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JJ Wetherholt Looking to Build on 2023, Details Managing the Hype



WVU Baseball JJ Wetherholt
Kelsie LeRose / WVSN

Shortstop JJ Wetherholt enters the 2024 season with the highest expectations surrounding him of any player in the history of WVU Baseball. 

The previous highest MLB Draft pick in Mountaineers history was right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah, who went eleventh overall in 2019: there’s a good chance that Wetherholt smashes that record as the first name off the board come July. The 5-foot-10, 190 pound shortstop led the nation last season with a .449 batting average, showcasing his all-around ability with 16 home runs, 24 doubles and 36 steals along with capable defense in the middle of the infield. Wetherholt will have his work cut out for him trying to follow up on a season like that, and both he and Mountaineers’ head coach Randy Mazey discussed how he can continue to grow as a player while managing the media spotlight that comes with being one of the best players in college baseball.

Managing Expectations

Mazey talked during his preseason press conference about how he’s helped his superstar shortstop deal with the attention that comes with his newfound fame. 

“His big deal this year, obviously, is going to be to just play baseball. He’s surrounded by so much hype, you know? Everybody wants to talk to him and wants his autograph and wants to know how he feels, and ‘why’d you come back?’ and ‘why’d you do this?’” Mazey said. 

“If he just can take his mind back to when he was 12 years old and just go to the field to enjoy playing baseball and see the ball and hit the ball and not worry about all this stuff around him, then he’ll continue to thrive because he’s a really good player… It’s not easy for him to go through what he’s going through.”

WVU Baseball JJ Wetherholt hitting and Randy Mazey looking on

Mazey continued, describing the importance of realistic expectations in a sport where failure is far more common than success. 

“If he’s trying to go out and hit .500 this year, he’s going to be disappointed. Nobody’s ever done that, you know? He just needs to be realistic. I mean, if he hits .420 this year, it’s a great year. But you can look at it two ways: it wasn’t as good as last year, but who wouldn’t want to hit .420?” Mazey said. “It’s all the mentality he takes into it. Nobody’s ever been perfect at baseball.”

His numbers could take a hit if teams try to pitch around him, but JJ Wetherholt said he isn’t particularly concerned with teams trying to pitch around him because of the threat he poses on the base paths. If they walk him, he can steal bases and create a scoring opportunity, forcing opposing teams to stay honest in their approach.

JJ Wetherholt’s Busy Offseason

JJ Wetherholt, for his part, discussed how he worked to improve after a season that will be hard to top. In addition to his work on the field, he looked at improving other areas of his life like his sleep schedule and the way he deals with the buzz around him: even if his statistics will be hard to replicate, that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to hone his approach at the plate or how he takes care of his body. 

“The offseason definitely looked a little bit different. Just kinda trying to focus on ways to honestly drown out some of the hype, noise, whatever you want to call it,” Wetherholt said. “Just trying to come back healthy from the hamstring injury that I had in the summer… find some ways to improve physically, mentally, working. Got a sleep study, so trying to get sleep figured out, trying to find ways to get better.”

Wetherholt talked about how he gained experience playing in front of scouts and national and international media while playing for USA Baseball during the summer—experience that will help prepare him for the media frenzy as he plays to improve his MLB Draft stock this season. 

“It’s great preparation. Learning how to play in front of those guys, it can be something. At the end of the day, you kinda just have to play like they’re not there, because inherently they don’t matter,” Wetherholt said. “But it is good practice because if you look into the stands and you see a bunch of cameras videoing you, people like that that you know are judging and watching your every move, it can get to you a little bit, so having that practice was definitely good.”

Drowning Out the Noise

Articles are coming out several times a week that list JJ Wetherholt as a potential first overall pick or give him various preseason accolades, like his unanimous preseason selection as the Big 12 Player of the Year or any number of preseason All-American honors and watch lists. Wetherholt said he thinks about last year—when he didn’t receive any preseason buzz despite a Freshman All-Big 12 nod the season prior—in dealing with the hype. He can’t led attention from the media, either positive or negative, sway his feelings. 

“Those guys didn’t believe in me until they had no choice but to believe in me, right? So you can’t let them kinda dictate how you feel,” Wetherholt said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re putting me number one here and there and there and there. If I don’t have a good year, I’m not going to be on those lists anymore.”

Another storyline toward the tail end of 2023 and during the offseason centered around whether Wetherholt would leave West Virginia for another program, lured away by promises of lucrative NIL deals. Mazey praised Wetherholt for his loyalty and what his staying says about him as a person, while Wetherholt discussed just how much the Mountaineers’ program means to him.

“I came here to play baseball and to give myself the opportunity to play close to home with people who took a chance on me,” Wetherholt said. “I’m good to people who have been good to me, and the coaching staff and people here have been nothing but amazing to me, and they gave me exactly what I wanted, so there was no reason to leave.”

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