MORGANTOWN — The Major League Baseball draft took a few swings at West Virginia’s 2018 roster, and now the Mountaineers wait on a regular and a recruit to make up their minds.
Junior Kyle Davis and junior college pitcher Christian Young were part of the Mountaineers’ plan to get back to the NCAA postseason as quickly as possible. Both were drafted, and both could choose professional baseball over college.
First baseman Jackson Cramer was also picked, but he finished his college career in the regional final against Wake Forest as WVU made its first regional appearance since 1996. The Nationals chose Cramer in the 35th round.
“You have to plan for that and be prepared for that and you have to have conversations with kids, not about what’s right or wrong but about educating them,” WVU assistant coach Steve Sabins said. “You have professionals who do this sort of thing for a living, and their job is to sign players to professional contracts. And then you have 19-, 20-, 21-year old kids making a major decision, sometimes in a 30-minute phone call.”
Davis, the starting left fielder and the only player to start all 62 games, batted .316 with 10 home runs, 13 doubles and 44 RBIs. He was picked in the 15th round by the Houston Astros. He has until July 15 to choose playing his senior season with the Mountaineers or beginning a professional career, and he was non-committal in a statement Wednesday.
“I would like to thank the Houston Astros for this amazing opportunity and the West Virginia University baseball staff for the chance to play college baseball,” Davis said.
Should Davis sign with the Astros, the Mountaineers lose a corner outfielder and a presence in the middle of the batting order. WVU still has freshman Brandon White, who was the starting center fielder and leadoff batter, and sophomore Darius Hill, the starting right fielder who batted third and hit .307 with a team-high 46 RBIs.
Sophomore Braden Zarbnisky led regulars with a .336 batting average, and though he did start at times in center field, he was frequently the designated hitter because he also pitched and closed games. Redshirt freshman T.J. Lake started 17 times and played in 45 games. It’s also possible the Mountaineers move an infielder to the outfield, and Davis was a second and third baseman before he became the left fielder.
“We have too many good players and too many good bats for four infield positions,” Sabins said.
Incoming freshmen Tyler Doanes and Tristen Hudson could add to that. Both played shortstop in high school, though Hudson, a switch hitter, doubled as a right-handed pitcher who can sink his fastball. High school catcher Connor Hamilton is physically prepared to play behind the plate but could also spend time in a corner outfield position.
“Tyler’s hit at a really high level, but the fun thing about him and why we were so excited recruiting him is he has a feel for baseball that a lot of freshmen and highly touted recruits haven’t developed,” Sabins said.
The 6-foot-5 Young played at New York’s Division III Niagara County Community College, but he stood out with a fastball in the low 90s, gaudy stats and two appearances in the junior college World Series. Young was 15-2 overall with a 1.39 ERA in two seasons, and he struck out 185 batters in 110 innings. The Cincinnati Reds picked him in the 21st round.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Sabins said. “He’s got a power arm, and he’s been doing it at a very small school with basically no resources to develop guys. His coach does an unbelievable job, because we’re talking about a place with no weight room or a lot of things that can help a pitcher get better as far as nutrition, sleep, weights, a throwing program, things a lot of people take for granted. He’s got enormous upside, and we think he’s got a chance to step in and start right away.”
The Mountaineers had a second junior college recruit drafted when the Pittsburgh Pirates picked Will Reed, a starting pitcher at Maryland’s Hardford Community College, in the 20th round. Reed was 8-1 in 11 starts and three relief appearances this season and finished with a 2.38 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings. However, the Mountaineers learned recently that Reed would not be enrolling.
WVU’s pitching staff endured injuries and young arms all season. Health and maturity should help, though pitching coach Derek Matlock was named the head coach at the University of Texas-Rio Grand Valley last week.
All 62 starts and 90 percent of the innings pitched in 2017 belong to freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Junior Conner Dotson, a weekend series starter, is expected to recover fully from a broken throwing arm that ended his season in April, but sophomore Michael Grove, another weekend starter, is expected to miss the 2018 season following arm surgery.
The Mountaineers signed three other pitching recruits, and two could be used immediately. High school righty Sam Fuller “may be one of the more polished pitchers we have coming in,” Sabins said. Fuller throws his fastball, changeup and breaking ball for strikes. WVU believes he could be a reliever who pitches a few times a week, similar to freshman Sam Kessler, who was honorable mention all-Big 12 and finished 1-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 17 appearances.
Fellow high school recruit Jackson Wolf, on the other hand, is unlike anyone WVU has. He’s a 6-7 lefty, and WVU had didn’t use a left-handed pitcher once in 2017 and lost one of its regional games to Wake Forest on a walk-off single by a left-handed batter. The Mountaineers were worried Wolf would be drafted.
“He probably has the highest ceiling out of any of the recruits who are coming in, because he’s 6-7 and he’s been up to 91, 92 mph,” Sabins said. “Obviously, it’s a huge need for us, and if he can come in and do what he’s done in high school, he can be a major contributor for us. If he gets better and develops, we’ve got a chance to talk about Jackson Wolf a lot at West Virginia.”