Virginia Tech Baseball Carries Momentum Into The Fall

Gavin Cross became the highest draft pick in Virginia Tech history when he went No. 9 to Kansas City in July. (Kansas City Royals)

When Gavin Cross’s name was called with the ninth pick in the 2022 MLB Draft on Sunday, July 17, it marked the end of an era for Virginia Tech baseball. Tanner Schobel was picked 68th, Nick Biddison went at No. 135, Cade Hunter at No. 153 and Graham Firoved at No. 467.

Five essential spokes in the wheels that helped the Hokies roll to a record year in the spring, that core group helped John Szefc turn the program around over the last five seasons. Biddison was part of his first recruiting class in 2018, Cross and Hunter joined in 2019, and Schobel and Firoved came in 2020.

Accomplishments in 2022 included ACC regular season champions, the No. 4 seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and hosting both NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals, the latter being the first in program history. Tech finished 45-14 overall, 19-9 in the ACC and 33-7 at home. Along the way, the Hokies won nine straight conference series, six against ranked opponents — three of which came on the road.

When the Kansas City Royals made Cross the highest-ever pick in school history and four of his teammates were selected in the following rounds, it was just the icing on the cake of an extraordinary season.

“I think it’s just kind of the next step in those guys’ careers,” Szefc told Tech Sideline in an interview. “The whole thing [MLB Draft] played out the way we thought it would. … I don’t know that they needed that to justify any kind of legacy that group would have here. I think they already had it.”

All five of the Tech draftees inked deals with their respective teams in the days since the draft. Cross ($5.2 million), Schobel ($1 million to the Twins) and Hunter ($364K to the Reds) signed for the slot bonus. Biddison (Dodgers) and Firoved (Orioles) both signed, but their dollar figures remain unreported.

Unlike the 2021 draft, however, Szefc & Co. expected those five to move on to the next stage. Same goes for signee Nick Morabito, who went 75th to the Mets ($1 million), and previously committed transfers Kyle Jones of Toledo and Jared Lyons of George Mason. Those two went No. 204 and No. 423 to the Twins and Reds, respectively.

Last year, Tech was surprised. Pitchers Shane Connolly, Chris Gerard and Anthony Simonelli were all taken in the first 470 picks, while infielder T.J. Rumfield went to the Phillies at No. 355. Rumfield was expected, but all four signed, which meant the Hokies were without all three of their weekend starters headed into 2022.

“Last year, we got hit pretty hard and kind of got a couple curveballs thrown at us there,” Szefc said. “I learned a lot from that one. I figured if we could survive that one and come out the way we did, we can survive anything. We didn’t really get hit with many surprises this year.”

As far as where the Hokies currently stand, they add some exciting talent that’ll mesh with the returning group.

Infielder David Bryant joins as a graduate transfer from Radford, where he was a Second Team All-Big South performer. The Johnson City, Tenn. native started 37 games in 2022, 36 at shortstop, and hit .307 with 29 RBI and a team-high .431 on-base percentage. He ended the year on a 19-game reached base streak, and across his four years with the Highlanders, he hit .304 in 184 appearances.

“It’s going to provide us with an awful lot of experience,” Szefc said of Bryant’s addition. “He’s a quality left-handed hitter who can play multiple positions in the infield. I’m not exactly sure where that is just yet.”

An outfielder from Bucknell, two-time First Team All-Patriot League selection Chris Cannizzaro will also be a graduate transfer. The Staten Island product was the conference’s preseason player of the year, and he hit .329 this season with 56 hits and 37 RBI. Cannizzaro has a phenomenal story and played most of this season in left field.

“He predominantly plays the outfield, I imagine that’s kind of what he’s going to play here,” Szefc said of Cannizzaro. “Exactly where? Again, hard for me to say. You’re going to have two guys coming back in the outfield for us that really were tremendous down the stretch. … Chris would probably fit in there pretty good because he can run and he’s a good defender.”

The third transfer is Anthony Arguelles, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Miami. A south Florida native, he posted a 4.82 ERA with the Hurricanes, giving up 20 hits and 10 earned runs in 18 ⅔ innings. When he entered in relief on April 14 against the Hokies, he gave up two singles and a run, striking out four on 40 pitches across a career-high 3 ⅔ innings.

“He came out of the bullpen for them predominantly this year,” Szefc said of Arguelles. “I know he’d like to have an opportunity to start, and that very well may be the case. When guys get here and they’re out there doing their thing, that’s when you get a better feel for who kind of fits where.

“He certainly has the ability to start in this league, or finish. Either way, he’s gonna pitch. He should be able to pitch innings that matter a lot in leverage situations.”

John Szefc and Virginia Tech have done well getting guys out of the portal, and they’ve got a talented recruiting class coming in, too. (Jon Fleming)

Then there’s the 2022 recruiting class, headlined by McLean High School’s Griffin Stieg. A 6-2, 200-pound two-way player, the Hokies first took notice of Stieg when he was playing in the outfield. The righty focused more on pitching since Szefc first saw him as a junior, and he threw 94mph in high school this year.

He had the possibility of being drafted but his name wasn’t called, so he’ll venture to Blacksburg, where he has fantastic versatility.

“He projects to be a guy that could handle it two ways, as a hitter and as a pitcher,” Szefc said. “I can’t say exactly how it’s going to work out, but he’s skilled enough where he should be able to do both. He’s started, he’s finished games as a pitcher. He’s played all three outfield positions, but predominantly center field. There’s a lot of talent there.”

Other bats in the class include catcher Brody Donay (Lakeland, Fla.), outfielder Cooper Gross (Reno, Nev.) and shortstop Clay Grady (Suffolk, Va.). There’s a handful of pitching, too: righty Ryan Kennedy (Manassas, Va.), lefty John Gibson (McLean, Va.), righty Jacob Exum (Virginia Beach, Va.) and righty Nick Finarelli (Hunlock Creek, Pa.).

“I think the recruiting class is good,” Szefc said. “It meets the needs we have. It’ll certainly give us more depth on the mound than we had last year. We had guys really perform on the mound, without question. But the guys coming in in that class, whether it’s Arguelles, the transfer, or some of the freshmen we have coming in, a guy like Stieg, for instance.

“On the mound now for this year, we are way more advanced and way deeper than we were at this time last year. Not even close, for different reasons.”

Jack Hurley, who has spent time with Team USA this summer, will anchor the outfield for the third straight season. He led the team with a .375 average this spring. Carson Jones, who burst on the scene on May 17 vs. Kansas State, is also back. After appearing in just nine of Virginia Tech’s first 47 games, he started and homered in five games straight. He was 7-for-22 with one home run in the NCAA Tournament, and his bat will provide a nice spark.

Carson DeMartini was a Freshman All-American at third base this year, one of three infielders returning with starting experience. Szefc said he’ll get a look at shortstop in the fall, a position he played in high school. He hit .341 with 17 extra base hits, 15 home runs and 50 RBI in year one.

Lucas Donlon (.217 in 30 appearances in 2022) and Christian Martin (.261 in 28 app.) combined for 29 starts this season, mainly at first and second, respectively. Sam Tackett, a redshirt sophomore, also played in 25 games, hitting .237 in the process, often as the designated hitter. And Eduardo Malinowski (.252), who was the Hokies’ starter at second for the majority of the season, is undecided on whether to use his final year of eligibility and return to school or not.

Behind the plate, Gehrig Ebel is back. A junior from Ooltewah, Tenn., he’s appeared in 40 games across two seasons. When Hunter broke his hamate bone in 2021, he filled in, playing in 22 of the final 28 games. 

“[He] obviously had a world class freshman year, but I do think you’ll see him get better,” Szefc said of DeMartini’s experience with the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League this summer. “But I think if you look at a guy like Christian Martin, for instance. He’s hitting .400 right now in the Valley League for the Charlottesville Tom Sox, so he needs to go out and play, get some at-bats and get to be a better defender, as far as turning the pivot at second base.”

Drue Hackenberg is back for another year with Virginia Tech, and he’ll be well rested after an exhausting spring. (Ivan Morozov)

Take into account the pitching Virginia Tech returns, too. Drue Hackenberg and Griffin Green, the Friday and Saturday starters from this spring, are both back. 

Hackenberg participated in some Team USA activities this summer with Hurley, but he mostly rested outside of that after throwing 92 ⅔ innings in his freshman season. Szefc said the staff knows what Hackenberg can do and as a result, the amount of work he’ll get in the fall may vary. Keeping guys fresh was crucial to Tech’s run in May and June, and that’s the priority come the fall, especially with someone who threw more than 40 innings than he did in his senior year of high school.

Green dealt with finger issues throughout the season, but his rehab is going really well. Szefc said it isn’t a surgical thing, it’s just some scar tissue that needs some time to heal. The staff anticipates him making a full recovery, though it’s too early to tell how much he’ll pitch in the fall.

Finding a third starter may take some time, but there’s a very experienced quintet of relievers in Christian Worley, Henry Weycker, Jonah Hurney, Brady Kirtner and Matthew Siverling.

Siverling only played in two games in 2022 due to a thoracic outlet syndrome in his left shoulder. However, the other four were solid. Hurney posted a team-best 1.99 ERA, and he and Weycker both played important roles in the NCAA Super Regionals against Oklahoma. Worley, meanwhile, struck out 34 in 21 ⅓ innings. Kirtner, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the upcoming season, had 21 strikeouts in 16 innings.

As a whole, this year’s Virginia Tech roster is shaped a bit differently. It likely won’t have the home run power that the most accomplished version of the Hammerin’ Hokies did — Schobel, Hunter, Cross, Hurley, Biddison, Eduardo Malinowski and Conor Hartigan, the latter two who graduated, combined for 97 of VT’s 126 home runs. Instead, it’ll be a roster with more pitching depth that’ll grind teams down.

“It’ll be a really challenging fall,” Szefc said. “There’ll be a lot of competition. Last year taught us an awful lot as a coaching staff about not stamping or judging guys too quickly, you’ve got to kind of let some things unfold.

“I think the level of talent we have coming in mixed with the talent we have coming back puts us, on paper, in a better situation now probably than what we were last year. Now, It’s going to be really difficult to replace guys like Cross and Schobel and Hunter. It’s never easy to replace anything. … But we could be in a way worse position than we are, trust me.”

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I hope they find enough pitching to go through he regular season without burning any of the guys out. It would have been nice to see how far last year’s team might have gone with a healthy pitching staff. There is a lot of talent in the program and it should be another great year of VT baseball.

  2. thanks for this in-depth roster run down, @DC.

    i’m guessing Coach didn’t mention another new face the Hokies signed 2 days after the MLB draft (you probably interviewed Coach before the draft took place – when he had a committable offer, but hadn’t heard his name called by the bigs): Lewisburg JUCO Chris Sparber, C and OF, from NJ. he played with the Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plain League this summer. is a good contact hitter and precise eye at the plate; needs to be developed into a better outfielder; not sure about his being a regular catcher at acc level … yet.
    as i said he needs development and some weight room work. he is coachable, though; and he has a great family who are supporting him and looking forward to cheering for him and attending several VT sports contests – not just baseball.

    Go Hokies! We are Virginia Tech.

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