2023 College Top 25 Preview: No. 9 Wake Forest
Last season: 41-19-1 (15-14-1 ACC); lost in regionals
Final ranking: NR
Coach (record at school): Tom Walter (364-327-1, 13 seasons)
The good news: There’s no other way to slice it: this is Tom Walter’s most talented team in his 14 years at Wake Forest. The starting rotation of Rhett Lowder, Teddy McGraw and Josh Hartle are back, virtually the entire starting lineup returns and the coaching staff made strong additions in the transfer portal. Lowder, the reigning ACC pitcher of the year, has some of the best stuff in the conference, highlighted by a 70-grade changeup that he will throw to both righthanded and lefthanded hitters. McGraw has a lethal fastball-slider combination with a budding changeup, while Hartle looks to take a leap forward and tap into his massive upside. Brock Wilken and his 70-grade raw power will be a centerpiece of the lineup, and he’s coming off a successful spring in which he walloped 23 home runs and totaled 77 RBIs across 60 games. He has a strong arm that plays on the left side of the infield. Nick Kurtz will anchor the right side of the infield. The 6-foot-5 sophomore is coming off a Freshman All-American season that saw him hit .338 with 14 doubles and 15 home runs. The most impressive traits that Kurtz possesses are his advanced approach and high-quality swing decisions. He tallied 10 more walks than strikeouts (48 to 38) and had an on-base percentage of .471 in 2022. Speaking of elite swing decisions, sparkplug Tommy Hawke will hold down center field, where his above-average speed and defensive skills should shine. At the plate, he is a slash-and-dash type but will occasionally shoot the gaps. Camden Minacci will be a key cog in the Demon Deacons’ bullpen. His fastball reaches the upper 90s and he complements his heater with a quality offspeed offering. Bennett Lee, a transfer from Tulane, will take over behind the dish and his bat should make a big impact on an already stacked lineup.
The bad news: Quite frankly, there is very little “bad” surrounding Wake Forest ahead of the 2023 season. The Deacons lost two key players to the draft in Eric Adler (sixth round, White Sox) and Brendan Tinsman (20th round, Angels), but Minacci and Lee will slide right into the holes left by their departures. The ACC has no shortage of Omaha contenders, so nothing will be easy along the way. The bullpen will need to step up and not run out of gas as the season wears on, with arms like Seth Keener and Reed Mascolo looking to take a step forward.
Player to know: Sean Sullivan, LHP.
While much is made of the weekend rotation of Lowder, McGraw and Hartle, the X-factor for Tom Walter and company could be sophomore Sean Sullivan. A Northwestern transfer who was the WIldcats’ Friday starter last year, Sullivan has an extremely deceptive delivery and low release height. He throws nothing straight and consistently misses barrels. In his arsenal he has an above average sweeping slider, a fastball with serious run that explodes on hitters and a developing changeup. Combining his current stuff with the development chops of the coaching staff, Sullivan could emerge as a top-five round selection in the July draft.
Path to Omaha: Wake Forest has had plenty of talented clubs in the past as well as a number of regional appearances, however, it has yet to crack the Omaha code. If there is any year for the Deacons to make a run, it is this year. They have as much talent as any team in the country and will be able to go toe-to-toe with any program. This is a hungry bunch and they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after a premature exit last season.
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