By Elizabeth Muratore
As Spring Training winds down and Opening Day is nearly upon us, I thought I would take an opportunity to shout out some Major League players who hail from my alma mater, the University of Virginia. UVA’s baseball program has been consistently pumping out MLB talent under head coach Brian O’Connor, who came to the program in 2003. You may have heard of a few of UVA’s most famous baseball alums:
- Ryan Zimmerman, AKA “Mr. National,” who was drafted out of UVA fourth overall in the 2005 MLB draft, won the World Series with the Washington Nationals in 2019, and holds many of the club’s all-time hitting records.
- Mark Reynolds, who the Arizona Diamondbacks selected out of UVA in the 2004 draft. He went on to slug 298 career home runs over a 13-year MLB career.
- Eppa Rixey, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds from 1912-1933 and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1963. Okay, maybe you haven’t heard of him, but to date he is the only UVA alum in the Hall of Fame.
- Javier López, a lefty reliever who appeared in 849 career MLB games from 2003-16 without ever starting a game. He was also a member of the 2007 World Series champion Boston Red Sox and all three San Francisco Giants World Series-winning teams in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
- Sean Doolittle, the former Washington Nationals closer and a member of their 2019 World Series champion team.
- Brandon Guyer, a fifth-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2007 and a member of the 2016 Cleveland team that made it to Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs. Guyer went 3-for-10 with a double, two RBIs and four runs scored in the World Series, including an RBI double right before Rajai Davis hit his unforgettable Game 7 home run.
Beyond those notable alums, there are a number of Hoos scattered around the American and National Leagues that will be on Opening Day rosters or are expected to contribute to MLB teams at some point in 2023.
- Chris Taylor, a utility player for the Los Angeles Dodgers who played for UVA from 2010-12. In 2011, Taylor had one of the biggest moments in program history with a walk-off single in the 2011 NCAA Super Regional that sent UVA to Omaha, marking the second College World Series appearance for the Hoos. Ten years later, Taylor smashed a walk-off home run in the 2021 NL Wild Card Game that lifted the Dodgers past the St. Louis Cardinals and into the Division Series. He was inducted into the Virginia Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.
- Jake McCarthy, an outfielder for the D-backs who was a first-round draft pick in 2018. McCarthy finished fourth in the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year voting.
- Daniel Lynch, a fellow 2018 first-round draft pick who is expected to be a key cog in the Kansas City Royals’ rotation this year, though he is starting the season on the IL with a left shoulder strain.
- Pavin Smith, the seventh overall pick out of UVA in the 2017 draft who is teammates with McCarthy in Arizona. Though Smith will be in Triple-A to start the 2023 season, he has appeared in 232 MLB games since his 2020 debut, including 75 games last year. Smith was a key contributor on the 2015 UVA team, which won the first College World Series title in program history.
- Josh Sborz, a reliever for the Texas Rangers who was teammates with Smith on the 2015 College World Series team. Sborz was originally taken by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2015 draft, but was traded to Texas in 2021.
- Matt Thaiss, a catcher for the Los Angeles Angels whose UVA playing tenure (2014-16) also included the 2015 championship run. Thaiss was another of the many first-round draft picks that have come out of Coach O’Connor’s program. He is slated to start the 2023 season in a catching tandem with No. 1 Angels prospect Logan O’Hoppe while regular catcher Max Stassi begins the year on the IL.
In addition to the UVA alums already lending their talents to teams at the Major League level, there are several former Virginia players quickly rising up various Top 30 Prospects lists.
- Zack Gelof, an infielder and the Oakland A’s No. 3 prospect who was selected in the second round of the 2021 draft after helping UVA reach the College World Series. Gelof hit .270 across two levels of the Minors last year, including Triple-A Las Vegas, and hit .320 in 25 at-bats this Spring Training. Gelof also participated in this year’s World Baseball Classic, representing Team Israel.
- Andrew Abbott, a right-handed pitcher who was Gelof’s teammate from 2019-21 and was drafted by the Reds in the second round in 2021. Abbott made it up to Double-A last season and is ranked as Cincinnati’s No. 11 prospect.
- Mike Vasil, a righty hurler in the New York Mets organization who is currently the 11th-ranked prospect in their system. Vasil was drafted in the eighth round in 2021 and will likely begin the 2023 season in High-A.
- Nate Savino, a southpaw and the D-backs’ No. 23 prospect. He was drafted in the third round out of UVA in 2022 after compiling a 10-9 record and a 3.70 ERA over 35 career college appearances (28 starts), including a complete-game shutout in 2022.
- Griff McGarry, the Phillies’ No. 3 prospect and a fifth-round pick in 2021 who made it to Triple-A in 2022.
- Zach Messinger, a right-handed pitcher who was primarily a reliever for UVA from 2019-21. Though he was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 draft by the New York Yankees, he has worked his way up to become the No. 24 prospect in their Minor League system.
Elizabeth Muratore is one of the editors of the Here’s the Pitch newsletter. She also works as a homepage editor for MLB and co-hosts a Mets podcast called Cohen’s Corner. Elizabeth is a lifelong Mets fan who thinks that Keith Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame. You can follow her on Twitter @nymfan97.
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