John Szefc Feels Virginia Tech Baseball Could Be Even Better in 2023

John Szefc Feels Virginia Tech Baseball Could Be Even Better in 2023
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics

Ryan Duvall | @RyanGDuvall

TLP: Writer/Baseball Beat Reporter
Feb 13, 2023

With February almost halfway over, Blacksburg is just around the corner from witnessing the return of Virginia Tech baseball.

The Hokies had a superb season in 2022, hosting a regional for the first time since 2013, and a super regional for the first time in program history. In addition to the team success, Tech had five players selected in last summer's MLB Draft. This included outfielder Gavin Cross, who was selected 9th overall to the Kansas City Royals, becoming Virginia Tech’s highest drafted player ever.

Safe to say, the Hokies had a program altering year in 2022, but how does the 2023 team shape up?

At the helm is reigning ACC and ABCA/ATEC Atlantic Regional Coach of the Year John Szefc. Entering his sixth year at Tech, Szefc’s team will be led by four preseason All-Americans: junior outfielder Jack Hurley (consensus second team), sophomore infielder Carson Demartini (Perfect Game third team), sophomore pitcher Drue Hackenberg (NCBWA second team, College Baseball Newspaper, D1Baseball, Perfect Game third team), and sixth year graduate relief pitcher Kieran Higgins (NCBWA Third Team).

The Hokies are a consensus ranked team in the preseason polls, slotting in as high as No.13 on Baseball America’s rankings, and as low as No.28 on Collegiate Baseball’s rankings.

The 2022 Coastal champions are also among the cream of the crop in the ACC, having received a vote from the 14 coaches in the conference to take home the postseason title in 2023. Both Wake Forest and Louisville accumulated six votes apiece, while Clemson got the final vote.

So what does John Szefc think he has with his 2023 team?

“Well I would start off by saying we have good enough players to obtain an elite level of success,” said Szefc regarding the outlook of the squad after such an impressive year for the program.

“Everyone we thought we would lose - we did. The guys we thought we would get back - we did. We also added some really front line players, which I think was due to last year’s success. So I think talent wise, this is the best I’ve felt about any team. I feel better about this year’s team than last year's team.”

Speaking of front line additions, Tech added two key transfers in David Bryant and Anthony Arguelles.

Bryant, an infielder from Radford didn’t have to come too far, but should be an impactful transfer, given Tanner Schobel’s transition to the MLB. Bryant, a four-year starter for the Highlanders, was named to the Big South’s second team in 2021, and hit a career .306 average. D1Baseball ranks Bryant as the 48th best shortstop in the nation heading into the season.

Szefc raved about Miami transfer Arguelles, a five-foot-ten right handed pitcher, saying Arguelles “should factor in” to the main rotation. The graduate transfer posted a 4.82 ERA last season as a reliever.

With Haceknberg, junior Griffin Green, and Arguelles set to headline the rotation, Szefc does not know exactly who else could give the Hokies impactful innings, but is not worried as this is “the deepest staff” he’s been around in 30 years.

“Jonah Hurney may factor into that. We have two guys coming back in Higgins and Christian Worley. We used them as relievers last year, but they’re a little different right now. Their repertoire is way deeper than it was a year ago, so they could potentially be starters. Good options on the freshman side. You look at [Ryan] Kennedy, [Griffin] Stieg, [Tommy] Szczepanski, [Andrew] Sentlinger.”

Regarding the freshman pitchers, Tech brought in nine this offseason. Szefc understands that they may not be ready for the rigid road the ACC brings immediately, but says, “At some point, you can't protect them anymore, and they have to go out and figure the ACC landscape out for themselves. You didn’t have to protect Hackenberg and DeMartini too long.”

One player in particular that should step up for the Hokies in 2023 is Carson Jones. The outfield lost good offensive production with Cross and Nick Biddison departing. Jones, a junior outfielder, was terrific in 2022, particularly the back half of the season.

Jones hit .327 in 21 appearances last season cranking eight balls out of the park and driving in 23 runs.

“Jones will be a major factor, as he was last year in our stretch run there. He’s got experience, he’s been in the program for four years, he can play multiple outfield positions, and he’s gonna give you a plus-plus offensive bat. Not only in the hit tool, but in the power tool. And he’s a plus runner. He can do a lot of different things. One of Carson’s greatest strengths outside of physical skill is he’s very consistent. There’s not a whole bunch of ups and downs with Carson Jones. He’s the same guy everyday,” said Szefc.

The Hammering Hokies take the field Friday, February 17th, when they will travel to Charleston for a three game series against the Cougars. The home-opener is set for Tuesday, February 21 versus ETSU.

Virginia Tech will appear on ACC Network eight times in 2023 and if this team is as good as Szefc says, ESPN may be wishing they put some Hokie Baseball games on their linear network too.