Baseball season is right around the corner for Randy Mazey and his West Virginia ballclub as the Mountaineers are just over a week away from their season opener against Central Michigan in Conway, South Carolina.
The 10th-year skipper spoke to members of the media on Thursday to give a preview of the 2022 campaign. Here’s the best of what he had to say:
Prep going well with a clean diamond
Mazey is excited to get back on the diamond after yet another offseason that “seems like it takes six years.” Now, his team is on the diamond, which is free of snow — a rarity for college baseball in the north.
“It means the world to us to get out there and play on our field before the season starts, which some years you have no chance at all to do that,” Mazey said.
WVU has already undergone some intrasquad scrimmages on Wagener Field at Monongalia County Ballpark, which is valuable outdoor practice for the Mountaineers as their home climate puts them at a disadvantage from their Big 12 opponents in the south.
This disparity manifests itself on the field, as many of WVU’s best players hit a true stride in the second half of the season.
“It’s really hard as a northern program to get out of the gate smashing the baseball,” Mazey said. “Especially [former catcher Paul McIntosh and current outfielder Austin Davis], both being from Florida, it’s just notorious that you get off to a slow start offensively….You can’t stand in an indoor facility hitting in a batting cage and expect to be super consistent when the season starts. We just have to manage it and win as many games as we can until we hit that point that guys catch their rhythm.”
“Welcome to my world”
The transfer portal has become a hot topic across college athletics as some of the biggest stars on both the gridiron and the hardwood jet to new programs. For college baseball, however, moving players has been the norm for quite some time.
“My take is that for Neal [Brown], and [Bob Huggins], and [Mike] Carey, welcome to my world,” he said. “Baseball coaches, we’ve been managing rosters for 50 years with the draft and losing high school kids to the draft and losing juniors in your program. Now, they’re dealing with what we’ve dealt with for a long time.”
Mazey does admit that the portal has brought the importance of roster management to a new level. This year’s roster will be heavily affected by the portal, as several of the Mountaineers’ young prospects, including slugger Matt McCormick and young arm Tyler Chadwick, both left the program.
WVU did add several new pieces to its roster through the portal, however. Mazey welcomes on the pitching trio of Chase Smith, Zach Bravo and Trey Braithwaite, all of whom are fifth-year seniors. Virginia Tech product Dayne Leonard also joins the program as a redshirt junior in the infield.
The lineup is slowly but surely falling into place
Most of WVU’s lineup is solid, but there are plenty of holes that Mazey needs to fill before opening day.
“If the season started tomorrow, I wouldn’t know who was playing left field and I wouldn’t know who was catching, and I wouldn’t know who’s DH’ing,” Mazey said.
Before the preseason started, Mazey predicted that he would have a two-man battle for designated hitter. Neither of those unnamed players have swung the bat as well as he had hoped, however, while other players have stepped up to threaten that spot in the lineup.
The full WVU lineup probably won’t be known until the midpoint of the season, he says, which is “not unusual for us.”
Mazey does get several stars back to his lineup, however. For one, Davis returns to the lineup after his breakout junior season in right field, while preseason All-American reliever Jacob Watters brings his talents back to the bullpen for his junior campaign.
Shortstop Tevin Tucker also returns to the lineup after missing 2021 due to injury. He started all of WVU’s 16 games in 2020 and provided leadership in the dugout last season while in recovery.