The University of Virginia Cavaliers have been playing baseball so long that the head coach for their inaugural season, which lasted seven games in 1889, is listed officially as unknown. More impressive is that school history dating back to their 1889 season still exists in full, telling us that in 124 seasons of competition the University has compiled a record of 2,059 wins, 1,641 losses, and 41 ties.
The first Cavalier was drafted into Major League Baseball in 1965 when the Athletics drafted Hugh Britton, a third baseman, in the 24th round (400th overall). Although Britton would hit .304 with the St. Cloud Rox -- Northern League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins -- after being drafted that season, '65 would be his only year in professional ball. The first Cavalier to reach the Major Leagues was Mike Cubbage, who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1971 First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Senators. Cubbage would go on to be traded to the Twins in 1976 alongside All-Stars Bill Singer and Roy Smalley in a deal with the Texas Rangers that included 287-game winner Bert Blyleven. In total through the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft there have been 101 players selected from the University of Virginia with 17 of those selections making it to the Major Leagues so far, including five who are still active in 2012. No team has selected more Cavaliers than the Seattle Mariners, who have eight total selections dating back to 1983 with their addition of George Priftis, a second baseman, in the 26th round (644th overall) that year.
The real story here begins in that the Mariners have selected six players with ties to the University of Virginia since 2009; only one Major League team (Orioles, seven) has selected more in the history of the school. Maybe it's not so crazy when you notice that the University has qualified for the College World Series (CWS) twice in the past four seasons.
Each of the Cavaliers 2009 and 2011 CWS teams included five of the six players drafted by the Seattle Mariners, while the 2011 CWS team featured the sixth and final player on our list. Both teams featured Danny Hultzen (2011, 2nd overall), John Hicks (2011, 123rd overall), Steven Proscia (2011, 213th overall), Andrew Carraway (2009, 353rd overall), and Keith Werman (2012, undrafted); the lone member of the 2011 team was Chris Taylor (2012, 161st overall). You can nearly field an entire baseball team with that list; and a winning team nonetheless given their professional baseball successes so early in their careers.
So what has led the organization to be so cavalier on the Cavaliers over the past few seasons? Was it a conscious effort by the club to tap into head coach Brian O'Connor's program, or more just happenstance? A lot of it just has to do with familiarity. As fate would have it, Mariners Northeast Area Scout Mike Moriarty saw a lot of each of these six players with common geographical ties due to scouting the prized prospect in the bunch in Hultzen. Moriarty -- who played 11 seasons in the minor leagues and reached the big leagues with the Orioles in 2002 -- recently spoke at length with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about his work at Virginia and other area schools for the M's.
"I don't believe it was our intention to specifically target Virginia players," Moriarty said. "For me though, Virginia has been the best school in my area for the last few years, so it's in my best interest to go in there as often as possible"
And go there often both Moriarty and the Mariners have.
Moriarty continued, "That whole staff there -- from O'Connor to (Kevin) McMullan to (Karl) Kuhn, everyone -- they do things the right way. They practice the right way and they play the right way. They teach kids the fundamentals and they develop players with good instincts - and that's a credit to them. And all of these guys here (that the M's have picked in the last several seasons), they have it."
Danny Hultzen – LHP – Hultzen left Virginia as the all-time leader in wins (32) and strikeouts (395) while being listed as second in team history at 320 innings pitched. "He was a really good college hitter and he's a very good athlete. Smart, good base runner and I'd say he's a plus runner. As far as me recommending him for the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, after watching him pitch for two-plus years I can honestly say that I had no negatives to report," said Moriarty. Over his career with the Cavaliers he averaged 11.11 strikeouts per nine innings and was drafted with an overall record of 32-5 with a 2.08 ERA in 51 outings (50 starts). The young left handed pitcher is now the Mariners #2 overall prospect (8th overall in MLB.com's Top-100) posted the lowest ERA in Seattle's minor league system in 2012 at 3.05.
Moriarty said of Danny's make-up, "I remember I watched on Fridays as a sophomore -- and he always pitched very well, and I remember thinking, 'I wanted to see him not pitch well just once -- to see how he reacts to adversity.' And I got the chance once in a game where he wasn't his sharpest in the first inning -- he gave up something like five runs. He came out with fire after that. Bumped a few MPH on his fastball and he completely dominated in innings two through seven."
John Hicks – C – Hicks followed up a strong .309 2011 season with a .312 batting average in a full season with the Advanced-A Mavericks. Moriarty hinted towards the ability to handle a secondary position for Hicks, "Real good catch-and-throw guy and his feet and hands work great together. He's also a leader. And I think he can be an everyday MLB catcher -- but if they want him to play some first base to get rest at all in between, he can really pick it at first base. Smart baseball player."
Hicks, whose nickname at Virginia was Jazz, was a 2011 semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench award; handed out to the top backstop in the country. As a professional in 2012 Hicks threw out 57 of 106 runners for a .538 caught stealing percentage which led all qualifying minor league catchers. Hicks in two professional seasons has thrown out 76 of 149 runners (51%).
Steven Proscia – 3B – Proscia is a snub candidate from the Mariners Top-20 following a .314/.352/.541 season where he hit 28 home runs (24 in Advanced-A/4 in Double- A). He now has 40 home runs in 171 games played which translates to one every 4.3 games or 17.4 at-bats. Moriarty on Proscia, "He really is a good ballplayer and a good fielder -- and he got better every time I saw him. He continued to improve his game. And he -- like all of these guys, really -- has a great head on his shoulders." Proscia left the University of Virginia the school's all-time leader in runs batted in with 182.
Andrew Carraway – RHP – Throwing on a Double-A staff that included ‘The Big Three' and eventual Southern League Pitcher of the Year Maurer; Carraway was the first of the rotation to be promoted to Triple-A in 2012. Carraway was drafted before Moriarty arrived but left an impression none the less, "Another smart player that gets the most out of his abilities because he understands the game." Carraway shined inside and outside the classroom at Virginia being named a three time All-ACC academic award winner as well as the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Weaver-James-Corrigan award winner for on and off the field excellence. In his professional career Carraway has shown above average longevity for a minor league pitcher, tossing 150 innings twice, averaging 146 innings per season since 2010.
Keith Werman – IF – Keith becomes the second member of his family to play professional ball as his older brother Kyle was a minor league farmhand for the New York Mets. The toolsy infielder led NCAA baseball his junior and senior seasons in sacrifice bunts putting together a career batting average of .309 at Virginia. Werman was busy after being signed as an undrafted free agent a week after this year's draft playing second base, shortstop, and third base for three different Seattle affiliates. He finished hitting .256 through 117 at-bats walking 17 times while striking out in 20 plate appearances; an impressive 1.18 K/BB ratio for a first year player. Moriarty on Werman, "He's a great kid that I liked a lot. Another smart, heady player with good baseball aptitude."
Chris Taylor – IF – Chris knows a little something about clutch as he is credited with the most important at-bat and hit in Virginia history lacing a two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against UC Irvine that sent the Cavaliers to the 2011 CWS. Taylor, much like Werman, played second base, shortstop, and third base in concluding his first professional season. Moriarty said of Taylor's overall game, "He's an above average shortstop with a strong arm - and I watched him play and I thought, 'I'd like to have this kid on my team.' Great hands." The infielder hit .322/.417/.432 on the season walking 33 times and striking out 32. Taylor flashed his above average speed swiping 17 bases in 49 total games played.
With a deep infield and catching system Werman, Taylor, and Hicks will have to continue to show the success they did in 2012; each exhibiting positive signs of the skill-sets that brought them to Seattle. After Spring Training concludes it is possible Hultzen and Carraway could find themselves in a familiar spot; throwing in the same rotation for the third time on three different teams, this time with Tacoma. Proscia certainly has nothing left to prove in Advanced-A where he has hit .323 in 150 games the previous two seasons slugging 36 home runs and should start 2013 with Jackson in the Southern League. This group of Cavaliers have all staked their claim in the Mariners organization as pieces of what could be an impressive Major League team in the coming years. But for which players will make the show and which players will not; that's something that not even Mike Moriarty can predict.
Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse Contributing Writer Josh Dobner on Twitter at @JPDobner and site Editor Rick Randall at @randallball.