Following a 2022 season in which he hit .330 with 17 home runs, 66 runs batted in, and 11 stolen bases, Virginia Tech junior catcher Cade Hunter was drafted 153rd overall in the 2022 MLB Draft to the Cincinnati Reds.
That left an important opening behind the plate and in the lineup for John Szefc to fill.
Tech did have Gehrig Ebel, a rising junior who had started just 16 career games, but no catchers beyond the veteran on the roster among those returning.
So, with depth needed, Virginia Tech brought in two recruits, Henry Cooke from a little ways up I-81 and highly-regarded Brody Donay.
Donay stands at six-foot-five, and entered the year as the 174th best freshman according to Perfect Game USA’s top 500. He was also considered a potential MLB Draft pick though he fell out of range to be signed directly out of high school sending him fully to Blacksburg.
Coming from Lakeland, Florida, it wasn’t going to be an easy transition to a new state, new school, and new level of competition that the ACC brings. For Donay though, it appears as if the transition has been seamless on the field.
The freshman catcher is slashing a line of .299/.400/.662, with an OPS of 1.062 at the dish in 2023, in addition to eight home runs and 26 runs batted in - all in 21 starts, splitting time with Ebel who has started 18 games this season.
In a season where the expectation was Ebel would be the primary catcher, Donay has flipped things on its head and enjoyed the ast start he's gotten off to in Blacksburg.
“It’s been pretty fun,” Donay said regarding his stellar freshman campaign.
One thing the Florida native has been keen on is the leadership of his teammates who have helped him with the transition from high school baseball to the college level.
“Coming into a place that I’m not very familiar with, coming from Florida, it’s been awesome to be led by CJ [Carson Jones], Jack [Hurley]... just looking up to them,” Donay said.
One player he's learned and gained a lot from as a freshman, the man who he has taken some starting catcher games from, Gehrig Ebel.
“Me and Gehrig, I feel like we’ve both done a great job [replacing Cade Hunter]... I’ve actually looked up to him a lot. He’s one of my best buddies on the team. I ask him a ton of questions I have, and it just helps me to find and make the adjustment whether it be catching the pitchers, or facing them,” Donay said.
One factor Donay has had to deal with in 2023 has been the shift in the lineup. With so many great bats in the “Hammering Hokies” arsenal, Donay has batted between the five spot and the nine hole all season, and has embraced whatever spot in the batting order he's in.
“Just going up to the plate and being confident,” Donay said on his approach no matter what spot he’s in. “Sometimes I struggle, just trying to do too much and overthink it, so I try to simplify everything and that helps me stay connecte”
Given his stats, it is clear that Donay has been a presence at the plate. One great example of that was in the Hokies 24-9 victory over Florida State on April 21st.
In the comeback victory, Donay went four-of-six at the plate, scoring five runs while clubbing two home runs in addition to bringing in seven runs on the day.
Donay has been all over the diamond, whether it be hitting bombs, throwing runners out, or drawing walks and free bases to help the team win. One example of that was against JMU when he took a pitch to the body on Tuesday night - and ended up scoring the tying run in Tech’s 7-5 comeback victory over the Dukes.
Donay has done all this while playing in one of the top 2 baseball conferences in America and adjusting to being a catcher in the ACC rather than being a high school one. As the season has rolled on, the game has slowed down and the comfort level has gone up for Donay.
“The first game I caught, it was so much faster [than high school]. But obviously now, playing a bunch of games, I’m used to it, so it’s pretty cool, and [I’m] excited for the rest of the year," Donay said.
For Brody Donay and the Hokies, they are right in the forefront of an uphill battle in the Coastal, sitting at 10-10 after a 2-7 start, trailing by two games with three ACC series.
And the talented freshman from Lakeland, Florida has been a big reason why the Hokies have made big strides over the past few weeks.