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2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Adrian Delcastillo Brianwesterholtfourseam
(Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam)

While the ACC is a must-watch conference every year, the shortened 2020 season and ensuing five-round draft have provided the league with incredible depth—both in terms of talented players and competitive teams.

The conference landed seven teams on Baseball America’s Preseason Top 25, and should boast several College World Series contenders, including Virginia, Louisville, Florida State and Miami at the top.

But it’s far from a top-heavy conference, as there is talent to be found throughout the entire 14-team field, including cold weather programs Boston College, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. 

That depth will be felt even more this year because of the conference’s decision to move to a scheduling format with 12 conference weekends of three-game series, up from 10. The ACC also will limit its total games to 50, down from 56.

Whether that helps or hurts the conference on Selection Monday remains to be seen, but the ACC has a chance to break the record for number of NCAA Tournament bids, which currently is 10. At least a dozen teams from the conference have real postseason hopes this season.

Player of the Year: Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami

Del Castillo currently ranks as the top college hitter in the country for the 2021 draft. His acute feel for putting the barrel on the baseball makes him arguably the best pure hitter in the country. He’s hit .336/.430/.571 over his first two seasons with the Hurricanes, with 14 home runs and 24 doubles to go along with more walks (43) than strikeouts (32). There are very few questions about Del Castillo’s bat entering the season and he spent time working with Royals catcher Salvador Perez last summer to hone his defensive game. Del Castillo should be the best hitter in one of the country’s best lineups—that’s enough for preseason Player of the Year honors in the ACC.

Pitcher of the Year: Mason Pelio, RHP, Boston College

The ACC doesn’t have a lock on the mound to go at the top of the first round like it did in 2020 with Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers. Perhaps one of Pelio or Wake Forest’s Ryan Cusick could have turned into that sort of player with a full 2020 season. Even without a full 2020 season, Pelio has shown tremendous improvement on the mound since his prep days—when he ranked as the No. 374 player on the 2018 BA 500 as a projection arm out of Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High. Now standing a solid 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Pelio has firmed up a fastball that sits 90-94 and ticks up higher at its best and has an above-average changeup that serves as his best secondary. As a full-time starter with the Eagles, Pelio has posted a 3.73 ERA over 94 innings with 81 strikeouts and 47 walks.

Newcomer of the Year: Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech

Florida State righthander Carson Montgomery was the top-ranked prep player (40) in the 2020 draft class who made it to campus, but Parada was right behind (48) and could have a quicker path to contributing with the Yellow Jackets as the team’s projected day one starter. Parada barreled almost everything he saw as a high schooler and has a history of posting loud exit velocities. He had a strong fall with the bat as well and is more athletic than a traditional catcher, opening up possibilities of playing a corner outfield spot on days he’s not behind the plate. Georgia Tech has a strong reputation of developing catchers and Parada is next in line.

Predicted Order of Finish (2020 record) 

Atlantic Division

1. Louisville (13-4, 2-1)

Louisville enters the 2021 season as arguably the most purely talented team in the country, at least from a draft perspective. The team landed seven players on the BA 200, with three of those players—third baseman Alex Binelas, catcher Henry Davis and outfielder Levi Usher—ranking solidly in first-round range. Louisville had three players drafted in the first round in 2016 and has a real shot for three first-rounders in 2021. The pitching staff is perhaps the biggest question with Louisville after losing Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller to the draft last year (both in the first round), but even there the Cardinals have options. Righthander Luke Smith returns to the rotation, and the Cardinals are picking from a talented group that includes righthanders Glenn Albanese and Jack Perkins and lefthanders Michael Kirian (who has experience closing) and Michael Prosecky.

2. Florida State (12-5, 1-2)

Even after losing starters C.J. Van Eyk and Shane Drohan in the draft, Florida State is expecting to be strong on the mound in 2021, with solid strike-throwers in lefthander Parker Messick and righthander Conor Grady leading a rotation that could also include lefthander Bryce Hubbart, righthander Jack Anderson and highly-touted freshman righthander Carson Montgomery. The Seminoles will supplement the pitching staff with a high-OBP lineup that returns a veteran outfield of Robby Martin, Elijah Cabell and Reese Albert. This Florida State team has high upside with big power potential, but will need to show better strikeout rates offensively and improved defense behind a more unproven pitching staff.

3. North Carolina State (14-3, 1-2)

If it weren’t for a shortened 2020 draft, this North Carolina State team would look quite different entering the 2021 season. Returning veterans like outfielder Tyler McDonough, first baseman Austin Murr and outfielder Devonte Brown had heavy draft interest but returned in large part because of the five-round draft. That’s good news for the Wolfpack, who also boast arguably the best defensive shortstop in the country in Jose Torres. A bigger question for coach Elliott Avent’s group is the starting rotation, where inexperienced—but talented—arms like righthander Sam Highfill and lefthander Chris Villaman will look to step into more prominent roles after ace Nick Swiney was drafted in June.

4. Clemson (14-3, 3-0)

Clemson was off to a strong start in 2020 with a 14-3 overall record and a sweep of Boston College during what turned out to be the final weekend of the season. Now, the team will have to replace key arms including Sam Weatherly, Spencer Strider and closer Carson Spiers. Davis Sharpe will continue to play a key role on both sides of the ball, as one of the better two-way players in the country. Pitchers like Mat Clark, Carter Raffield and Mack Anglin will need to help provide support to what should be a deep and reliable lineup led by Sharpe and returning hitting leaders Kier Meredith and Elijah Henderson.

5. Wake Forest (10-8, 1-2)

If there’s one thing Wake Forest brings into the 2021 season, it’s power. After ranking second in homers in the conference in 2020, Wake returns plenty of mashers including first baseman Bobby Seymour, outfielder Chris Lanzilli and catchers Shane Muntz and Brendan Tinsman. The Demon Deacons will need better pitching to make the most of that power after posting a 4.56 team ERA in 2020 and then seeing ace Jared Shuster drafted in the first round. Big-armed righthander Ryan Cusick will be a major factor in the success of the staff. Cusick has one of the best pure arms in college baseball and he’ll have experienced arms starting behind him like righthanders Tony Menendez and Will Fleming. The bullpen is built up of plenty of young but talented arms, including righthander Teddy McGraw and lefthander Crawford Wade.

6. Notre Dame (11-2, 3-0) 

Notre Dame lost righthander Joe Boyle and outfielder Eric Gilgenbach to the draft and graduation, respectively, but otherwise returns most players from the 2020 club. Leading hitter and center fielder Spencer Myers is back after a bit of a breakout year and will look to continue his hitting performance over a full season, while lefthanders Tommy Sheehan and Tommy Vail are back to anchor the rotation and bullpen. The Fighting Irish hit the transfer portal hard to bolster their pitching depth, adding the likes of lefthanders Joe Sheridan (Central Florida) and John Michael Bertrand (Furman) and righthander Christian Scafidi (Pennsylvania). Notre Dame will need to improve its infield defense after shaky 2020 performances on that side of the ball by each of its projected starters.

7. Boston College (6-9, 0-3)

This Boston College team has significantly more upside than this position in the standings suggests—built around the highly-touted junior class that includes outfielder Sal Frelick, infielder Cody Morissette and righthander Mason Pelio. All three players enter the season as top-50 draft prospects. The offensive upside of the Eagles is significant with nine returning starters and talented freshmen like outfielder Cameron Leary and two-way player Joe Vetrano, who could play right away. The team will need better pitching than it showed in 2020 after posting a league-worst 5.77 ERA. The rotation starts with Pelio, but righthander Emmet Sheehan and Yale transfer Alex Stiegler will need to perform in prominent roles.

Coastal Division

1. Virginia (14-4, 2-1)

While Virginia hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2017, the Cavaliers opened up the 2020 season strong and boast a tremendous talent base entering the 2021 season. The team has done an excellent job getting high-profile prep talents to campus in recent years— notably righthander Mike Vasil, lefthander Nate Savino, outfielder Chris Newell and, most recently, catcher Kyle Teel—and pairs that group with a number of proven veterans like third baseman Zack Gelof, lefthander Andrew Abbott and righthander Griff McGarry. With Gelof and shortstop Nic Kent, the Cavaliers have arguably the best left side of the infield in the ACC. Abbott has been an accomplished reliever for Virginia since 2018 and likely would have been drafted in a typical year, but will now get a chance to transition to a starting role, which could give the team enviable starting depth along with Vasil, Savino and McGarry. Newell could wind up being one of the top 2022 draft prospects in the ACC and has dynamic power and speed tools while handling center field. The Cavaliers still have to prove it against the rugged ACC competition, but they’re primed for a breakout.

2. Miami (12-4, 3-0)

Miami lost its entire 2020 starting rotation to pro ball, with Slade Cecconi signing in the first round, Chris McMahon signing in the second and Brian Van Belle signing as a nondrafted free agent. While the rotation must be replaced, the Hurricanes could have one of the more explosive lineups in college baseball, anchored by the sweet swing of catcher Adrian Del Castillo and massive power of first baseman Alex Toral. Miami is not short on talent, thanks in part to the arrival of the top-ranked recruiting class in the country. Righthanders Jake Smith, Alejandro Rosario, Victor Mederos and Ben Wanger all join a group that returns righthanders Daniel Federman, Alex McFarlane and lefthander Carson Palmquist. How the Hurricanes sort out roles on the new-look staff and how quickly everyone adjusts will play a big factor in how far they go.

3. Duke (12-4, 2-1)

The Blue Devils return an experienced team that was off to a 12-4 start in 2020 and should have one of the more battle-tested lineups in the conference. Duke brings back key, up-the-middle position players back into the fold including catcher Michael Rothenberg, shortstop Ethan Murray and outfielder Joey Loperfido. While Duke did lose ace Bryce Jarvis to the draft after a breakout season, righthander Cooper Stinson returns after a breakout of his own in 2020, and the improved command he showed in 2020 could allow him to have plenty of success in a Friday night role over a full season.

4. Georgia Tech (11-5, 2-1)

The Yellow Jackets bring an exciting mix of reliable vets and exciting young players into the 2021 season, with shortstop Luke Waddell bringing a steadying presence on both sides of the ball as one of the oldest players in the 2021 draft class. On the opposite end of the spectrum are players like catcher Kevin Parada, outfielder Jake Deleo and righthander Marquis Grissom Jr. who have high-upside and talent but will need to prove it. There’s upside on the pitching staff as well, with lefthanders like Brant Hurter and Luke Bartnicki as well as righthanders Andy Archer, Cort Roedig and Zach Maxwell. All of those arms have question marks with injuries, consistency or lack of innings.

5. North Carolina (12-7, 0-3)

It’s a new era in Chapel Hill, with longtime head coach Mike Fox retiring and his assistant Scott Forbes taking over the program. The Tar Heels struggled at the start of 2020 and will be reliant on young players taking big steps forward in 2021, as well as incoming transfers and freshmen. Slugger Aaron Sabato is gone, and his power presence will be missed. Players like outfielder Angel Zarate and shortstop Danny Serretti are valuable returning position players, but how quickly newcomers like first baseman Brett Centracchio (Davidson transfer), third baseman Mac Horvath (freshman) and center fielder Justice Thompson (junior college) acclimate to the ACC will determine how far this team goes.

6. Virginia Tech (11-5, 1-2)

The Hokies lost a trio of impact players to pro ball a year ago, including top starter Ian Seymour, closer Zack Brzykcy and catcher Carson Taylor. However, there’s enough returning depth on both sides of the ball for the club to remain competitive—particularly on the mound. Lefthander Chris Gerard (1.57 ERA) and righthander Anthony Simonelli (2.95 ERA) are back to front the rotation, while lefthander Peyton Alford (3.12 ERA) will try to transition his success in the bullpen into a starting role. Likewise, many of the team’s top hitters—outside of Taylor—are back, and if players like catcher Cade Hunter, Texas Tech transfer TJ Rumfield and third baseman Kevin Madden tap into their power potential, there’s real upside with this offense.

7. Pittsburgh (10-6, 0-3)

Pitt returns essentially its entire starting lineup from a year ago—a group that collectively hit .284/.394/.447 through the first 16 games of the season. Left fielder Kyle Hess will be the focal point of the offense after leading the team in hitting a year ago in what could have been a breakout season in a normal year. The Panthers don’t have a ton of overpowering pure stuff on the mound and will rely on a group of experienced righthanders—Billy Corcoran, Mitch Myers, Matt Gilbertson, Chase Smith and transfers Jordan McCrum and Stephen Hansen—to throw strikes and keep them in games.

Adrian Del Castillo (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Potential First-Rounder Adrian Del Castillo Extends Miami Catching Tradition

The talented third-year sophomore is the next man up for a Miami program that has a history of producing major league backstops.

Top 20 Prospects For 2021

  1. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
  2. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
  3. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
  4. Henry Davis, C, Louisville
  5. Cody Morissette, SS, Boston College
  6. Levi Usher, OF, Louisville
  7. Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest
  8. Mason Pelio, RHP, Boston College
  9. Zack Gelof, 3B, Virginia
  10. Robby Martin, OF, Florida State
  11. Jose Torres, SS, North Carolina State
  12. Jack Perkins, RHP, Louisville
  13. Brant Hurter, LHP, Georgia Tech
  14. Nic Kent, SS, Virginia
  15. Danny Serretti, SS, North Carolina
  16. Luke Waddell, SS, Georgia Tech
  17. Andrew Abbott, LHP, Virginia
  18. Carter Raffield, RHP, Clemson
  19. Ethan Murray, SS, Duke
  20. Luke Bartnicki, LHP, Georgia Tech

Top 10 Prospects for 2022

  1. Nate Savino, LHP, Virginia
  2. Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech
  3. Chris Newell, OF, Virginia
  4. Victor Mederos, RHP, Miami
  5. Jonathan French, C, Clemson
  6. Zachary Maxwell, RHP, Georgia Tech
  7. Henry Williams, RHP, Duke
  8. Alex McFarlane, RHP, Miami
  9. Drew Compton, 3B, Georgia Tech
  10. Michael Prosecky, LHP, Louisville

Top 10 Incoming Prospects

  1. Carson Montgomery, RHP, Florida State
  2. Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech
  3. Victor Mederos, RHP, Miami
  4. Alejandro Rosario, RHP, Miami
  5. Yohandy Morales, SS, Miami
  6. AJ Shaver, OF, Florida State
  7. Carlos Perez, C, Miami
  8. Kyle Teel, C, Virginia
  9. Jake Smith, RHP, Miami
  10. Marquis Grissom Jr., RHP, Georgia Tech

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Adrian Del Castillo, Miami
Best Raw Power: Elijah Cabell, Florida State
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Adrian Del Castillo, Miami
Best Athlete: Sal Frelick, Boston College
Fastest Runner: Sal Frelick, Boston College
Best Baserunner: Jordan Lala, Miami
Best Defensive Catcher: Henry Davis, Louisville
Best Defensive Infielder: Jose Torres, North Carolina State
Best Infield Arm: Nander De Sedas, Florida State
Best Defensive OF: Sal Frelick, Boston College
Best OF Arm: Levi Usher, Louisville
Best Fastball: Ryan Cusick, Wake Forest
Best Breaking Ball: Andrew Abbott, Virginia
Best Changeup: Mason Pelio, Boston College
Best Control: Cooper Stinson, Duke

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