MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — JJ Wetherholt arrived in Morgantown two falls ago and quickly turned into one of the best young players in the Big 12 Conference. As a true freshman, the young infielder was a unanimous selection to the Big 12 All-Freshman team and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention status.
Wetherholt is now a sophomore, and skipper Randy Mazey has another highly touted group of freshmen ready to leave their mark on the Mountaineer baseball program.
When asked last week about what first-year players on the roster he is most excited about, the first name Mazey mentioned is infielder Ellis Garcia.
“[He has] been swinging the bat really, really well in practice. He can move around. He can play some second base, some third base, some first base,” said Mazey. “He’s going to be a utility-type guy, but has a tremendous future, offensively, for us.”
Garcia hails from Elmwood Park, New Jersey, roughly 30 minutes north of Newark and under an hour away from New York City. He helped his St. Joseph’s Regional School squad win a state title as a junior in 2021, and is rated as the No. 16 overall player in the state of New Jersey, according to Perfect Game.
Even as a young athlete, he already stands at six feet tall and weighs 215 pounds – a good size for a collegiate infielder.
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Catcher Logan Sauve is another freshman that Mazey is intrigued by.
“[Logan] has a tremendous approach to hitting. He’s a really good catcher,” said Mazey. “You’ll see him in the lineup some.”
Sauve was rated as the top high school catcher in Pennsylvania by Perfect Game after his senior season. He was rated as the No. 35 catcher in the country, and comes to WVU after hitting .423 or better as a high school junior and senior. His father, Jeff, was a two-sport athlete at Clemson and played both baseball and football professionally.
Sauve has a good chance at being Dayne Leonard’s primary backup behind the plate this year.
“I feel really good about Logan behind the plate, (and) at the plate,” Mazey added.
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Gavin Van Kempen is likely the top freshman pitcher West Virginia brought in as part of the most recent recruiting cycle. The New York native was rated as the No. 7 overall player in New York, and the No. 280 player in the country by Perfect Game. He was also drafted out of Maple Hills High School by the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s MLB Draft, but stayed true to his commitment to the Mountaineers.
Fellow right-hander Carson Estridge out of Virginia, and lefty Cole Fehrman out of Pennsylvania, are two more talented arms that WVU recruiting coordinator and associate head coach Steve Sabins has brought to Morgantown.
“The strength of this recruiting class is probably the freshmen pitchers that we brought in. This is the most talented group of freshmen pitchers we’ve ever had,” Mazey said. “We’ve got a great group of talented guys, but the exciting part of them is going to be how they progress over time, and when they get to be (Alek) Manoah’s age, how special they can be.”
Another first-year Mountaineer that Mazey is keeping his eye on is left-handed hitter Sam White.
“[He] has a chance to be a really good hitter over time. He’s come with some high-level experience,” the skipper said of the Aurora, Ontario native. “He was on Team Canada playing in the world championships, and having success, and he’s going to have a great future for us, as well.”
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White was a member of the Canadian Junior National Team, and is rated as the top third baseman in all of Ontario by Perfect Game.
Another young player worth keeping an eye on this year is middle infielder Alvin “Tré” Keels.
Keels was a 2021 Perfect Game/Rawling Preseason Underclass All-America first-team selection, and played at the 2020 Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games. He’s rated as the No. 96 overall high school baseball prospect in the country by Perfect Game, and appears to have some of the traits of a prototypical Mazey player.
But listening to the skipper speak last week, Keels is still a raw talent as he enters his freshman season with the Mountaineers.
“He’s got some real offensive ability and has gotten so much better since he’s been here. He’s had some good days in inter-squads, but you know he’s a freshman too,” Mazey said. “At this level, you’ve got to have a well-rounded game to get a lot of playing time. And he’s made some great strides in some areas, and has some work to do in some other areas. But before that dude’s done, he’s got a chance to be a tremendous hitter for us.”
West Virginia begins the 2023 campaign on Friday, Feb. 17 at Georgia Southern. First pitch on Opening Day is set for 6:30 p.m. ET, and will be streamed on ESPN+.