#4 Virginia Tech Baseball has proven to be full of star talent including guys you would have expected to be big pieces like Gavin Cross and Nick Biddison. However, one of the biggest stars for the Hokies is a guy whose massive jump would have been hard to predict on the magnitude to which it is happened, and sets himself up to be the next lead star for Tech at the plate in the future.
That guy is sophomore left fielder Jack Hurley who has become one of the best outfielders not only in the ACC, but nationally, and is poised to be the next lead star for the Hokies in 2023 after his breakout 2022 has helped launch the Hokies to the Super Regionals so far.
Hurley showed potential to develop into a very good outfielder down the road as a freshman in 2021 when he played in 51 games starting 45 while hitting 6 home runs and 23 RBIs plus a .251 batting average and .354 on-base percentage. While you could see Hurley grow into a quality outfielder in 2022, almost no one outside of the Hokie clubhouse likely what saw Hurley's massive breakout coming.
The talented sophomore left fielder has 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, 23 doubles, and 30 walks proving to be an extra-base hitting machine while also providing plenty of quality at-bats which show in his .380 batting average (which is 26 points better than his on-base percentage as a freshman) plus a .455 on-base percentage and OPS of 1.125. He's also improved on the basepaths stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts after 4 steals in 7 attempts last season.
His plate discipline improved as he only has 49 strikeouts so far this season after having 64 in fewer games and significantly fewer at-bats as a freshman. Defensively, he's gone from a 2021 season where he had 2 errors and only 1 outfield assist to 6 outfield assists
So what does Hurley credit his breakout to? Well it's partly due to the experience and struggles of 2021 and the lessons that it taught him in his development for 2022.
"I think it's probably most just experience and getting reps under my belt. And then just sticking to the same routine everyday, trying to do the same stuff. And really just being in the ACC last year, just learning from all the failure that I had last year, and then bringing it into this year, and trying to make the change for the better," Hurley said.
In many ways, Hurley could be proof of the statement that failure is the best teacher or at least in his eyes given that hitting over .250 with 20+ RBIs in the ACC isn't too bad of a season for a freshman. However, that also shows the high standards that the Hokies are holding themselves to nowadays as a team that seems more focused on setting the standard in the conference.
Head coach John Szefc also credited the breakouts of Hurley and star shortstop Tanner Schobel in part to the experience they gained last year along with the obvious talent that they have.
"First of all, I think they're good enough to make a jump. Both of them will play the game for a long time when they leave college and get paid to play as pros. I think to Jack's point, they both played every day as freshmen. They were thrown into the fire last year and had a lot of successes and some failures as they went through some growing pains. They're seeing the fruits of their labor right now as we are as a team," Szefc said.
Star outfielder and future first round pick Gavin Cross also credits the experience that Hurley gained as a freshman for his offensive breakout along with some of the natural talent he has that Cross feels in some areas is as good if not better than every other college baseball player in the country.
"I think just getting more reps. I think last year he was a little sporadic with his swing at times. He's kind of zoned in on what he can hit, and he's just uber talented. He probably has the best bat speed and hand-eye coordination out of any college hitter in the country. So just getting up there and playing with his talent, not trying to think too much, I think that's what makes him good. He just plays the game hard and he's really talented. There's not really much else to say. I think the more reps he's gotten, the more comfortable he's gotten, and we're seeing what he can do," Cross said.
In many ways, Hurley is also poised to follow in the foosteps of Cross and become the next lead star for the Hokies like Cross has been given Cross' massive 2021 season that made him a must-see college prospect for every MLB team in the country.
While it's unclear yet if Hurley will become as highly-regarded as Cross has, there's plenty of reason to believe that he can given what he's shown as a hitter this season with his impressive batting average, knack for extra-base hits that aren't just home runs, his ability to do the little things well, and his confidence and guts that show through sometimes best in smaller moments.
This includes doing things to catch sleeping defenses by surprise like his infield single off a bunt in the first inning of Sunday night's regional-clinching victory over Columbia that didn't even get a throw because of how well-executed it was. That takes some confidence to go for that in a game where Tech had momentum early with this at-bat being right after Tanner Schobel's two-run home run.
So yeah, you probably know the name Jack Hurley by now if you've been watching Virginia Tech Baseball of late. But for the many who may not, get familiar with his name because he'll be back next year as the lead star for what should be another star Virginia Tech team.
In the meantime, his focus is on playing a big role to drive to not only help the Hokies reach Omaha, but also make a run at winning a national title if they get there.