2019 was a memorable season for the West Virginia baseball program, with milestones being set throughout their run to the NCAA Tournament. Although the season is over, the team is still breaking records.
In the 2019 MLB Draft, a program-high eight Mountaineers were selected, including the first to be selected in the first round since 1997. Half of the draftees were part of West Virginia’s pitching staff, which led the Big 12 conference in strikeouts and earned run average.
The 2019 draft class is headlined by starting pitcher Alek Manoah‘s selection in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays, the first first-round pick since Chris Enochs in 1997. Manoah turned heads with his propensity for striking batters out which he did 144 times this season — the most ever by a West Virginia pitcher.
Along with several weekly and monthly honors at every level, Manoah capped his season off with a Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honor before his eventual nod from the Blue Jays.
On day two of the draft, senior catcher Ivan Gonzalez was next off the board for the Mountaineers in the 8th round after his selection by the Chicago White Sox. Gonzalez was an integral piece for West Virginia, spending three seasons behind the plate in Morgantown and starting 132 games.
The third day of the draft would prove to be busy for Mountaineer baseball players with six receiving a call from a Major League Baseball club.
Outfielders Brandon White and Darius Hill were taken next. White was taken by the Los Angeles Angels in the 17th round after catching the eyes of professional scouts with his speed in the outfield and play-making ability. Hill was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round after finishing off one of the most impressive resumés in Mountaineer baseball history. He became the all-time career doubles leader in the final series of the season, while also appearing and starting in the more games than any Mountaineer in history.
Catcher Chase Illig became the seventh Mountaineer selected in the draft by the Yankees in the 29th round, the most in program history. While Illig was sidelined for 2019, he caught the eye of MLB scouts through his performance in the California Collegiate League, highlighted by his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. The Bluefield native batted .223 in two seasons with the Mountaineers.
It would only be fitting that the class would be rounded out by Sam Kessler, Randy Mazey’s favorite closing pitcher this season and the leader in saves. Kessler would be selected by the Tigers in the 34th round. He led the Mountaineers with 8 saves in 2019, striking out 46 batters in the process — the highest tally among relievers. He finished his career in Morgantown with a 2.88 ERA and a 9-5 record.
This year’s West Virginia baseball team finished 2019 with a 38-22 record and a runner-up finish in the Big 12 Tournament, as well as the first top-seed bid to the NCAA Tournament in 64 years.