As the weather gets warmer (well, for most of the ACC), spring comes and with spring comes baseball. America’s pastime is alive and well in the ACC as last season saw 6 teams go to the NCAA tournament. The addition of Louisville makes an already competitive league ever tougher. Here’s a quick overview of some of the storylines for ACC baseball.
(Pre-season rankings according to Baseball America)
2014 Record: 22-33 (10-20)
Player to Watch: OF Chris Shaw
The Eagles have never really been known as a baseball school. In fact, their baseball field is actually a fenced off corner of a soccer field. The team is usually towards the bottom of the ACC standings. This year looks like it may be the same, but there is a twist. That twist is outfielder Chris Shaw. The outfielder had a tremendous 2014 during which he led the league in home runs and was named All-ACC. Baseball is by no means an individual game, but if BC can get their star some support, it could be a different year.
2014 Record: 36-25 (15-14)
Postseason: Lost @ Nashville Regional
Player to Watch: OF Steven Duggar
Clemson opens the season ranked 24th according to Baseball America and for good reason. They return most of their core from last year and have brought in some solid recruits. Steven Duggar was All-ACC last year, but he’s not the only star. Aside from him, the Tigers have two elite left handed pitchers in Zack Erwin and Alex Bostic. On the other end of the battery is sophomore Chis Okey who batted .286 in his freshman year. On the surface, Clemson has the pieces it takes to get to Omaha. You can be sure that the loss in regionals last year will drive this team to work for a better result this year.
2014 Record: 33-25 (16-14)
Postseason: Lost @ ACC Tournament
Player to Watch: RHP Michael Matuella
One of the more intriguing teams from 2014 was Duke. Armed with a 2nd year head coach and lots of veterans, the Blue Devils won 30 games for only the 10th time in program history and the first time since 2009. Now is when the rubber meets the road for coach Chris Pollard. The team is now mostly his players and many will play key roles for Duke this year. Even though the team lost much of their offense last year, they return most of their pitching talent. Junior Michael Matuella is a pre-season All-American and Baseball America even named him the top draft prospect in the ACC. Behind him is senior Andrew Istler who is known for his versatility. He will start the season as the no. 2 starter, but don’t be surprised to see him come out of the bullpen especially in key games.
#21 Florida State
2014 Record: 43-17 (21-9)
Postseason: Lost @ Tallahassee Regional
Player to Watch: OF DJ Stewart
There’s no question this year as to who the Seminoles will turn to as their star. DJ Stewart hopes to repeat as the ACC player of the year. The junior garnered just about every award last year and will return this season to do it once more. Aside from Stewart, a veteran heavy rotation is led by junior Mike Compton and senior Bryant Holtmann. The Seminoles suffered a disappointing loss at their own regional last season suffering losses to Georgia Southern and Alabama. That was certainly not the outcome they hoped for and will be hungry for more this season.
2014 Record: 37-27 (14-16)
Postseason: Lost @ Oxford Regional
Player to Watch: DH AJ Murray
After an improbable run to the ACC title last season, the Yellow Jackets return with most of their core looking to repeat. AJ Murray leads an offense that tends to be a little all-or-nothing. At times, they can easily score 10 or more runs. Other times, they are apt to being shut out. On the other side, Georgia Tech relied on the strength of their bullpen last year. This year should see the reverse since their star relievers graduated. The team now finds strength in their starters. If the Jackets’ hitting can find some consistency this year, they have the pieces in place to make a run for the title again.
2014 Record: 50-17 (19-5 in AAC)
Postseason: Lost in CWS (went undefeated through Regionals and Supers)
Player to Watch: RHP Kyle Funkhouser
If you thought adding Louisville to the conference would just boost basketball, you clearly haven’t seen the Cardinals play baseball. The team went undefeated in their own regional and super regional only to fall in the College World Series to eventual champion Vanderbilt. Junior returns Kyle Funkhouser and will be one of the top draft prospects this year as he leads the veteran heavy team. With much of the team returning this season, there’s no reason to think the Cardinals won’t return to Omaha for the 3rd straight year.
2014 Record: 44-19 (24-6)
Postseason: Lost @ Coral Gables Regional final
Player to Watch: C Zack Collins
Many teams in the nation would have loved to have Miami’s last season. They were the top seed in the ACC tourney, and even though they didn’t win, they still hosted their own regional. It took a double elimination final but Texas Tech outlasted the Hurricanes to advance to the next round. By most standards, this wasn’t a bad season at all. With the talent they had though, many felt they could have done more. This year, the Hurricanes are back and ready to do just that. The team is anchored by a number of All-Americans including ace Andrew Suarez, one of the conference’s top pitchers. But the star of the team is sophomore catcher Zack Collins. After an amazing freshman season where he hit almost .300 with 11 home runs, Collins will try to continue his legacy at Miami. With expectations even higher than last year, anything short of a CWS berth may be seen as a disappointment. With the talent here though, there’s no reason to expect the Hurricanes won’t find themselves in Omaha.
#17 North Carolina
2014 Record: 35-27 (15-15)
Postseason: Lost @ Gainesville Regional
Player to Watch: OF Skye Bolt
After the 2013 season saw both UNC and NC State meet in the CWS, fans of both teams anxiously awaited 2014. Unfortunately for them, both teams failed to meet expectations as their only meeting was the ACC play-in game. North Carolina came out on the better end as they won the play-in and squeaked into the Gainesville regional. This year, with many of the same players returning, UNC once again hopes to live up to the lofty expectations. Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter anchor a solid lineup and Trent Thornton leads an elite rotation. Not much has changed for the Tar Heels and hopefully that means they can build off last year’s disappointment and get back to to the College World Series.
2014 Record: 32-23 (13-17)
Postseason: Lost ACC play-in game
Player to Watch: C Andrew Knizner
As previously mentioned, the Wolfpack had a disappointing season a year ago. Expectations were sky high and with 2 first round draft picks, everything indicated that the Wolfpack would have a memorable year. Sadly, the supporting cast underperformed and the stars even faltered a bit at times. It was a year that many would like to forget. Now starts a new year for NC State and with it, a fresh start. After losing 7 draft picks, the team will look to its youth this year. Andrew Knizner shifts from 3B to catcher and will likely be the team’s top hitter. Knizner should get some help from veteran outfielder Jake Fincher, but there are still quite a few holes to fill. Most likely, 2015 will be a rebuilding year for the Wolfpack, but they may not be too far out of contention.
2014 Record: 22-31 (9-21)
Player to Watch: 2B Cavan Biggio
The Irish didn’t get the warm welcome they were hoping for last season. Their first year in the conference saw them finish tied for last place. With nowhere to go but up, Notre Dame turns to their star player with his star legacy: Cavan Biggio. The son of MLB great Craig Biggio, Cavan led the team last year in several categories as a freshman. As he returns for his second year, Biggio looks for consistency, something he struggled with last year. Also of note is the late addition of Tori Hunter Jr, a wide receiver on the football team. Hunter Jr. hasn’t played baseball since high school and while dual sport athletes aren’t unusual, it’s interesting seeing an addition to the team so late. Also the son of a Major Leaguer, Hunter Jr. will get a chance to show off his athleticism on the diamond this year.
2014 Record: 22-30 (11-19)
Player to Watch: OF Boo Vazquez
Pitt was another team that had a rude awakening in their first season of ACC. They pulled a few upset victories, but overall were not good enough for the ACC tournament. This year, the Panthers hope to improve from last year and make the tourney. With a top 50 recruiting class, Pittsburgh could very easily find themselves in the tournament especially if senior Boo Vazquez has a year like the last one. He was the leading power hitter for the Panthers and even had a 10 game hitting streak last year. Though it may be a few years off, Pittsburgh appears to be a team that’s on its way up.
2014 Record: 53-16 (22-8)
Postseason: Lost in CWS final
Player to Watch: LHP Nathan Kirby
The Cavaliers enjoyed a special year that was a few outs away from being even more. In the 3 game College World Series final, Virginia outscored Vanderbilt 17-14 but lost 2 games by a single run. It was a tough way to end a season that was one to remember. Even though they lost a few stars to the draft, the Cavaliers return a majority of the players from their Omaha run. Most notably, Nathan Kirby is a lefty who throws around 92mph. Add in his junk pitches, and you can easily see how Kirby no-hit Pittsburgh last year. With several more names popping up on draft boards everywhere, Virginia looks like a strong candidate to win the ACC and more this year.
2014 Record: 21-31-1 (9-21)
Player to Watch: OF Saige Jenco
2014 was tough year for Virginia Tech baseball. They finished tied for last place in the conference winning only 9 conference games. After losing some key seniors, the Hokies look to rebuild under 2nd year coach Patrick Mason. Saige Jenco is only a sophomore this year and will attempt to lead the young team back to their former glory. Jenco will probably bat lead off as to create some runs which were hard to come by last season. Things will not get better overnight, but this is a team that could become a conference power in a few years.
2014 Record: 30-26 (15-15)
Postseason: Lost ACC play-in game
Player to Watch: 3B/RHP Will Craig
After a few years at the bottom of the conference, Wake Forest returned to the ACC tournament in 2014 yet suffered a quick exit. A 5-3 loss to eventual champion Georgia Tech killed the Deacons’ national tournament hopes. With their star freshmen returning, expect to see them back in the hunt this year. Nate Mondou found his spot at 2B last year and delivered several clutch at bats. On the other side of the diamond, Will Craig became the starting 3B and was also used on the mound where he made 7 appearances. While he hopefully won’t have to take the mound this year, Craig along with Mondou show the talent to take the Demon Deacons back to the NCAA tournament.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be a exciting baseball season in the ACC. Each week, I will be posting updates on the ACC baseball season so stay tuned to The Confidential for all the ACC baseball news.