07/12/2023 9:41 AM
Article By: Daniel Curren
In the top of the 4th inning against the Brewster Whitecaps, Hyannis Harbor Hawks pitcher Jack O’Connor was looking to finish his day on a strong note. After walking the lead-off batter, O’Connor battled back after falling behind 2-0 in the count, and got the opposing batter to hit into a forceout.
This ended an excellent first start for the Virginia right-hander in a Harbor Hawks uniform - Three and a third innings, two hits, no runs, two walks, and five strikeouts.
O’Connor is one of the most intriguing players on the Cape this summer. After wrapping up his first year at the University of Virginia, O’Connor is one of the top players in the 2025 draft class. A native of Virginia, attending the University was an easy decision for the 6'5” righty.
“The coaching staff is phenomenal at UVA and that really made it a no-brainer,” O’Connor said. “Also, my parents would be able to come watch and play a lot. It was an easy decision for me.”
O’Connor left Bishop O’Connell High School with tons of hype surrounding him. He was ranked by Perfect Game as the #2 High School player in Virginia in his class, and the #1 right-handed pitcher in his home state. He was also ranked as the #15 RHP in the nation, and the #58 player.
O’Connor shined in his first year with the Cavaliers. In 65.1 innings pitched as a starter/reliever hybrid, he posted a 3.86 ERA with 64 strikeouts. That ERA ranked tied for 12th in the ACC and was the 2nd lowest among freshmen in the conference. This success was thanks in part to several changes O’Connor made in his first year of collegiate ball.
“I definitely threw my changeup a lot more, which I was hoping to get the opportunity to do,” O’Connor said. “It's been more just kind of throwing certain pitches to certain guys, it's still for all very fair amounts. But yeah, just kind of being more intentional about who I throw them to.”
O’Connor features a very diverse pitch arsenal with a fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider. His fastball tops 94-95 miles per hour and sits in the low 90s. He boasts a sweeping 12-6 curveball, and his slider and changeup tunnel off each other.
The ACC has continuously proven to be one of the hardest conferences to pitch in. The offense-heavy conference produced a league-wide OPS of .881 in 2023, the second highest among the Power 5 Conferences, trailing the SEC by a mere eight points. Between 2022 and 2023, the ACC is the only conference to post a .880 league OPS or higher in both seasons. Thus makes O’Connor’s 3.86 ERA look even more impressive as a freshman.
“I came in from high school where there’s like one or two really solid bats and every lineup. Then you get to the ACC and it's, you know, nine solid great hitters in every lineup,” O’Connor said. “It was a little bit of an adjustment to just mentally stay locked in a little bit towards every hitter that I was gonna face and not just the top guys.”
O’Connor saw several high leverage situations in his first year at Virginia, most notably in Omaha. In the top of the seventh inning, with Virginia leading 4-1, O’Connor was called upon to face the 9-1-2 hitters in the Gators’ order. One of those hitters was 2023 fourth overall draft pick Wyatt Langford.
“I always love challenging myself facing the top level guys,” O’Connor said. “I love knowing that I have to execute every pitch against guys like that. It's like every single pitch. If you make a mistake, you're gonna get punished. So just really bearing down to execute that curveball low and fastball. I just love that.”
O’Connor induced a ground ball out of Langford and left the game with no earned runs allowed.
As a member of the Harbor Hawks, O’Connor has reunited with fellow Virginia pitcher Bradley Hodges. The two met this year on campus and are teammates again in the summer.
“We came together and talked about it and said, ‘let's both let's both make some big strides this summer,’” Hodges said. “So we can go back and get us back to Omaha and get a different result.”
After playing with O’Connor for a year, Hodges is impressed with his teammates’ diverse skill set on the mound.
“It's really hard to be able to throw a number of pitches that he does for strikes,” Hodges said. “He is able to do that and it's impressive.”
O’Connor has a long way to go before he is draft eligible, and he made major strides in his first year of collegiate ball. What is next? Improving the mental side of his game.
“Just continuing to climb whether it's my confidence from my own stuff, how I'm competing in games, whether it's throwing a lot more strikes and just attacking certain hitters,” he said. “but I'm a lot of this just working on myself and learning to better myself every day.”