changeup, and his slider showed flashes of improvement in the fall.

Bullpen: 60. Replacing closer Kyle Crockett is Virginia’s biggest challenge. Josh Sborz took a leap forward in the fall, commanding a 90-94 fastball and a tight slider, and he could be in the mix to start if he doesn’t close. Fr. RHP Jack Roberts has a better arm than older brother Will (a former UVa. standout), with a fastball that has reached 93-94 and plenty of moxie. Three Sr. RHPs—Artie Lewicki, Austin Young and Whit Mayberry—bring experience and stability, making this a deep staff.

Experience/Intangibles: 65. Virginia’s lineup is overflowing with mainstays who have started for two full seasons, and Waddell has proven himself as a quality Friday starter. The rest of the pitching staff is less established, and none of UVa.’s everyday players or starting pitchers has played in Omaha. The stable, experienced coaching staff is one of the nation’s very best.

Baseball America OFP: 70. The Cavaliers are extraordinarily deep, balanced and talented. After losing a home super regional to Mississippi State last year, they’ll also be hungry to get back to Omaha for the first time since 2011. Virginia looks like a serious threat to break the ACC’s 59-year title drought.

*Number is based on 1-80 scale. 80 is team of the ages. The OFP grade is "Overall Future Potential." UVa got a 70, which is considered "elite, a leading contender for the national title." No. 2 Oregon State received a 65 OFP. 

Baseball America's projected lineup:

C Nate Irving

1B Mike Papi

2B John La Prise

3B Kenny Towns

SS Branden Cogswell

LF Derek Fisher

CF Brandon Downes

RF Joe McCarthy

DH Nick Howard

Projected rotation and closer:

LHP Brandon Waddell

LHP Nathan Kirby

RHP Nick Howard

RP Josh Sborz 

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