2020 Atlantic Coast Conference College Baseball Preview
Regularly one of the better conferences in college baseball, the ACC will again be strong in 2020. The conference placed more teams on our Preseason Top 25 (eight) than any other conference and features both impact at the top and depth throughout the 14-team league.
Louisville leads the pack and is one of the favorites to win the College World Series this year, though Miami isn’t far behind and has a talented club that’s looking to return the program to its previous dominance in the college baseball landscape.
Consistently strong programs like Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and North Carolina State will be in the mix again, with high-quality clubs, while Boston College is trending in the right direction with talented young players and Pittsburgh is looking to make some noise with a number of junior college transfers.
Player of the Year: Patrick Bailey, C, North Carolina State
NC State has a thing for preseason players of the year, with Will Wilson taking home this recognition a year ago. Bailey, though, might offer more intrigue on both sides of the ball. While Wilson’s pure feel to hit was likely better, Bailey has produced an OPS over .900 in each of his first two seasons with the Wolfpack, thanks to a strong walk rate (13.7 percent) and above-average power as a switch-hitter (23 home runs). In addition to a bat you can plug into the middle of a lineup, Bailey is one of the better catch-and-throw backstops in the country with excellent receiving skills, a strong arm and the ability to confidently handle a pitching staff.
Pitcher of the Year: Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville
Detmers is the top-ranked draft prospect in the conference and is expected to go in the top half of the first round thanks to his polished all-around repertoire and standout command and control. Last season he set the Louisville single-season strikeout record with 167 and tied the program record with 13 wins. Detmers’ 167 strikeouts were good for the second-best in the country (behind Ethan Small’s 176) and his command and deception are more than enough for a potent, low-90s fastball, and big-breaking curveball to routinely overwhelm batters. After posting a 2.78 ERA over 113.1 innings a season ago, Detmers will be the Friday night ace for one of the best teams in the country as a junior.
Freshman of the Year: Nate Savino, LHP, Virginia
Virginia continues to draw pitchers to the program. Two years ago, righthander Mike Vasil was looking like a first-round caliber arm out of high school, but chose to skip the draft to get to Charlottesville. Now the Cavaliers have convinced a lefthander to do the same, as Nate Savino was the top-ranked prep southpaw in the 2020 draft class and would have ranked in the middle of the first round had he not enrolled early with Virginia to pitch this spring. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Savino throws from a lower, three-quarter slot and has a fastball that gets up to 96 mph at its best, with terrific running and sinking life. He spots the pitch well and pairs it with a plus slider in the upper 70s that has tons of horizontal movement and is a weapon against both righties and lefties. Savino lands the pitch consistently for the amount of movement it has, and his combination of size, stuff and control should allow him to make an immediate impact on the college game.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Louisville (51-18, 21-9)
The No. 2 preseason team in the country, Louisville should compete for a national title this season with a deep group of returning players that includes a strong core of hitters and impact pitching with a 1-2 punch of lefthander Reid Detmers and righthander Bobby Miller and closer Michael Kirian. While the Cardinals did lose a number of players to the 2019 draft—including first baseman Logan Wyatt, shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald, righthander Michael McAvene and lefthander Nick Bennett—they routinely bring more talent through the program. Third baseman Alex Binelas looks like one of the better hitters in the 2021 draft class and should help carry the offensive load, alongside returners like shortstop Justin Lavey, outfielder/catcher Zach Britton and second baseman Lucas Dunn. Catcher Henry Davis has one of the better arms in the country, and should be able to capably handle a strong pitching staff while also limiting the running game. First baseman Dalton Rushing is unproven as a freshman stepping into a big role, but has the power and zone awareness to acquit himself nicely, while outfielders Luke Brown and Levi Usher, both junior college transfers with premium speed, should do an excellent job tracking down fly balls in the outfield. The Cardinals will need to figure out their midweek starter and have some depth bullpen arms step up, but they are well-rounded and should be able to win in many ways.
2. Florida State (42-23, 17-13)
It’s a new era for the Florida State baseball program with legendary coach Mike Martin no longer at the helm, but it should still be familiar with his son, Mike Martin Jr. stepping into the head coaching role. The pitching staff should be the strength for the Seminoles, led by junior righthander CJ Van Eyk, a Preseason All-American who could be a first-round pick in June. There’s loads of potential with Florida State’s hitters even after losing All-American third baseman Drew Mendoza to the draft; shortstop Nander De Sedas and outfielders Elijah Cabell, Reese Albert and Robby Martin have exciting tools and power potential, but the team will need to cut down on its ACC-leading strikeout total (589) from a season ago.
3. North Carolina State (42-19, 18-12)
The Wolfpack lost impact bats Will Wilson and Evan Engram to the 2019 draft, but bring back most of last year’s lineup outside of those two and should have one of the most experienced and reliable bullpens in the conference. Catcher Patrick Bailey is one of the best players in the conference, while second baseman Tyler McDonough and DH Brad Debo should be reliable, experienced bats around him. Freshman shortstop Jose Torres has big shoes to fill, but has an exceptional glove and good feel for the barrel, while first baseman Austin Murr brings a solid swing and gap power after transferring from Des Moines Area CC. Juniors Nick Swiney and Reid Johnston will lead a rotation that could also include talented freshman lefthander Chris Villaman.
4. Wake Forest (31-26, 14-16)
After just missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, Wake Forest brings an experienced team with a potent offense into the 2020 season. Led by junior first baseman Bobby Seymour—the 2019 ACC Player of the Year who hit .377/.439/.576 with nine home runs and a national high 92 RBIs—the Demon Deacons shouldn’t hurt for runs. Catcher Brendan Tinsman has big power, outfielder Michael Ludowig is coming off of a .300 season and outfielder Chris Lanzilli is back after a 16-homer season. Wake Forest is also adding third baseman William Simoneit, a redshirt-senior who was a career .306/.373/.485 hitter in three seasons with Cornell. Wake Forest had the worst team ERA in the conference in 2019, but righthander Jared Shuster is coming off of a strong summer in the Cape Cod League and will lead the staff.
5. Clemson (35-26, 15-15)
After ranking second in the ACC with 82 home runs a season ago, Clemson will have to manufacture more of its runs this season. The team lost its two leading sluggers to the draft—Grayson Byrd (16) and Logan Davidson (15)—and will have to rely on a strong group of sophomores in 2020. Catcher Adam Hackenberg has good power but struggled to get to it much as a freshman, while righthander/first baseman Davis Sharpe will have to take on an even bigger role with the offense and pitching staff in his sophomore year. Behind Sharpe in the rotation is junior lefthander Mat Clark and sophomore righthander Jackson Lindley, while the bullpen should be solid thanks to senior righthander Carson Spiers and junior lefthander Sam Weatherly.
6. Boston College (31-27, 12-18)
While Boston College finished just 12-18 in the ACC last season, it finished on the NCAA Tournament bubble after a Cinderella run to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. The team is moving in the right direction, thanks to a talented group of young players headlined by outfielder Sal Frelick, second baseman Cody Morissette and righthander Mason Pelio. If those players continue taking steps forward during their sophomore seasons, the Eagles could be something of a dark horse, with steady veterans like senior shortstop Brian Dempsey anchoring the infield and outfielders Chris Galland and Dante Baldelli covering the outfield grass and being a nuisance on the base paths. It will be important for lefthander Joey Walsh and righthander Emmet Sheehan to take steps forward on the mound.
7. Notre Dame (24-30, 13-17)
After a disappointing season that ended with Notre Dame out of regionals for the fourth straight season, the team made a coaching change and hired Link Jarrett away from UNC Greensboro. His teams at UNCG were known for their offense and fixing Notre Dame’s offense will be his remit this spring after the unit scored the fewest runs (264) in the ACC in 2019. Outside of Preseason All-American third baseman Niko Kavadas and outfielder Spencer Myers, most of the lineup is either unproven or underwhelmed in 2019, so players like senior outfielder Daniel Jung, graduate outfielder Eric Gilgenbach and second baseman Jared Miller will need to take steps forward with the bat for the Fighting Irish to stay in games. The good news is Notre Dame has plenty of pitching to throw at teams, including the player with the best fastball in the conference—and possibly country—in righthander Joe Boyle, in addition to experienced arms like lefthanders Tommy Sheehan and Cameron Brown in the rotation and lefthander Tommy Vail and righthander Andrew Belcik in the bullpen.
1. Miami (41-20, 18-12)
The No. 5 team on our preseason rankings, Miami is coming off of a strong season and brings back almost the entire lineup and three of the team’s four weekend starters. Righthanders Brian Van Belle, Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon could easily form one of the better weekend staffs in the country, while righthander Daniel Federman is back in the bullpen after having posted a 2.25 and 3.51 ERA the last two seasons. The Hurricanes position player group will be led by shortstop Freddy Zamora and catcher Adrian Del Castillo, who is getting behind the plate again during his sophomore season after mostly playing the outfield as a freshman. Zamora brings impressive defense at shortstop and a reliable bat, while Del Castillo has one of the best pure hit tools in the country, with solid power as well.
2. Duke (35-27, 15-15)
The Blue Devils have gone to back-to-back super regionals over the last two years and bring back an experienced pitching staff in 2020, headlined by righthander Bryce Jarvis. Duke will also lean on experienced arms like lefthanders Bill Chillari, Matt Dockman and righthander Thomas Girard. Righthander Cooper Stinson could be a force if he hones in his control, while freshman righthander Henry Williams is projectable with present strike-throwing ability. Duke has a strong infield, led by catcher Michael Rothenberg and shortstop Ethan Murray, but the outfield is more of a question mark after losing Kennie Taylor and Kyle Gallagher from the 2019 club. Damon Lux, Joey Loperfido and Chase Cheek will have the responsibility in the grass, with impressive athleticism across the board.
3. North Carolina (46-19, 17-13)
The Tar Heels lost seven players to the 2019 draft, including the team’s best hitter (Michael Busch), shortstop (Ike Freeman) and two pieces of the weekend rotation (Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner). Still, the team returns plenty of pitchers who have thrown big innings, including Gianluca Dalatri, Joey Lancellotti, Austin Love and Will Sandy and has the best power hitter in the conference in first baseman Aaron Sabato. There will be some new names in the lineup, but the team will return steady contributors like shortstop Danny Serretti and outfielders Dylan Harris and Caleb Roberts.
4. Georgia Tech (43-19, 19-11)
The Yellow Jackets lost six players to the 2019 draft, including key members to the lineup (Kyle McCann, Tristin English, Chase Murray) and pitching staff (Connor Thomas, Xzavion Curry). The team will need several freshmen to step into prominent roles this spring, including catcher Jake Holland—who will look to follow in the footsteps of Georgia Tech’s long track record of backstops—first baseman Drew Compton and righthander Zach Maxwell. Fortunately, shortstop Luke Waddell is back to anchor the lineup, as is a strong outfield group that includes Michael Guldberg, Colin Hall and Baron Radcliff. Pitching depth and team power will be a question mark for this club, but it should be strong defensively and on the bases, while redshirt senior righthander Jonathan Hughes improved significantly over the summer and fall.
5. Virginia (32-24, 14-16)
Virginia brings back close to 400 innings of returning experience on the mound this season. The staff will be led by righthanders Griff McGarry, Chesdin Harrington and Mike Vasil, who each threw more than 50 innings a season ago. There’s also lefthander Andrew Abbott, who could serve as a starter or reliever, and freshman lefthander Nate Savino, who might have the highest upside on the team, along with Vasil. Losing shortstop Tanner Morris and outfielder Cameron Simmons will hurt the offense, but second baseman Nic Kent, third baseman Zack Gelof and outfielder Brendan Rivolli is a strong returning trio, and freshman outfielder Chris Newell could provide some instant impact.
6. Virginia Tech (26-27, 9-21)
Virginia Tech lost two important pieces to its offense in 2019, with both second baseman Jack Owens and outfielder Kerry Carpenter leaving for the draft. That means the team will rely on continued improvement from young sophomores like catcher Carson Taylor, third baseman Kevin Madden and outfielder Nick Biddison to keep the offense afloat. The Hokies will also look to newcomers like first baseman Spencer Palmer, a transfer from El Camino (Calif.) JC, and shortstop Fritz Genther to lock down important spots in the lineup. Righthander Ian Seymour will lead the weekend rotation after logging 70.1 innings a year ago, while righthander Zach Brzykcy has a premium fastball out of the bullpen.
7. Pittsburgh (21-34, 8-22)
After finishing with a league worst 8-22 conference record in 2019, Pittsburgh brings back an older team in 2020, though it will look drastically different from the 2019 club despite a lack of freshmen players projected for regular roles. To help senior outfielder Nico Popa—a second-team all-ACC member—in the lineup, coach Mike Bell has brought in a number of junior college transfers who will look to improve the team’s standing. Catcher Riley Wash (St. Johns River (Fla.) JC), first baseman Bryce Hulett (State College of Florida), third baseman Samuel Frontino (John A. Logan (Ill.) JC) and outfielder Jordan Anderson (Chipola (Fla.) JC) will all jump into regular roles this season. How well they acclimate to ACC pitching will likely determine how far this club goes, though returning players like sophomore outfielder Kyle Hess and junior DH Ron Washington Jr. have the talent to provide some impact as well.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
- Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville
- Patrick Bailey, C, North Carolina State
- Freddy Zamora, SS, Miami
- CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Florida State
- Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami
- Aaron Sabato, 1B, North Carolina
- Chris McMahon, RHP, Miami
- Ian Seymour, LHP, Virginia Tech
- Joe Boyle, RHP, Notre Dame
- Nander De Sedas, SS, Florida State
- Bobby Miller, RHP, Louisville
- Luke Waddell, SS, Georgia Tech
- Andrew Abbott, LHP, Virginia
- Niko Kavadas, 1B, Notre Dame
- Elijah Cabell, OF, Florida State
- Reese Albert, OF, Florida State
- Max Alba, RHP, North Carolina
- Baron Radcliff, OF, Georgia Tech
- Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake Forest
- Austin Love, RHP, North Carolina
Top 10 Prospects For 2021 Draft
- Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
- Robby Martin, OF, Florida State
- Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
- Jack Perkins, RHP, Louisville
- Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
- Mike Vasil, RHP, Virginia
- Mason Pelio, RHP, Boston College
- Cody Morissette, SS, Boston College
- Henry Davis, C, Louisville
- Davis Sharpe, RHP, Clemson
Top 10 Newcomers
- Nate Savino, LHP, Virginia
- Chris Newell, OF, Virginia
- Jonathan French, C, Clemson
- Zachary Maxwell, RHP, Georgia Tech
- Alex McFarlane, RHP, Miami
- Michael Prosecky, LHP, Louisville
- Tres Gonzalez, OF, Georgia Tech
- Brandon Walker, RHP, Florida State
- Chad Knight, C, Duke
- Drew Compton, 3B, Georgia Tech
Best Pure Hitter: Bobby Seymour, Wake Forest
Best Raw Power: Aaron Sabato, North Carolina
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Luke Waddell, Georgia Tech
Best Athlete: Thayer Thomas, North Carolina State
Fastest Runner: Sam Hall, Clemson
Best Baserunner: Jordan Lala, Miami
Best Defensive Catcher: Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State
Best Defensive Infielder: Freddy Zamora, Miami
Best Infield Arm: Freddy Zamora, Miami
Best Defensive OF: Reese Albert, Florida State
Best OF Arm: Levi Usher, Louisville
Best Fastball: Joe Boyle, Notre Dame
Best Breaking Ball: Reid Detmers, Louisville
Best Changeup: CJ Van Eyk, Florida State
Best Control: Reid Detmers, Louisville