MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Gold and Blue Nation previewed West Virginia’s 2022 season, we named off some of the Mountaineers’ top newcomers ahead of that season.
We spoke about the hard-hitting Grant Hussey, who ended up leading the team with 11 home runs that season. We previewed catcher Dayne Leonard, who ended the season as one of the lineup’s most efficient hitters and is a highly-anticipated returner this season.
One major name slipped through the cracks, however. Somehow, we failed to predict the emergence of infielder JJ Wetherholt. In his freshman season, he made his name known as WVU’s No. 2 hitter, finishing with a .308 average and an .882 OPS.
Additionally, Wetherholt added 15 steals to the program’s highest-ever total of 156 stolen bases. He is the second-leading returner in that category behind shortstop Tevin Tucker.
That season, according to skipper Randy Mazey, might just be the beginning for Wetherholt.
“JJ’s got a chance to be the best hitter I’ve ever coached in 35 years,” Mazey said.
While observers saw a strong debut campaign by Wetherholt on the surface, Mazey indicated that he battled minor adversity behind the scenes. First, Wetherholt started the majority of the season at third base before moving to his natural position at second. (This isn’t news, as Wetherholt himself indicated his comfort at second after making the move late in the season.)
Second, Mazey revealed that Wetherholt played through injuries “literally the entire season.”
“He was willing to do whatever he can do to help us win games,” Mazey said. “But we think we got him at the right position now, and he’s healthy and he’s running as good as he’s ever run and swinging as good as he’s ever swung the bat, so yeah, this has the chance to be a pretty good year for him if we can keep him healthy.”
Mazey said his performance this spring suggests a step up in his sophomore year. That would be an undoubted positive for WVU, which lost some of its top offensive contributors in the offseason.
Wetherholt could be the biggest returner, though, so Mazey’s goal is to maximize his time at the plate.
“You got a guy like JJ, you want him at the top of the lineup,” Mazey said. “You hate for the game to end with JJ standing on deck so you try to get him as close to the top as you can so one or two is probably ideal for him even though he’s capable of hitting in the middle and driving in runs.”