OMAHA, Neb. — Hours after Virginia put the finishing touches on a win over No. 3 Tennessee to open the College World Series on June 20, a former Virginia standout took the mound across town.
Daniel Lynch, who turned professional after the 2018 season, started for the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
“It feels like I was at UVa forever ago,” Lynch said, “but it really wasn’t that long ago at all.”
UVa’s trip to Omaha gave the 24-year-old lefty a chance to catch up with head coach Brian O’Connor and a handful of his former teammates. Lynch’s final season in Charlottesville was the freshman season for pitchers Andrew Abbott and Griff McGarry.
He stopped by practice prior to the team’s opening game and watched on TV before his start as the Cavaliers beat Tennessee. A road trip took him out of Omaha for UVa’s second and third games of the CWS, but Lynch made the most of his limited time with his old club.
Lynch came away impressed with the 2021 Virginia team.
“It’s not about any individual on that team, it’s just about each other … that’s something worth noting and something that’s pretty cool because this doesn’t happen often,” Lynch said.
Watching UVa overcome adversity this season to make it to Omaha offered Lynch a reminder of his path to the big leagues as well as his road ahead.
A highly touted prospect exiting high school, Lynch expected to have three stellar collegiate seasons before being drafted to the majors. Instead, his first two seasons in Charlottesville were bumpier than expected.
“After my second year at UVa, I didn’t even know if I was gonna continue to play baseball,” Lynch said. “I came in thinking I was gonna get drafted after my junior year, and I was just so bad my first two years.”
He posted ERAs of 5.00 or higher in each of his first two years in a Virginia uniform. A productive summer in the Cape Cod League after his sophomore season brought him a needed confidence boost.
After a few shaky starts to open 2018, he settled down and posted a 3.96 ERA in his junior season. Lynch struck out 105 batters in 88 2/3 innings. He was drafted in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
He’s leaned on those memories since turning professional. Lynch made his MLB debut this season, throwing well in his first outing. He gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings against Cleveland, which left him wanting more, but the Royals were pleased with his first effort in the big leagues.
“He just pitched great,” Royals manager Mike Matheny told reporters after the game. “It was exactly what we were hoping for. He made some good pitches in the middle of their order. They’ve got some guys who can do some damage.”
Unfortunately for Lynch, his next two starts brought more adversity.
Lynch tossed just 2/3 of an inning in his second start, allowing eight runs and failing to get out of the first inning. He yielded four runs, three of which were earned, in 2 2/3 innings in his third start.
“This whole thing is such a big learning curve, especially just making it to the big leagues and seeing what a different animal it is up there,” Lynch said.
The Royals optioned Lynch back to the minor leagues after the three starts, giving him time to work on a few things before eventually returning to the majors. As the No. 2 prospect within the organization, according to MLB.com, it’s only a matter of time before Kansas City brings Lynch back up.
Despite an MLB ERA of 15.75, Lynch is far from deterred. He knows that he has time to make good on his MLB dreams.
“I’m really young, and I’ve already gotten an opportunity and so now it’s just an opportunity to try to work to get better and then when I get back there to make sure that I don’t look back,” Lynch said.
He also knows breakthroughs often come after failure. He learned that well at UVa and the lesson stuck.
Lynch’s latest start in the minor leagues came Saturday. He tossed five scoreless innings, striking out seven and improving to 4-1 for Omaha this season.
The talented former Wahoo gains confidence with every positive start and eagerly awaits his next opportunity at the big-league level.
“You feel like that trust in yourself grows every time you overcome something,” Lynch said.