It has been one of those years for WVU baseball where just about everything goes right.
Randy Mazey’s program was a consistent member of various Top 25 lists for most of the 2019 season, advanced to the Big 12 tournament title game and hosted an NCAA regional tournament for the first time since the 1950s.
After the season, junior pitcher Alek Manoah was picked up with the No. 11 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, the first of a program-record eight Mountaineers to go in the draft. Last week WVU appeared in all five of the major Top 25 polls to end the season — the first time that happened since 1982.
Then on Sunday evening the hits kept coming for Mazey and the Mountaineers. Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means was announced as an American League All-Star, making him the first West Virginia player ever tabbed for the “Midsummer Classic.”
Reading that for the first time made me double-take, but it’s true and it is a big deal. But what else is new for the WVU baseball program? Seemingly since the moment Mazey was hired, the Mountaineers have been on an upward trajectory and Means going to Cleveland next week as the O’s only All-Star is just the latest highlight along the way.
Means wasn’t exactly on the radar as a potential All-Star going into the season. By his own admission, he thought he’d be one of the first players cut in spring training after making his MLB debut late last season. Since then, he’s gone from being one of the last players picked for the big league roster to the best pitcher for the Orioles during the first half of the season. It is the first time a homegrown Oriole pitcher has gone to the All-Star Game since Mike Mussina in 1999 — not bad company to keep.
The history doesn’t stop there for the West Virginia program. Along with pitchers Harrison Musgrave (Colorado Rockies), David Carpenter (Texas Rangers) and infielder Jedd Gyorko (St. Louis Cardinals), Means gives WVU an all-time program-best four players to appear in MLB games this season.
Has there ever been a better time to be a Mountaineer baseball fan? I don’t think so.
Speaking of those eight players drafted from WVU, some of them are off to a pretty good start to their professional career.
Darius Hill — the West Virginia all-time leader in games played, at-bats and doubles — was a four-year fixture in the lineup for Mazey and went in the 20th round last month to the Chicago Cubs.
Seven games into his career, he has picked up where he left off the for the Mountaineers. Through Monday, Hill has a .323 batting average and.344 on-base percentage to go with a home run, a double, a triple and three runs batted in.
Outfielder Brandon White, an 11th-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels, has appeared in 11 games for the Pioneer League’s Orem Owlz. Chase Illig, a catcher from Bluefield who sat out the 2019 college season with an injury before going to the New York Yankees in the 29th round, has played in four games for the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team.
Catcher Ivan Gonzalez has also appeared in four games for the Chicago White Sox Arizona League rookie team. Sam Kessler is the lone WVU pitcher to get some innings already in the minors, having thrown three innings across three games for the Detroit Tigers GCL team.
Manoah, along with fellow pitchers Nick Snyder (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Kade Strowd (Baltimore Orioles), have yet to appear in minor league games. Strowd has, however, been assigned to the Orioles’ New York-Penn League team, the Aberdeen IronBirds. Aberdeen visits Monongalia County Ballpark next week when the IronBirds take on the West Virginia Black Bears for a three-game series starting July 9 in Morgantown.