College Preview

Atlantic Coast Conference Preview




ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH


ConferenceOverall

ATLANTIC
WLWL
1.+Clemson (3)2465316
2.Florida State (18)16134421
3.North Carolina State16134023
4.Wake Forest16133322
5.Maryland8222825
6.Boston College9212825

COASTAL
WLWL
1.Miami (2)17134224
2.North Carolina (5)2285415
3.Virginia (9)2194715
4.Georgia Tech (12)19115018
5.Virginia Tech4252033
6.Duke6241540

Projected NCAA Teams (7): Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia.
Conference Schedule: 30 games; begins March 9.
Conference Tournament: 12 teams, May 23-28 at Jacksonville, Fla.

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C--Matt Wieters, Jr., Georgia Tech (.355-15-71; 1-3, 3.41, 7 SV). 1B--Andy D'Alessio, Sr., Clemson (.312-23-85). 2B--Jemile Weeks, So., Miami (.352-6-40, 13 SB). 3B--Chad Flack, Jr., North Carolina (.384-13-68, 15 SB). SS--Josh Horton, Jr., North Carolina (.395-7-59). OF--Brad Chalk, Jr., Clemson (.353-0-20, 18 SB); Danny Payne, Sr., Georgia Tech (.356-11-44, 20 SB); Jack Rye, Jr., Florida State (.339-12-46). DH--Allan Dykstra, So, Wake Forest (.324-15-56).
P--Andrew Brackman, Jr., North Carolina State (1-3, 6.36); Sean Doolittle, Jr., Virginia (11-2, 2.38, 91 IP/108 SO); Robert Woodard, Sr., North Carolina (7-1, 3.43). RP--Daniel Moskos, Jr., Clemson (5-5, 2.52, 10 SV).

Player of the Year: Matt Wieters, c/rhp, Georgia Tech.
Pitcher of the Year: Sean Doolittle, lhp/1b, Virginia.
Freshman of the Year: Alex White, rhp/if, North Carolina.

Top Newcomers: 1. Alex White, rhp/if, North Carolina (14th round/Dodgers '06). 2. Mark Sobolewski, 3b/ss, Miami (Fr., 20th round/Astros '06). 3. Curtis Dupart, of, Georgia Tech (Fr., 31st round/Rockies '06). 4. Sam Brown, rhp, North Carolina State (Fr., seventh round/Nationals '06). 5. Enrique Garcia, rhp, Miami (Jr., Transfer--Potomac State, W.Va., JC).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2007 DRAFT
1. Matt Wieters, c/rhp, Georgia Tech
2. Andrew Brackman, rhp, North Carolina State
3. *Daniel Moskos, lhp, Clemson
4. Sean Doolittle, lhp/1b, Virginia
5. Brett Cecil, lhp, Maryland
6. Josh Horton, ss, North Carolina
7. Terry Doyle, rhp, Boston College
8. Brad Chalk, of, Clemson
9. Taylor Harbin, 2b, Clemson
10. Luke Putkonen, rhp, North Carolina

*Sophomore eligible

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2008 DRAFT
1. Jemile Weeks, 2b, Miami
2. Tim Federowicz, c, North Carolina
3. Buster Posey, c, Florida State
4. Allan Dykstra, 1b, Wake Forest
5. David Adams, 2b, Virginia

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter--Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech. Best Raw Power--Andy D'Alessio, Clemson. Best Strike-Zone Discipline--Brad Chalk, Clemson.

Best Athlete--Jemile Weeks, Miami. Fastest Runner--Nate Parks, Virginia Tech. Best Baserunner--Brad Chalk, Clemson.

Best Defensive Catcher--Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech. Catcher/Best Arm--Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech. Best Defensive First Baseman--Sean Doolittle, Virginia. Best Defensive Second Baseman--Jemile Weeks, Miami. Best Defensive Third Baseman--Marquez Smith, Clemson. Best Defensive Shortstop--Josh Horton, North Carolina. Infielder/Best Arm--Josh Horton, North Carolina. Best Defensive Outfielder--Danny Payne, Georgia Tech. Outfielder/Best Arm--Danny Payne, Georgia Tech.

Best Fastball--Andrew Brackman, North Carolina State. Best Breaking Ball--Brett Cecil, Maryland. Best Changeup--Robert Woodard, North Carolina. Best Control-- Robert Woodard, North Carolina.

SHORT HOPS

• The Atlantic Coast Conference came closer to ending its 51-year national championship drought than ever last year, as North Carolina reached the championship series in Omaha and had a one-game lead before falling in excruciating fashion to Oregon State. The Tar Heels lost a pair of first-round picks in ace pitchers Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller, but the third member of last year's rotation, senior RHP Robert Woodard, is back after being picked in the 46th round by the Cardinals. Woodard has a 23-3, 2.95 career record and will be joined in the rotation by redshirt sophomore Luke Putkonen, who was undefeated as the Tar Heels' midweek starter last year. RHP/IF Alex White, an unsigned 14th-round pick (Dodgers) last June, is penciled in as the No. 3 starter but also could see time at first base, which may affect how he's used on the mound. While closer Andrew Carignan (3.21 ERA, 15 SV) returns, top reliever Jonathan Hovis, who led the nation in ERA (1.17) and ranked third in appearances (38), must be replaced. Most of North Carolina's hard-hitting lineup, which averaged 7.4 runs per game and posted a .398 on-base percentage, is back, led by juniors 3B/1B Chad Flack and SS Josh Horton, both All-America candidates.

Chuck Hartman played at North Carolina in the 1950s and coached long enough at Virginia Tech to see the Hokies join the ACC. He retired last year, and Boston College's Pete Hughes, who had just coached his first year in the league, replaced him. Hughes coached the Eagles for eight seasons, while Hartman retired after 47 seasons (28 in Blacksburg) and 1,444 victories--fourth all-time among coaches who have led Division I programs. Hughes' departure prompted the promotion of Mik Aoki to the top job in Chestnut Hill. One of Boston College's top freshmen is OF Sam Shaughnessy, the power-hitting son of Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. BC also returns junior RHP Terry Doyle (5-5, 3.44), coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod League (2.89 ERA, 47 IP/23 H/52 SO).

• Clemson and Miami joined the Tar Heels in Omaha last year and figure to join them again near the top of the league standings. The Tigers have had plenty of stars over the years, from Jimmy Key to Kris Benson to Khalil Greene, but balance should be the hallmark of the '07 squad. While Clemson recruits nationally, two of its most important players, juniors CF Brad Chalk and 2B Taylor Harbin, are South Carolinians; both are three-year starters. So is senior 1B Andy D'Alessio, who was a 10th-round pick out of high school in 2003 and a 10th-rounder again last June, after leading the nation in RBIs and ranking second in home runs. The Tigers have plenty of options to replace their three weekend starters and return closer Daniel Moskos after a dominating summer with Team USA (0.96 ERA, 19 IP/31 SO).

• Florida State sophomore Buster Posey was considered a top pitching prospect coming out of high school, but one of the reasons he went to college was the chance to hit. He batted .346-4-48 as the Seminoles' everyday shortstop as a freshman, then had an all-star summer in the Cape (.289-2-16). But he spent the fall practicing to become the Seminoles' new catcher, and a transfer from Illinois-Chicago, junior Mark Hallberg (.373 and .354 the last two seasons), takes over for him at shortstop. Hallberg was the toughest player in Division I to strikeout last season, and had just 17 strikeouts in 454 career at-bats in two seasons in the Horizon League. He did strike out 21 times in 165 at-bats for Orleans in the Cape last summer. He'll be joined on the left side of the Seminoles infield by another transfer, Brandon Reichert, a Tallahassee native who played two seasons at Tallahassee CC, then a year at Mercer before sitting out last season as a transfer.

• The best hitter and pitcher in the league might be the same guy. C/RHP Matt Wieters is challenging Jason Varitek's legacy as the ACC's best catcher ever. In four seasons, Varitek hit .384-57-257; in two seasons, Wieters--like Varitek a switch-hitter with power--has hit .360-25-139, putting him about halfway to Varitek's totals. However, throw in the fact that Wieters has been the Yellow Jackets' closer the last two seasons on the mound, posting a 3.09 ERA, 13 saves and 67 strikeouts (with just 18 walks) in 73 innings, and his value grows. In part because of Wieters' work out of the bullpen, the Jackets went 45-2 in 2006 when leading after seven innings, but the two losses both came in Tech's two-and-barbecue performance in Omaha. He'll get help in the 'pen this year from a familiar face, as junior LHP/OF Danny Payne will work in relief as well as in center field. Payne missed the end of last season with a shoulder injury after a late April outfield collision but looked healthy in fall practice, when he played well both on the mound and at the plate.

• As good as Georgia Tech's two-way players are, Virginia may have the conference's best option in LHP/1B Sean Doolittle, whose younger brother Ryan will play for UNC Wilmington this season as a freshman. Doolittle was named ACC player of the year in 2006, mostly for his work on the mound, as he was pitched around much of the season as a hitter. Only Wieters (56) walked more than Doolittle (54), whose home run production dipped from 11 as a freshman to four last season. Most of his supporting cast is back, though, including OFs Brandon Guyer (.336-7-57, 17 SB) and Brandon Marsh (.380-2-30, 14 SB). Moved into the rotation as a sophomore, Doolittle shined with a 5-1 strikeout-walk ratio, and in 140 career innings, he has a 2.12 ERA.

• Miami has been to the College World Series 10 times in coach Jim Morris' 13 seasons. In most of those seasons, Morris has known who his closer would be coming into the season, and the bullpen has been crucial to the Hurricanes' success. Senior RHP Danny Gil, a reliever most of his first three seasons, will move into the rotation this year, slotting in between two veteran lefthanders, redshirt junior Scott Maine (12-3, 4.57) and junior Manny Miguelez (8-4, 4.31). The top candidates to replace departed closer Chris Perez, drafted 42nd overall by the Cardinals last June, include junior RHP Enrique Garcia, a transfer from Potomac State (W.Va.) JC whom the White Sox failed to sign as a 17th-round draft-and-follow. Garcia's fastball has touched 95 mph in the past. Highly recruited out of Hialeah (Fla.) High, where he teamed with White Sox prospect Gio Gonzalez, redshirt sophomore RHP Raudel Alfonso has had similar stuff in the past (92-94 mph fastball, hard slider) but has had trouble commanding them since missing his high school senior season with an elbow injury.

• North Carolina State coach Elliot Avent probably had more scouts at fall practice than any coach in the country. His ace, 6-foot-11 RHP Andrew Brackman, has pitched just 28 innings since dazzling pro scouts in the 2005 ACC Tournament, when he dominated Miami in a matchup with Cesar Carrillo right before Carrillo became a first-round pick. Brackman had hip injuries last season and has shared time with basketball, but he's given up hoops for this year to see what he can do as a full-time baseball player. He was impressive in the fall, hitting 99 mph with his fastball and putting away Wolfpack teammates with his hard spike curveball. Fellow Ohioan Eric Surkamp (2-3, 5.10) and Tommy John survivor Jeff Stallings will have competition for rotation starts from talented freshman RHPs Sam Brown (unsigned seventh-round pick of the Nationals) and Nate Karns (unsigned 10th-round pick of the Astros) and LHP Jimmy Gillheeney. Karns came from Texas, following assistant coach Tom Holliday. The former Oklahoma State head coach was a Longhorns assistant for two seasons before coming to join the staff of Avent, a long-time friend. Holliday's son Josh, who helped lead the '99 Cowboys to Omaha, is an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, while his other son Matt was an all-star in 2006 for the Colorado Rockies.

• Wake Forest was the league's surprise team as only a late tailspin (2-8 finish, including four losses to Clemson by an aggregate 52-5 score) kept them from earning a regional bid. Coach Rick Rembielak's team returns most of its offensive firepower from a year ago, including sophomore 1B Allan Dykstra, who led the league in on-base plus slugging (OPS) as a freshman at 1.149. The Demon Deacons built their pitching staff around their bullpen last year, and closer Ben Hunter (14 SV, 1.47 ERA) and setup man Josh Ellis (45 IP/52 SO) return. Rembielak has switched pitching coaches in 2007, naming former Wichita State pitcher Greg Bauer to the post in his first stint at coaching.

• Even though he made just two starts last spring, LHP Brett Cecil ranked second on Maryland's staff in innings pitched at 58. He saved half the Terrapins' victories a season ago. Terps catcher Dan Mellies could face his brother Charlie, slated to be a member of Wake Forest's rotation, when the two teams meet April 6-8.