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2019 Atlantic Coast Conference College Baseball Preview

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(Photo by Jaylnn Nash/Getty Images)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

Atlantic Division

  1. Florida State (43-19, 16-13)
  2. Louisville (45-19, 18-12)
  3. Clemson (47-16, 22-8)
  4. North Carolina State (42-18, 19-11)
  5. Wake Forest (25-32, 13-17)
  6. Boston College (17-32, 7-22)
  7. Notre Dame (24-30, 12-18)

Coastal Division

  1. North Carolina (44-20, 22-8)
  2. Duke (45-18, 18-11)
  3. Virginia (29-25, 12-18)
  4. Georgia Tech (31-27, 14-16)
  5. Miami (28-26, 16-13)
  6. Pittsburgh (29-26, 11-19)
  7. Virginia Tech (21-33, 8-22)

Team to Beat: North Carolina

After going 44-20 and reaching the College World Series in 2018, North Carolina returns plenty of depth on the mound and also brings back five of nine starters from last year's lineup, led by preseason first-team All-American Michael Busch. Busch will be used in the outfield this year after holding down first base during his first two seasons, but learning a new defensive position won’t take anything away from a bat that posted a .317/.465/.521 slash line with 13 home runs last season. While Busch is the highest-rated prospect of the group, UNC boasts seven players who rank among the top 200 draft prospects in the country—more than any other college program. That starts with a trio of righthanders in Gianluca DalatriAustin Bergner and Tyler Baum that will give the Tar Heels quality options to round out a weekend rotation even before mentioning lefthander Caden O’Brien, who broke out during his freshman campaign with a 2.63 ERA over 48 innings. Shortstop Ike Freeman, outfielder Ashton McGee and catcher Brandon Martorano all add to the depth of the lineup, which could go from good to great if the two freshmen on the right side of the infield—second baseman Danny Seretti and first baseman Aaron Sabato—acclimate quickly to ACC pitching.

Player of the Year: Will Wilson, SS, North Carolina State

The best pure hitter in the ACC, Wilson hit. 303 over his first two years with the Wolfpack, and he showed last year that he packs plenty of power into a smaller frame with 15 home runs. Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson also homered 15 times and is another strong candidate for this award, though Wilson’s track record of hitting trumps Davidson’s and makes him the safer pick. Scouts rave about Wilson’s off-the-field makeup and baseball instincts, but what stands out the most is his innate feel for putting the barrel on the ball and making adjustments at the plate. Wilson has improved defensively and brings reliable hands and enough arm strength for shortstop, but his lack of quickness could move him to second base at the next level. He’s got more than enough defensive ability to handle the position at the college level, however.

Pitcher of the Year: Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke

The top-ranked pitcher in the 2019 draft class, Stinson has some of the best pure stuff in the country between a plus fastball and a 70-grade slider that routinely generates whiffs inside and outside of the strike zone. Stinson posted a 1.89 ERA while striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings in 2018, but he spent most of his time coming out of the bullpen. While there’s no doubting his swing-and-miss stuff—Stinson has fanned 143 batters in 90 collegiate innings—he will need to show that he’s capable of handling a starter’s role over a full season. He’s shown flashes that he can be a dominant Friday night arm, including six shutout innings against a powerful Texas Tech lineup in last year’s Lubbock Super Regional, but this year will be his first full season in the role. Stinson gets plenty of comparisons to former North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon because of his size and stuff, and he will prove a menace to batters every week throughout the season.

Freshman of the Year: Nander De Sedas, SS, Florida State

The highest-ranked position player to make it to campus out of the 2018 draft class, De Sedas has a toolset that could allow him to be one of the most dynamic players in the country—if he shows more feel to hit than he did during the spring of his senior year at Montverde (Fla.) Academy. A switch-hitting, physical shortstop, De Sedas has plus raw power from both sides of the plate to go along with plus arm strength, advanced defensive actions and impressive glove skill up the middle. De Sedas will need to create a more direct swing path from both sides of the plate and avoid getting too loopy, which was an issue for him at times in high school. If the Seminoles' coaching staff can help him in that regard and get him synced up at the plate, his upside as a college hitter is tremendous.

Top 25 Teams: North Carolina (5), Florida State (6), Louisville (11), Clemson (14), Duke (22)

Other Projected Regional Teams

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack return a number of important pieces to a lineup that helped push them to a 41-28 record last season, most notably shortstop Will Wilson. Outside of Wilson’s impact bat, NC State returns catcher Patrick Bailey, who hit .321/.419/.604 with 13 home runs during his freshman campaign. Bailey’s defensive ability matches or exceeds his skill with a bat, and he ranks as the top defensive catcher in the league with excellent receiving, blocking and throwing ability as well as a knack for handling the pitching staff. Speaking of which, NC State believes the 2019 team will have the most pitching depth the program has had since 2013 during the Carlos Rodon years. While the Wolfpack doesn’t have that caliber of arm, righthander Reid Johnston returns from last year’s weekend rotation after posting a 3.06 ERA over 64.1 innings, while junior college transfer righthander Alec Barger can run his fastball into the mid-90s and has improved his off-speed offerings during the fall. Additionally, NC State brings back 6-foot-7 lefthander Kent Klyman, who posted a 2.34 ERA out of the bullpen with 67 strikeouts in 61.2 innings of work. Klyman could be used in the rotation this season, but head coach Elliot Avent also has lefthander Canaan Silver—another junior college transfer—who throws a four-pitch arsenal for strikes consistently.

Virginia: Injuries hampered the Cavaliers during 2018, most notably to outfielders Jake McCarthy and Cameron Simmons. The former missed all but 20 games and is now gone after being selected with the 39th pick of the 2018 draft, while Simmons is back and hoping to return to his .312/.382/.497 form from his first two seasons. While Virginia also lost leading hitter Andy Weber to the 2018 draft, shortstop Tanner Morris is back for his draft-eligible sophomore season. Morris more than held his own offensively in his first shot at college ball, though a step forward in the power department could help an offense that finished 12th in homers and 11th in slugging among ACC teams last season. Getting big righthanders Evan Sperling and Noah Murdock healthy for a complete season should be a boost to the Cavaliers' rotation, which lost lefthander Daniel Lynch in the first round. Freshman righthander Mike Vasil was well on his way to being selected in the first round as well before he announced he would be honoring his commitment to Virginia and pulled himself out of the draft. While there are plenty of health concerns and a few unproven players taking on large roles, Virginia should have the talent to find its way back into the NCAA Tournament in 2019.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets return seven of their starters from 2018, including two-way player Tristin English, who hit .279/.324/.442 with a team-high 17 doubles and posted a 4.11 ERA in 57 innings as both a starter and reliever. While the loss of No. 2 overall pick Joey Bart will be felt in the lineup, junior catcher Kyle McCann can provide plenty of impact and is coming off of a .300/.423/.600 season with 15 homers. Outfielder Chase Murray has also been a reliable bat for the Yellow Jackets and will be back again for his junior season after hitting .343/.410/.510. Georgia Tech returns its entire pitching staff, including righthander Xzavion Curry, lefthander Connor Thomas, English and righthander Andy Archer, who was a reliable member of the bullpen throughout the 2018 season. That pitching depth is further bolstered this season by righthander Amos Willingham—a junior college transfer—and freshman lefthander Luke Bartnicki, who was highly touted coming out of Walton High in Marrieta, Ga., ranking No. 112 on the 2018 BA 500. It’s been two years without Georgia Tech in the NCAA Tournament, but they have the depth on both sides of the ball to get back in 2019.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons were among the bottom five ACC teams in both runs (11th) and ERA (11th) a season ago and finished below .500 for the first time since 2011. However, a previously young roster returns with plenty of experience, with righthander Griffin Roberts and third baseman Johnny Aiello the two notable departures. Eight of the team’s top nine hitters are back, including senior Jake Mueller, who led the team in hitting with a .303/.420/.360 slash line and more walks than strikeouts last season. Righthanders Colin Peluse and Morgan McSweeney return after combining for 24 starts last season to give Wake Forest a solid starting duo on the weekends. There is not a proven third starter to handle Sundays, however, as all of the returning arms outside of Peluse and McSweeney struggled in 2018. That could provide an opening for freshman righthander Ryan Cusick, a physical 6-foot-6 pitcher who throws in the low 90s and made significant strides developing his body during his senior year of high school. Wake Forest’s success in 2019 will rely on many of the team’s returning sophomores taking the next step forward in their development. Players like outfielders D.J. Poteet and Michael Ludowig are talented enough to carry a larger offensive load and will need to play to the level of their talent to get the Demon Deacons back into regionals.

Notable Storylines

After becoming the all-time winningest coach in college baseball history in 2018, Florida State skipper Mike Martin will coach his final season in 2019. He’s compiled a 1,987-713-4 record throughout his legendary career, including 16 trips to the College World Series. This year is his final chance at winning a national championship—the one thing missing from his outstanding resume—but regardless of how it ends, this promises to be a special season in Tallahassee.

As Florida State prepares for the retirement of a legendary coach, its archrival Miami is coming out on the other end of that process. Jim Morris, who guided the Hurricanes to two national championships and more than 1,000 wins in 25 seasons as head coach, retired after the 2018 season. Longtime assistant coach Gino DiMare takes over the program and will try to guide the Hurricanes back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Miami has a young roster and will need to hit better than it has the last two seasons. But it will be strong on the mound thanks to junior righthanders Evan McKendry (7-6, 3.52) and Greg Veliz (0-1, 3.12), as well as exciting young pitchers such as sophomore righthander Chris McMahon (1-1, 4.44), freshman righthander Slade Cecconi and freshman lefthander/first baseman JP Gates.

Pittsburgh also welcomes a new coach this spring, as former Florida State assistant Mike Bell takes over the program. The Panthers have not made the NCAA Tournament since 1995 and have struggled to adjust to life in the ACC since joining five years ago. Pitt has never finished with a winning conference record, but did last year reach the ACC Tournament semifinals for the first time. The Panthers must replace their top three hitters from a year ago and some of their best pitchers. Pitt will lean on junior righthanders Dan Hammer (2-6, 6.79), who is coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, and Derek West (3-4, 3.24).

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Angels' Wilson, Knowles, Jackson Lead Pack Of Pioneer League Prospects

No. 15 overall pick Will Wilson will be part of a talented group of prospects in the Pioneer League

Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects

  1. Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
  2. Will Wilson, SS, North Carolina State
  3. Logan Davidson, SS, Clemson
  4. Michael Busch, 1B/OF, North Carolina
  5. Logan Wyatt, 1B, Louisville
  6. Drew Mendoza, 3B, Florida State
  7. Adam Laskey, LHP, Duke
  8. Austin Bergner, RHP, North Carolina
  9. Gianluca Dalatri, RHP, North Carolina
  10. Tanner Morris, SS, Virginia
  11. Evan McKendry, RHP, Miami
  12. Tyler Baum, RHP, North Carolina
  13. Nick Bennett, LHP, Louisville
  14. Brandon Martorano, C, North Carolina
  15. Chase Murray, OF, Georgia Tech
  16. Ashton McGee, INF/OF, North Carolina
  17. Bryan Hoeing, RHP, Louisville
  18. Ike Freeman, SS, North Carolina
  19. Colin Peluse, RHP, Wake Forest
  20. Tyler Fitzgerald, SS, Louisville

Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects

  1. CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Florida State
  2. Patrick Bailey, C, North Carolina State
  3. Chris McMahon, RHP, Miami
  4. Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami
  5. Oscar Serratos, SS/3B, Georgia Tech
  6. Elijah Cabell, OF, Florida State
  7. Freddy Zamora, SS, Miami
  8. Caden O’Brien, LHP, North Carolina
  9. Joe Boyle, RHP, Notre Dame
  10. Michael Rothenberg, C, Duke

Top Newcomers

  1. Nander De Sedas, SS, Florida State
  2. Mike Vasil, RHP, Virginia
  3. Elijah Cabell, OF, Florida State
  4. Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami
  5. Kerry Wright, RHP, Louisville
  6. P. Gates, LHP/1B, Miami
  7. Brandon Neeck, LHP, Virginia
  8. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
  9. Carter Lohman, LHP, Louisville
  10. Justin Wrobleski, LHP, Clemson

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Will Wilson, North Carolina State
Best Power Hitter: Michael Busch, North Carolina
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Logan Wyatt, Louisville
Best Athlete: Kier Meredith, Clemson
Fastest Runner: Chris Galland, Boston College
Best Baserunner: Tyler Fitzgerald, Louisville
Best Defensive Catcher: Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State
Best Defensive Infielder: Logan Davidson, Clemson
Best Infield Arm: Logan Davidson, Clemson
Best Defensive Outfielder: Kennie Taylor, Duke
Best Outfield Arm: Elijah Cabell, Florida State
Best Fastball: Joe Boyle, Notre Dame
Best Breaking Ball: Graeme Stinson, Duke
Best Changeup: Austin Bergner, North Carolina
Best Control: Connor Thomas, Georgia Tech

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