Baseball, WVU Sports

Surrounded by hype, J.J. Wetherholt is still on a mission to become a better baseball player

MORGANTOWN — It is a constant search for motivation J.J. Wetherholt seeks, a hunt for doubters of his baseball abilities to serve as his fuel.

A year ago, it was easy. All he had to do was look at his cell phone. That’s where Wetherholt kept a copy of the all-Big 12 preseason team that didn’t have his name on it.

“I’ve had this conversation before, but those guys didn’t believe in me until they had no choice but to believe in me,” Wetherholt said.

It’s now a year later and everyone knows Wetherholt’s name and very few doubts exist.

We do mean everyone, from the Big 12 coaches who named him the unanimous 2024 Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year to the hundreds of professional scouts and major league general managers who have him projected as the top pick in July’s draft.

“Nothing changes for me,” Wetherholt said. “You can’t let those guys dictate how you feel. It doesn’t matter if they now have me No. 1 here or there, if I don’t have a good year, I’m not going to be on those lists anymore.”

You would think that’s the goal for Wetherholt, who is switching from second base to shortstop this season, to now prove everyone is right about him.

In a roundabout way, it is, which would put Wetherholt in the school history books as just the third WVU athlete to ever be drafted No. 1 overall.

The other two: basketball’s Mark Workman (1952) and “Hot” Rod Hundley in 1957.

“The sky is the limit for that kid,” WVU baseball coach Randy Mazey said. “He can accomplish a lot at this level, a lot at the next level and the level after that.

“His big deal this year, obviously, is to just play baseball. He’s surrounded by so much hype. If he can just take his mind back to when he was 12 years old and just go to the field and enjoy playing baseball and not worry about all the other stuff around him, then he’ll continue to thrive.”

As a sophomore, Wetherholt led the nation with a .449 batting average, while adding 16 home runs, 60 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.

How does one go up from there?

“The stats area could be hard to improve,” Wetherholt admits. “There are other areas you can get better. For me, it’s physically and mentally finding ways to get better. I’m trying to stay healthier and working on better mechanics, things like that.

“I did feel like I became a better player in the summer and fall. I’m definitely excited and looking forward to it.”

Wetherholt’s bigger focus is the team aspect. WVU won a share of the Big 12 title last season, but a disappointing finish saw the Mountaineers go 1-7 in their final eight games.

That included getting swept by Texas to end the regular season, going 0-2 in the Big 12 tournament and then 1-2 in the NCAA regional.

What had been a massive build-up of success for the Mountaineers led to a gigantic thud at the end.

In terms of finding motivation, that’s where it lies this season for Wetherholt. Individual stats and accolades are nice, sure, but Wetherholt wants the team’s accomplishments to match.

“I think that’s what hurt us last year is we were looking forward to much and we didn’t see the Longhorns in front of us,” Wetherholt said. “They swept us, and it took us down a bad path. That’s the biggest thing is we have to stay consistent with our focus on the team we’re about to play. We can’t get to satisfied. We expected to win last season and we took it for granted.”

The potential is there for these Mountaineers to be even better, but much has to go right.

That includes a boost in offense from players like Ellis Garcia and Logan Sauve, who became starters as freshmen last season.

First baseman Grant Hussey, who is just 11 home runs shy of the school’s career record, also needs to swing a mighty bat once again.

A talented group of freshmen pitchers last season now have to step up and become a large part of the rotation.

And Wetherholt has to be, well, himself, which is a lot to live up to, especially now that he’s no longer an unknown.

It will be the quite the opposite, as scouts will follow him throughout the season putting Wetherholt under a microscope.

Wetherholt’s mission is to somehow drown all of that out and just play baseball.

“Learning how to play in front of all those guys, it can be something,” he said. “At the end of the day, you just have to play like they’re not there. You just have to worry about winning games for your team.”