Jobs Still Up for Grabs for Top-Ranked 'Hoos

Top-ranked Virginia opens its season in a matter of days -- and coach Brian O'Connor still hasn't announced his starting first baseman or second baseman, or his weekend pitching rotation.

And O'Connor says that's a good thing.

"Because we have so much depth and competition, I want to keep it that way to bring out the best in everybody," he said Monday at the Cavaliers' official media day. "I think as we move on, in the early part of the season, we'll start to get a better idea of maybe what the best thing for us to do is."

UVa will have eight of its nine lineup regulars, and two of its weekend starters, back in the dugout on Friday, when the Cavaliers open the 2014 season at noon against Kentucky in Wilmington, NC.

The question is where O'Connor will fit his many pieces.

He said Monday that the first base opening would be filled by either Mike Papi or Nick Howard. Papi spent last season as the team's primary left fielder, while Howard split time between third base, shortstop, and the Cavaliers' starting pitcher on Sunday.

Howard moved from third base to shortstop following Branden Cogswell's injury last spring. Cogswell could be O'Connor's shortstop again this season, with John LaPrise at second base. Or Cogswell could shift to second base, with freshman Daniel Pinero at shortstop.

"You see guys playing positions they never played, or you've never seen them play before," Cogswell said Monday. "But seeing them change, and seeing them adjust to, and succeeding in those new positions, it's been nice to see. So in case one guy does go down, we know we have plenty of other guys to fill in the pieces."

On the mound, O'Connor listed sophomores Brandon Waddell -- who spent last year as UVa's top starter as a freshman -- Nathan Kirby and Josh Sborz, along with senior Artie Lewicki and freshman Jack Roberts as potential starters. O'Connor said Howard and Whit Mayberry were in line to fill the Cavaliers' vacancy at closer.

Even with that uncertainty as opening day approaches, UVa still enters the season with unprecedented expectations. Last month, Baseball America and Perfect Game both put Virginia at No. 1 in their preseason national polls. It will mark the first time UVa will enter a baseball season ranked No. 1 in the country.

On Monday, the Cavaliers said they're ready to start earning that top ranking on the field.

"We didn't expect anything, which we haven't in years past," said junior outfielder Derek Fisher. "And this coming out, and these polls being what they are, is obviously a great honor. But again, it's all going to be proven this season, and that's where it really means something."

"It really hasn't changed what we do here," said Cogswell. "We still go out and we try to get better as a team every day. We don't feel like we have that target on our back. We know if we go out and we compete, and if we do what we're asked, and we give it everything we've got, there's nothing much we can do."

"That doesn't mean all of a sudden, somebody thinks that you should win the national championship. A lot has to happen between now and then," said O'Connor. "We're four or five days away from now it really mattering. And you can put that aside when the start of the season happens."


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