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2016 College Conference Preview: ACC

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BA breaks down the Atlantic Coast Conference, including our projections for player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects. Member of the Preseason Top 25 are linked to their preview capsules.
Baseball Members (First Year): Atlantic Division—Boston College (2006), Clemson (1954), Florida State (1992), Louisville (2015), N.C. State (1954), Notre Dame (2014).
Coastal Division—Duke (1954), Georgia Tech (1980), Miami (2005), North Carolina (1954), Pittsburgh (2014), Virginia (1955), Virginia Tech (1954).
Checking out: None.
Team to Beat: Louisville. The Cardinals return most of the key pieces from a club that won an ACC-record 25 conference games in 2015.
Top 25 Teams: Louisville (2), Virginia (4), Miami (6), Florida State (17), North Carolina State (19)
Other Projected Regional Teams Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets swing and miss a lot, but they should still score runs with a healthy season from So. DH/OF Kel Johnson (.298/.369/.570, 10 HR). They could use steps forward from veterans such as Sr. OF Matt Gonzalez (.285, 5 HR) and Jr. RHP Brandon Gold (7-3, 3.26). North Carolina: The Tar Heels will have to rely on their 1-2 pitching punch of RHPs Zac Gallen (4-3, 2.79) and J.B. Bukauskas (5-3, 4.09) along with offensive centerpiece OF Tyler Ramirez (.285/.416/.491, 10 HR, 18 SB). The lineup lacks veteran depth, and the Tar Heels are relying on three freshman catchers. Notre Dame: The Irish overachieved last year thanks to a strong infield defense and pitching staff; they won’t sneak up on people this year with the return of All-America 2B Cavan Biggio and SS Lane Richards. The X-factor may be OF Torii Hunter Jr., who also plays football for the Irish.
Player 
of the Year: Corey Ray
 of, Louisville. The league’s 2015 stolen-base leader is poised for a monster power-speed year as his experience catches up to his plus offensive tools.
Pitcher
 of the Year: Connor Jones
, rhp, Virginia. At times, Jones has dominated with three plus pitches. Now Virginia’s unquestioned ace, he’s the perfect fit for the Cavaliers’ pitching philosophy.
Freshman 
of the Year: Cole Sands, 
rhp, Florida State. Sands' stuff will get him in weekend rotation if he locates his low-90s fastball. His 6-foot-3, 210-pound size, polish and competitiveness give him star potential.
BEST TOOLS Best Pure Hitter: Will Craig, Wake Forest. Best Raw Power: Zack Collins, Miami. Best Strike-Zone Judgement: Cavan Biggio, Notre Dame. Best Athlete: Corey Ray, Louisville. Fastest Baserunner: Corey Ray, Louisville. Best Baserunner: Corey Ray, Louisville. Best Defensive Catcher: Chris Okey, Clemson Best Defensive 1B: Will Craig, Wake Forest. Best Defensive 2B: Cavan Biggio, Notre Dame. Best Defensive 3B: Joe Dunand, North Carolina State. Best Defensive SS: Eli White, Clemson. Infield/Best Arm: Eli White, Clemson. Best Defensive Outfielder: Tyler Ramirez, North Carolina. Best Outfield Arm: Willie Abreu, Miami. Best Fastball: Zach Burdi, Louisville. Best Breaking Ball: Connor Jones, Virginia. Best Changeup: Brian Brown, N.C. State. Best Control: Brendan McKay, Louisville.
Notable Storylines: Clemson fired coach Jack Leggett after 22 seasons at the school (.665 winning percentage) and 36 years in coaching, despite 1,332 wins and a .665 winning percentage for the Tigers. New coach Monte Lee inherits senior RHP Clate Schmidt (2-3, 4.67), who is returning after a bout with lymphoma, a cancer that required two months of chemotherapy. Schmidt announced he was cancer-free last August. . . . Duke continues to get close but has not broken through into regional play under fourth-year coach Chris Pollard. This year’s club should have a strong weekend rotation built around Jr. RHP Bailey Clark (4-5, 2.95), the team’s top prospect, who at times pitches with a 93-95 mph fastball that reaches 96, to go with a mid-80s slider and an improving changeup. A pair of fifth-year seniors flank him in the rotation: LHP Trent Swart (2.99-career ERA in 220 innings) was Duke’s Friday starter earlier in his career before missing last season with Tommy John surgery and RHP Brian McAfee (5-2, 1.77 in 2015), a grad transfer from Cornell.walked just 24 in 190 innings in three-plus seasons in Cornell’s rotation before transferring as a graduate student. . . . Wake Forest took over Ernie Shore Field—renamed Gene Hooks Field at Wake Forest Baseball Park—in 2009, and it plays as one of the nation’s more offensive ballparks. Coach Tom Walter, now in his seventh season, hopes to ride an explosive offense to the Demon Deacons’ first regional trip since 2007. The Deacs ranked fifth in ACC play in runs and third in home runs behind Jr. 1B/3B/RHP Will Craig (.382/.496/.702, 13 HR) and Jr. 2B Nate Mondou (.338/.391/.581, 10 HR) as well as So. OF Stuart Fairchild (.349/.429/.497, 12 SB). However, Wake Forest has to start figuring it out on the mound; its 6.16 ERA was worst in the ACC in conference play, as were its 165 walks
Tournament: 10 teams, May 24–29 at Durham, N.C.

TOP 20 PROSPECTS FOR 2016 DRAFT
1. Corey Ray, 
of, Louisville
2. Kyle Funkhouser, 
rhp, Louisville
3. Connor Jones,
 rhp, Virginia
4. Chris Okey,
 c, Clemson
5. Zack Collins, 
c, Miami
6. Zack Burdi,
 rhp, Louisville
7. Bailey Clark, 
rhp, Duke
8. T.J. Zeuch
, rhp, Pittsburgh
9. Jacob Heyward, 
of, Miami
10. Will Craig,
 3b, Wake Forest
11. Justin Dunn,
 rhp, Boston College
12. Zac Gallen,
 rhp, North Carolina
13. Eli White,
 ss, Clemson
14. Matt Thaiss 
c, Virginia
15. Kel Johnson
, of, Georgia Tech
16. Cavan Biggio,
 2b, Notre Dame
17. Nick Solak
, 2b, Louisville
18. Willie Abreu, 
of, Miami
19. Daniel Pinero
, ss, Virginia
20. Blake Tiberi, 
3b, Louisville

TOP 10 PROSPECTS FOR 2017 DRAFT
1. J.B. Bukauskas,
 rhp, North 
Carolina
2. Brendan McKay, 
lhp/1b, Louisville
3. Pavin Smith
, 1b, Virginia
4. Stuart Fairchild,
 of, Wake Forest
5. Carl Chester, 
of, Miami
6. Adam Haseley,
 of/lhp, Virginia
7. Joe Dunand
, 3b/ss, North Carolina State
8. Hunter Williams,
 lhp, North 
Carolina
9. Tommy DeJuneas
, rhp, North 
Carolina State
10. Jake Higginbotham, 
lhp, Clemson
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