As the final pick was made in the shortened 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, Halifax County graduate and University of Virginia pitcher Andrew Abbott didn’t hear his name called in the five-round draft.
Early predictions had shown he was going to be taken anywhere from rounds two through five but as the night ended Abbott was left with a choice.
He could sign as an undrafted free agent with a team for a maximum signing bonus of $20,000, or he could return to UVA and finish out his college career with a team that is predicted to make a deep NCAA tournament run next season.
Abbott chose to return to UVA where he will be a senior with two years of eligibility left after the NCAA granted college baseball players an extra year after the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Abbott doesn’t see not being drafted as a negative; he wants to use the experience to his advantage.
“I just look at it as motivation for this upcoming season,” Abbott said. “Obviously it didn’t work out for me that night, but it is going to be extra fuel to the fire to go out and have a heck of a season at UVA and trying to get to Omaha,”(site of the College World Series) he added.
Frustration was one thing that Abbott felt as the draft ended, but he also knew that dwelling on things was not going to help matters. “It was difficult, but you have to remain level headed. Everything works out for a reason and you can’t dwell on everything that’s negative,” Abbott said. “There is a lot of good that can come out of a bad situation and that is the way that you have to look at it,” he added.
Along with Abbott, Logan Michaels, Stephen Schoch and Griff McGarry all announced their intentions to return to UVA next year after not being selected in the draft, and with the cast of players already returning to the Cavaliers in 2021, expectations are high for the team.
Abbott says working on certain aspects of his game is another plus to having another year of college baseball.
“I am going to improve my change-up. That is a pitch that I haven’t really used in my career at UVA, and I am also going to limit my walks. I am going to try and pitch in the strike zone more often,” he said.
The UVA baseball program under current head coach Brian O’Connor has a history of being a perennial contender for the national championship. The Cavaliers won the title back in 2015, but haven’t been to the College World Series since. In Abbott’s first two years at UVA, the Cavaliers missed the postseason both years for the first time since 2004.
“The attitude from my class and above, knowing that UVA has been to Omaha and has won Omaha and the standard that is at UVA, we want to return that so future groups can go there and excel at a high level,” Abbott pointed out.
The 2020 team was poised to make it back to the postseason before COVID-19 canceled the season. Abbott knows the potential that the Cavaliers have heading into next season, and he says that the relationships that they formed as a team last season will only further as they head into next season.
“It is like a family thing at UVA, you play baseball, and you go hang out with the guys all the time and you spend most of your time with them so the relationships that we built this past year can only be furthered because we are returning everyone,” Abbott said.
“We all have one goal and that is to get to Omaha. It is a team effort and everyone does their job and that’s what worked this year, and I can guarantee it will be better next year,” he added.
With almost all of the college baseball experts predicting UVA to be one of the top teams in the country next season, that comes with expectations that Abbott and many of his teammates have never had before. Cavalier’s teams of the past have had the high rankings and high preseason expectations, but Abbott and his teammates have been in a unique situation where their teams haven’t been as strong, but that narrative has changed. With that comes handling those high expectations.
“You just take it one game at a time, baseball is a long season,” Abbott said. “You just have to stay within yourself and only do what you can because when I am pitching there are eight other guys behind me playing the field so it is not just a one person show, you’ve got to rely on your teammates. They are they for a reason, and they will help you out wherever you are,” he added.
Abbott also said when he knows the team playing behind him is really good, it gives him all the confidence in the world to go out and do his job.
Abbott and Schoch formed a deadly combination last season out of the bullpen. Together they helped shut down the opposing team in the late innings and became two of the top relievers in college baseball. Abbott touted a 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings of work, striking out 28 batters and giving up only eight walks. Schoch had a 1.62 ERA and struck out 24 batters in 16.2 innings of work.
Schoch, who will be returning to UVA after gaining a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA due to COVID-19, was a graduate transfer last season after starting his career at Appalachian State and transferring after one year to University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) for the next three seasons.
Schoch sat out a year due to transfer rules, and last season took the mound for the first time in a Cavalier uniform. His lifelong dream was to be a part of the UVA baseball team and he took full advantage of the opportunity last year.
The experience and love of the game that Schoch brought to the team was beneficial to everyone, but Abbott in particular who grew close to Schoch. “It was probably one of my best experiences at UVA,” Abbott said about his friendship with Schoch.
“I love Stephen (Schoch). He is a great guy and an even better teammate. He came in from a different area and had played four seasons of college baseball and he had experience that I didn’t have and that other people didn’t have. It was just a big step forward, not only for me but for the team to hear what he has gone through and to hear his love for baseball and see it on the field,” Abbott added.
Abbott and Schoch’s friendship translated into results on the field as well which was easy because the two seemed to feed off the energy that the other brought when they were on the mound.
“The easiest part was going out there pitching, whether I was after him (Schoch) or I was before him I always knew that he would always go out and give his best and that it was my duty to give my best. We kind of fed off of each others energy and went from there,” Abbott said.
While going back to UVA may not have been his initial plan, Abbott now has the opportunity to win a national championship, work to improve his game, improve his draft stock for the next MLB draft, and now he will have the opportunity to earn his master’s degree.
“I am in the process of applying for a master’s degree right now so I am hoping that I can do that. Coach O’Connor and all of the academic coordinators at UVA have been very helpful just pointing me in the right direction and just making sure I used my time wisely, and I can’t thank them enough,” Abbott said.
Even though the draft didn’t go the way he had hoped, Abbott is determined to continue to improve as an individual and teammate and make the most of the opportunity to return to UVA in the fall.