Group of “blue-collar” former Mountaineers succeeding in pro baseball

Gold and Blue Nation

WVU baseball’s 2019 season was memorable and historic for a number of reasons. 

That Mountaineer baseball team, led by head coach Randy Mazey, appeared in the Big 12 championship game and hosted an NCAA Regional in Morgantown. The day after that Regional ended, the 2019 MLB Draft began, and a program-record eight Mountaineers were selected. 

All eight of those athletes are still playing, and some are enjoying notable success. First-round pick Alek Manoah quickly made his ascent to the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays, while outfielder Darius Hill was named the Chicago Cubs’ minor league player of the month after batting .337 in May for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. 

West Virginia native Chase Illig is currently with the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, while four other former Mountaineers — Brandon White, Kade Strowd, Nick Snyder and Sam Kessler — were listed on High-A rosters earlier this month. Catcher Ivan Gonzalez, the eighth and final member of WVU’s 2019 draft class, currently plays for the Low-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. 

Hill, who broke Jedd Gyorko’s career doubles record during his final season at West Virginia, credits Mazey for preparing this group for the next level. 

“I think that’s a testament to coach Mazey and the guys that they’ve been able to bring in. A lot of blue-collar guys that are hungry to play good baseball. They come into WVU and they develop, and once they get to pro ball, they’re prepared,” Hill said. “Ultimately, the success they have is a result of their own work, but definitely the time at West Virginia was helpful to getting all that going.” 

For many of those former Mountaineers, the transition to pro ball was anything but ordinary. The pandemic, which brought college baseball to a halt last March, also forced the cancellation of Minor League Baseball’s 2020 season and caused Major League Baseball to play a condensed schedule. 

But that adversity brought this group of Mountaineer baseball alumni closer together. Hill told Gold and Blue Nation last week that he stays in regular contact with his former WVU teammates, and that they still share fond memories of their 2019 run to the NCAA Tournament. 

“The thing I remember most about that team is just the camaraderie and the chemistry that we had together. We all still keep up with each other today, especially the guys that are in pro ball,” Hill said. “I know I check on everybody every day. It’s just a group that 10-20 years from now, yeah the fans and coaches will remember fondly, but I think we’ll all still be very close with each other now.” 

Watch an exclusive interview with Hill right here on GoldAndBlueNation.com. 

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