As much as the statistics suggest a perfect match now, the Branden Cogswell-to-leadoff move wasn’t a given five months ago.
The Virginia baseball team was in its fall season and the replacement for Chris Taylor was still in flux. Taylor held the spot down for two seasons, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in runs scored in 2011 and reaching base in all but two games in 2012.
But the 6-foot-1, 180-pound shortstop took his talents to the Seattle Mariners after last year and Brian O’Connor was left to tinker with the vacancy.
The annual Orange & Blue World Series featured four different leadoff hitters, including Colin Harrington, John LaPrise, Nick Howard and Cogswell.
“We experimented with some different players in that leadoff spot throughout the fall,” said O’Connor, the UVa skipper. “We experimented with Nick Howard a little bit, kind of like what you maybe saw with the Washington Nationals, with what they did with their leadoff spot.”
For the stretch run of Washington’s 2012 season, the Nationals plugged Jayson Werth, a traditional middle-of-the-order batter, in the No. 1 slot of the lineup. Howard, a 6-3, 215-pound third baseman with pop, could have fit that role.
But Cogswell kept producing. In game one of the OB World Series, he went 2-for-3. In game three, he went 2-for-4, had an RBI and scored a run. In a deciding game five, he had a pair of hits and scored twice.
“As we started to settle in, Cogswell was very, very consistent,” O’Connor said.
The Cavaliers had their man.
On Feb. 15 at East Carolina, Cogswell led off Virginia’s season with a single to right field. He later scored on a Kenny Towns grand slam.
The streak was born.
Cogswell has scored in all 12 of UVa’s games this season. The No. 17 Wahoos (12-0) are feeding off their ultimate table-setter.
“He’s been incredible,” said first baseman Jared King, who bats second in Virginia’s lineup. “And even his outs are good, quality contact outs. He’s working pitchers. He’s stealing bags. He’s doing everything you want out of that leadoff and shortstop for us.
“I think that speaks a lot to all the work that he’s put in.”
Cogswell, a 6-2, 170-pound sophomore, is first in the ACC in on-base percentage (.618), runs scored (21) and sacrifice bunts (three), second in walks (14) and triples (two), third in batting average (.487), fifth in hits (19) and stolen bases (six) and 11th in slugging percentage (.641).
Not bad for a guy who, sans a summer ball stint in high school, never batted leadoff in his entire career.
“This season’s been different for me,” Cogswell said. “Leading off’s a new position for me, and I’m just trying to be aggressive and staying within myself. Ultimately as a leadoff guy, I’m just trying to get on base and let the team do what we do.
“I’ll move around and we’ll end up scoring. If I can ever get on base, if we’re leading off an inning, I feel confident that we can get a run across.”
Cogswell played in 41 games last season, getting 27 starts. He routinely hit the in the No. 2-hole.
So a complete approach-adjustment wasn’t necessarily required.
“If you can find your little niche and be comfortable at the plate, that helps,” Cogswell said. “I think the biggest thing is just seeing the ball, not trying to do too much and accept the fact that, hey, if you can get on base to lead off a game, lead off any inning, that’s really putting your team ahead.”
So far, he’s got that duty down.
Last Friday against Harvard, Cogswell ripped a first-inning single down the right field line. He then stole second, advanced to third on a King groundout and came home on a Joe McCarthy sacrifice fly to center field.
It was small-ball, personified.
“That first inning was perfect,” O’Connor said. “We got him to second base, King was able to move him over with two strikes and [Cogswell] scored our first run.
“He’s doing a really, really nice job. He had some really good experiences last year, offensively, for us. He’s matured as a player and is doing a nice job at the top of that order.”
Cogswell and the Cavs were originally scheduled to play VMI today, but inclement weather in the forecast has postponed the matchup.
UVa will begin its ACC schedule this weekend with a three-game set against Maryland (9-3). First pitch at Davenport Field is 5 p.m., Friday.