After an extremely disappointing 19-36 2016 season, the Virginia Tech Hokies look ahead to 2017 looking for a significantly better season after what was one of the worst years in Virginia Tech baseball history. Virginia Tech lost some prominent players including Saige Jenco and Phil Sciretta but there is some talent still here so with that said, here’s our countdown of the top 5 players for Virginia Tech baseball entering the new season.
Honorable Mentions: P Packy Naughton, P Luke Scherzer, 2B Matt Dauby
There were a few players that just missed out our list including Packy Naughton, who projects to be one of the top two starters for the Hokies, and Luke Scherzer, who missed all of last season but returns as one of VT’s top relievers. Matt Dauby is the top returning starting infielder defensively with a .957 fielding percentage while only having 10 errors last season at second base.
5. OF Tom Stoffel
Our countdown of the top 5 returning Hokies begins with Virginia Tech’s top returning outfielder, Tom Stoffel. Stoffel may be used some out of the bullpen, but he’ll primarily be a starting outfielder for the Hokies after having a decent 2016 season built primarily on his defensive skills as he led all Virginia Tech outfielders with 4 assists while also having no errors.
At the plate, Stoffel wasn’t too bad with a .270 batting average, 2 home runs, and 35 RBIs though his 36 strikeouts were somewhat high for a player who appeared in 43 games and started in 41 games. Stoffel was average at the plate last season, but was very good defensively last year and returns as a leader in the outfield especially as the lone returning starting outfielder.
Stoffel seems likely to be at the top of the Virginia Tech lineup for the Hokies in either the leadoff spot or second in the order as more of a contact hitter who has proven to be solid at getting on-base and has the third best returning batting average among the Hokies returning that played at least 30 games. Stoffel will be one of the bats the Hokies will look to have step up with a talented contact hitter like Saige Jenco now in the minor leagues.
4. SS Ryan Tufts
Ryan Tufts comes in at number 4 on our list and proved to be fairly reliable defensively at shortstop in 2016 while also being a solid hitter for the Hokies as he had a .284 batting average, 3 home runs, 31 RBIs, and a team-high 15 doubles while also having a decent .935 fielding percentage but 16 errors also.
Tufts returns as a senior leader on this team that will likely play a large role as a multi-year starter especially with a couple of fresh faces in the infield at catcher and third base plus Sam Fragale making a move across the diamond. Virginia Tech will hope to see Tufts continue to improve as a quality defensive shortstop and a good contact hitter.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Tufts end up at the top of the order or behind Nick Anderson and Sam Fragale at fifth in the order as someone who has proven he can get his fair share of extra base hits. Tufts will be one of the more important bats for a Virginia Tech baseball team that is going to have to rely on its offense a lot this season.
3. P Aaron McGarity
Aaron McGarity is the only pitcher to make the list and while his season was derailed largely because of injuries, McGarity had an ERA of 2.38 in 11.1 innings and 10 appearances including 19 strikeouts. While McGarity has had a lot of success as a reliever, he has the ability to be a starter and according to Cory Van Dyke of TechSideline, McGarity will be one of the top starters for the Hokies.
While McGarity likely would be better off in the bullpen as his history has shown, McGarity has proven in the past to be a fairly reliable starter for the Hokies that did make a lot of improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons in terms of opponents hitting .267 against him in 2015 compared to .326 as a freshman though that may also have been helped some by his move to the bullpen with McGarity’s opposing batting average being .244 in his limited 2016.
McGarity enters 2016 as a veteran leader of this pitching staff that Pat Mason and new assistant Jamie Pinzino will both likely rely on to help with the Hokies’ younger pitchers along with being one of VT’s more consistent arms. Virginia Tech’s pitching staff is the biggest weakness of this team, but McGarity is definitely someone to be optimistic about entering the 2017 season.
2. 1B/3B Sam Fragale
Virginia Tech’s biggest home run threat comes in at number 2 in Sam Fragale who has the versatility to play either first base or third base (likely to start at 1B according to Cory Van Dyke of TechSideline). Fragale led the Hokies last year with 7 home runs and tied for the team lead with 37 RBIs while also having a .445 slugging percentage and 13 doubles. Fragale’s batting average wasn’t bad at .267 while his fielding percentage was poor at .887 with 12 errors with a move to first likely being a good thing for him.
Fragale seems like the likely choice to be put in the cleanup spot for the Hokies as Virginia Tech’s best run producer that is undoubtedly Virginia Tech’s best power hitter while also being a player with a lot of upside who may have the highest ceiling of any VT baseball player currently.
Fragale will have an adjustment moving across the diamond from third to first base, but that usually is easier for a college baseball player like Fragale to make than someone who has played third base for a long time like Ryan Zimmerman when he made the move across the diamond for the Washington Nationals.
Sam Fragale brings plenty of power to the table and if he can become a better contact hitter, he can become a really good run producer that could help the Hokies surprise some people against ACC competition and help counteract the Hokies’ biggest weakness
1. DH/P Nick Anderson
Nick Anderson comes in at the top of our list as Virginia Tech’s top returning hitter who projects to be Virginia Tech’s designated hitter this spring along with potentially being used in the pitching rotation some last year making 10 appearances and 2 starts but having an ERA over 8 overall. However, Anderson proved to be much better at the plate than he was as a pitcher this past season.
Anderson seems likely to end up in the three spot as someone who proved last year that he is a very good all-around hitter with a team-best .339 batting average, 4 home runs, 30 RBIs, a .483 slugging percentage, and a .418 on-base percentage. Anderson is someone who can be relied on to get on base and produce runs, exactly the type of hitter you want to try to build a late rally when you need one.
While Anderson may do some pitching for the Hokies this season, it makes significantly more sense for the Hokies to just leave Anderson in the lineup as a DH and let Anderson focus on that rather than trying to put him at pitcher some after he had an ERA of over 8 last season. Nick Anderson returns as the face of this Virginia Tech baseball team and a critical piece if the Hokies want to have some success this season.