MORGANTOWN — When the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll was released Jan. 31, the WVU baseball team was in the top half for the first time since joining the conference, in 2012.
One quick look at the roster will tell why his peers are so high on head coach Randy Mazey’s team: The Mountaineers lost only three players who registered at bats in 2017. The pitching staff returns 465 1/3 of the 551 innings it pitched last season.
There is a lot of talent coming back for a team that reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
“I’m confident in them,” Mazey said of this year’s team, which unofficially opened its season Feb. 2, with the Leadoff Dinner, at the Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place.
“As long as they don’t get caught up in the hype, the expectations and the preseason rankings, you always worry about that. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, I really like this team.”
The players who are gone, however, were important contributors to a team that won 36 games before being eliminated by Wake Forest in the NCAA regionals.
First baseman Jackson Cramer and pitcher Jackson Sigman are gone because of graduation. Cramer was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 35th round of the MLB draft last June.
Left-fielder Kyle Davis was a 15th-round pick by the Houston Astros and decided to sign his professional contract rather than return for his senior year.
Third baseman Cole Austin decided to transfer to Arizona State, where he will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Overall, the Mountaineers lose about a third of their home run and RBI production from a year ago.
That also leaves both corner infield positions open with less than two weeks to go until the season opener, at Jacksonville State, on Feb. 16.
“Don’t know and don’t know,” Mazey said when asked about who will get the starting nod at first and third. “Early in the year, you try different combinations and whoever wins jobs, wins jobs. The lineup at the end of the season is rarely what it was at the beginning. Everybody will get a chance going into it and we’ll see who steps up.”
A few options at first and third could include Marques Inman, Kevin Brophy and Alek Manoah, but Manoah may be more valuable in other ways.
He pitched 55 1/3 innings and posted a 3.07 ERA as a freshman last season. Mazey doesn’t worry about Manoah’s ability to play first when he’s not pitching, but is afraid of allowing him to run the bases.
“If we lose him to an injury and lose him on the mound, that really hurts our team,” Mazey said. “We’re going to try and use him sporadically as much as we can without jeopardizing him on the mound.”
Mazey said that pitcher Conner Dotson will begin throwing soon after breaking his right pitching arm during a bullpen session last April.
Pitcher Michael Grove had Tommy John surgery last May and the procedure usually takes a year to recover from. It will be a month-to-month situation as to when Grove will start throwing again, according to Mazey.
Trey Lowe III, who signed to play for the WVU football team in December, is on the baseball roster and should contribute this season.
“I had talked to Trey throughout the recruiting process and knew that he was interested in playing both,” Mazey said. “He wanted to go somewhere where he could play both. He’s a tremendous athlete, but he just hasn’t played a lot of baseball because he’s played so much football. He’s showed pretty well in our intra-squad so far, so we’re excited to have him out there.”
Mazey said he will sit down with football head coach Dana Holgorsen to figure out Lowe’s situation, but a source told The Dominion Post that football will be the priority during spring camp.
Lowe was a 4-star quarterback recruit from Collierville, Tenn.