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2014 Season Preview: ACC

By: Chris Slade
ACCLogoACC Atlantic Division

Boston College Eagles

2013 record: 12 – 40 (4 – 25 ACC, 6th place)

Finish: No postseason

To put it bluntly, the Boston College Eagles were out of their element in ACC conference play in 2013. The Eagles lost their first 20 conference games before surprisingly winning a home series with Miami to get off the schnide.

But, 2014 is a new year and a fresh start for the Eagles. If they want to improve their prospects of winning, the offense must see improvement. The Eagles hit just .209 as a team with their leading hitter batting just .253. Andrew Chin, who pitched a respectable 3.88 ERA in 13 starts last year, will return presumably as the Eagles Friday starter this season.

The Eagles are bringing in a decent looking freshmen class headlined by Rhode Island Gatorade High School Player of the Year, RHP Mike King. However, the prospect of a big turnaround in 2014 looks bleak as the program is in rebuilding mode. The ACC coaches’ poll agrees as the Eagles were picked to finish in last again.

Clemson Tigers

2013 record: 40 – 22 (18 – 12 ACC, 3rd Place)

Finish: Regionals (3rd place, Columbia)

Behind their dominant pitching staff, with 3.21 Team ERA, Clemson put together a solid 40-win season in 2013. The Tigers season came to an end at the hands of Liberty University in the Columbia regional.

Clemson brings in one of the more hyped freshman newcomers in catcher Chris Okey, who drew some buzz as a potential early round pick in the 2013 draft but slid to the 31st round due to his loyal commitment to the Tigers. For now, junior catcher Garrett Boulware is ahead of him on the depth chart and was one of the team’s key hitters last year and should be again. Junior RHP Daniel Gossett (10 – 4, 2.56 ERA) and sophomore southpaw Matthew Crownover (7 – 3, 2.19 ERA) are once again expected to anchor the rotation.

Considering the Tigers saw a fair amount of turnover with the 2013 team and were still able to put together a NCAA tournament worthy season, the Tigers look to repeat if not better their win output with the majority of their core players returning. The ACC coaches’ poll has the tigers projected for third but they have a team capable of contending for first.

Florida State Seminoles

2013 record: 47 – 17 (20 – 10 ACC, 1st Place)

Finish: Super Regionals (eliminated by Indiana)

Florida State followed up their College World Series appearance in 2012 with another strong season that saw them take first place in the Atlantic division. However, they fell short of their Omaha goal this time, as the Indiana Hoosiers pulled off the upset, sending the Seminoles home in the Super Regionals.

The Seminoles are bringing in the most talented recruiting class of the ACC, according to the NCBWA and third best overall in the nation. They should see an immediate impact from this class considering it features five 2013 MLB draft picks, highlighted by Marlins unsigned third-rounder, infielder Ben DeLuzio. The roster is already riddled with talent with freshman All-American oufielder DJ Stewart (.364 AVG) and Junior third baseman Jose Brizuela (.324 AVG) returning.

Dual-sport athlete Jameis Winston (yes, THAT Jameis Winston) should have more of an impact this year both in the outfield and as a relief pitcher in the ‘Noles bullpen. Junior RHP Luke Weaver (7 – 2, 2.29 ERA) will anchor the rotation once again and should hear his name called at some point in the first round this June.

All in all, Florida State looks to repeat if not better last season’s outstanding campaign, should be in contention for first in the ACC from start to finish, and has a chance to a one of the elite teams in the country.

Maryland Terrapins

2013 record: 30 – 25 (11 – 19 ACC, 4th place)

Finish: No postseason

Under first year head coach John Szefc, the Terrapins held their own with their out of conference slate but, as usual in program history, struggled to win consistently within ACC play. The Terps offense was about average overall by ACC standards but lacked a true power threat as no starter hit more than four home runs. A healthy season from junior first baseman Tim Kiene in 2014 could help mitigate that problem.

Losing lefthander Jimmy Reed (6th round, Cardinals), one of the better Friday starting pitchers in ACC play, hurts but Maryland may have a suitable replacement in Senior righty Jake Stinnett who pitched to a 2.83 ERA in nine starts in 2013. Former Maryland Gatorade high school player of the year, Kevin Mooney, a sophomore RHP, could also be an X factor in the Terps rotation.

Maryland returns spark plug centerfielder Charlie White who hit over .350 and was amongst the nation’s leaders in stolen bases all season long in 2013. Senior shortstop Kyle Convissar (.325 AVG) also returns to the fold and talented sophomore outfielder/pitcher Lamonte Wade could be a breakout candidate.

Overall, it’s tough to envision Maryland finishing higher than 4th again, where the ACC coaches poll has them projected, given the fact that their lineup and pitching staff doesn’t quite stack up with the three teams ahead of them. Maryland also lacks the talent and depth in their recruiting classes that Florida State, Clemson, and NC State bring in.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

2013 record: 50 – 16 (19 – 10 ACC, 2nd place)

Finish: (College World Series)

NC State started out the season slow in 2013 as ace Carlos Rodon struggled initially to follow up his sensational freshman year with the same success. The Wolfpack rolled down the stretch with a knack for winning close games thanks to an outstanding bullpen and a clutch hitting offense. Their 19 ACC wins set a new school record and NC State road their hot streak all the way to the College World Series until they were knocked out by in state rival North Carolina.

Aside from shortstop Trea Turner, who led the team with a .368 AVG and 30 stolen bases (and is a likely top ten pick in the 2014 draft), the Wolfpack offense wasn’t much to write home about in 2013. However, the Wolfpack boasted arguably the best bullpen in the ACC last year, featuring five relievers that posted sub-2 ERA’s. NC State features perhaps the most talented Friday night pitcher in the country in lefthander Carlos Rodon, who many expect to be in the running for the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Wolfpack is also bringing in the nation’s 13th ranked recruiting class.

This season has a chance to be even better than last if the pitching staff performs at a high level again and some new offensive weapons emerge to compliment Turner. The Wolfpack were picked to finish 2nd in the Atlantic division in the coaches poll.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2013 record: 34 – 24 (10 – 14 Big East, 7th place)

Finish: No postseason

Notre Dame is the newcomer to the Atlantic division in 2014 after departing the now defunct Big East conference for the ACC. 2013 was an uneven year for the Irish as they performed fairly well against quality out of conference opponents yet couldn’t find the same success within conference play.

Questions surround the Fighting Irish offense, which will have big shoes to fill with the departure of Trey Mancini (1B/DH) and Eric Jagielo (3B) to the MLB draft. Jagielo, a late first round pick by the Yankees and Mancini, an Orioles 8th rounder, pretty much anchored an otherwise average lineup. Question marks also surround the pitching staff with Friday starter Adam Norton graduating and standout closer Dan Slania, a 5th round pick, signing with the Giants.

2014 looks to be an adjustment/rebuilding year for Notre Dame as they adapt to a higher level of play in the ACC. The ACC coaches’ poll has them projected for 5th place in the Atlantic division. They’ll put to the test early on in ACC play as their first conference series is a weekend date with in Raleigh with the NC State Wolfpack, fresh off a 50 win season.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2013 record: 28 – 27 (9 – 20 ACC, 5th place)

Finish: No postseason

Once one of the dominant ACC teams in the late 90’s and early 00’s, Wake Forest has only posted one winning season in ACC play over the last ten years. 2013 was more of the same as the Deamon Deacons finished in 5th place in the Atlantic division.

Pitching was the primary issue holding the Deacons back in 2013 as their pitching staff collectively pitched to a 4.55 ERA.

The offense returns leading hitters, seniors Evan Stephens (.358 AVG) and Matt Conway (.335) but will have to replace shortstop Patrick Blair, a 12th round pick by the Cardinals in the 2013 draft. Ben Brezeale could be an interesting player to watch as head coach Tom Walter thinks he has a chance to start at catcher as a freshman.

Question marks continue to surround the rotation as the returning starting pitchers pitched to a combined 5.29 ERA in 2013. The coaches’ poll has the Demon Deacons projected for a 6th place finish. Whether Wake Forest finishes higher than that will largely depend on how the pitching staff progresses.

ACC Coastal Division

Duke Blue Devils

2013 record: 26 – 29 (9 – 21 ACC, 6th place)

Finish: No Postseason

The Blue Devils welcomed former Appalachian State coach Chris Pollard to their staff in 2013. While Pollard was the leader of the Mountaineers, the program played some of its best baseball in team history after years of doormat status in the Southern Conference. Coach Pollard hopes to eventually bring similar turnaround success to Duke, after the Blue Devils finished last in his inaugural season.

The offense is set to return all six of their seven core starters from 2013, all of whom batted between .280 and .320, highlighted by second team All-ACC selections Andy Perez and Jordan Betts. Duke is returning all three of their weekend starters, highlighted by junior lefty Trent Swart (2.75 ERA). The Blue Devils are also bringing in the 26th best recruiting class, according to Perfect Game.

Considering Duke is returning 24 of 29 letter-winners and adding an influx of freshman talent, the Blue Devils appear to be headed in the right direction under Pollard. Duke’s 26 wins were actually the most by a first year head coach in team history and they should improve on that number in 2014. The ACC coaches’ poll has Duke projected for fifth place in the Coastal division.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2013 record: 37 – 27 (15 – 15 ACC, 4th place)

Finish: Regionals (2nd place, Nashville)

Georgia Tech was the proud home of one of the premier offensive lineups in the entire country in 2013, finishing in the top ten in the nation in most statistical categories. However, their pitching staff was suspect at times, which evened them out as a .500 team in ACC play. Their strong season RPI earned the Yellow Jackets a bid to the Nashville regional where they nearly upset Vanderbilt, the third ranked team in the country at the time.

The bad news for the Yellow Jackets is that the majority of those key hitters that comprised their dominant offense are gone. Catcher Zane Evans (4th round, Royals), outfielders Brandon Thomas (8th round, Yankees), Daniel Palka (3rd round, D’backs), and Kyle Wren (8th round, Braves), and third baseman Sam Dove (14th round, Phillies) all heard their names called in the first fifteen rounds of the 2013 draft. The Yellow Jackets will also have to replace senior ace Buck Farmer (9 – 5, 2.78 ERA), a fifth round pick by the Tigers. However, the Jackets loaded up on hitters in their recruiting class, rated ninth by Perfect Game, and several of them had impressive fall showings.

The ACC coaches’ poll has the Yellow Jackets projected for a fourth place finish. The offense is in rebuild mode but looks promising for future seasons. How well the rotation performs with Farmer’s departure will likely determine whether Georgia Tech can be more than a middle of the pack ACC team.

Miami (FL) Hurricanes

2013 record: 37 – 25 (14 – 16 ACC, 5th place)

Finish: Regionals (3rd place, Louisville)

Miami didn’t quite live up to their ACC expectations in 2013, finishing with a sub-500 conference record, but still put together a decent season overall that earned them an at large bid to the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma State would eventually end the Hurricanes’ season at the Louisville hosted regional.

The main factor in Miami’s mediocre ACC conference record was their inability to consistently score runs. The Hurricanes batted a substandard .258 as a team and just one starter hit more than three home runs.

However, the Hurricanes boast what could be one of the ACC’s best all around rotations, as all four of their primary starters (collective 2.54 ERA in 2013) return to the fold. That group is highlighted by junior lefties Brian Radziewski (9 – 3, 1.78 ERA) and Chris Diaz (7 – 5, 1.64 ERA). The ‘Canes are also brining in a Top 10 ranked recruiting class, featuring four 2013 MLB Draft picks, highlighted by Zack Collins. Collins, a first baseman, had early round potential in the MLB draft but slid to the 27th round due to his loyal commitment, and could be an impact hitter in the Canes lineup as soon as 2014.

Miami looks to get back over the 40-win threshold in 2014. The ACC coaches’ poll has the Hurricanes projected for third place in the coastal division. They have the pitching. If the hitting improves and some of their newcomers make an early impact, the Hurricanes should meet those expectations.

North Carolina Tar Heels

2013 record: 59 – 12 (21 – 7 ACC, 1st place)

Finish: College World Series, Semifinals

In 2013, the Tar Heels put together one of the better regular season performances in recent memory as they sat atop the major polls for most of the season. The Tar Heels were able to capture their first ACC crown in six years and made their 10th appearance in team history at the College World Series in Omaha. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels continued to fall short of that elusive first national title in team history as eventual champion UCLA knocked the Heels out in the semifinals.

Amongst those departing last year’s team include standout third baseman Colin Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Marlins, as well as Friday and Saturday starters Kent Emmanuel (3rd round, Astros) and Hobbs Johnson (8th round, Brewers). The offense, which collectively batted .303 last year, should continue to perform well this year with freshman All-American outfielder Skye Bolt leading the way.

Overall, the Tar Heels expect and should continue to perform at a high level this season. With an assortment of talented arms, highlighted by Trent Thornton and Benton Moss, replacing Emmanuel and Johnson in the rotation may be an easier process than one would think. The Tar Heels are also adding the nation’s 17th ranked recruiting class to the fold.

Pittsburgh Panthers

2013 record: 42 – 17 (18 – 6 Big East, 2nd place)

Finish: No Postseason

The Pittsburgh Panthers are the other newcomer to the ACC from the Big East. The Panthers are coming off the best season in team history, as they set a school record with 42 wins. Unfortunately, the Panthers came up short of an NCAA bid both in the Big East conference tournament and with the selection committee as they found themselves on the wrong side of the at large bubble.

Overall, Pitt returns six of nine batters from a lineup that collectively hit .302 last year, including senior outfielder Casey Roche (.339 AVG, 9 HR) and his Big East leading 65 RBI. Roche has been named a preseason First Team All-American by the NCBWA. However, Pitt will have to replace Friday starter Ethan Mildren (12th Round, Twins) and starting catcher Elvin Soto (16th Round, D’backs), who both signed with their respective teams. Aussie RHP Rhys Aldenhoven (8-1, 2.76 ERA) should be up to the task if he can repeat last year’s outstanding numbers.

Despite returning most of the key parts from last year’s 42-win squad, Pitt didn’t receive much respect in the ACC preseason coaches’ poll, as they were picked to finish last. How the Panthers adapt to the crème de la crème of college baseball competition in the ACC should be interesting. Pitt will be put to the test early as their inaugural ACC series takes place against defending ACC champions North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Virginia Cavaliers

2013 record: 50 – 12 (22 – 8 ACC, 2nd place)

Finish: Super Regionals (Eliminated by Mississippi State)

Some pundits considered 2013 to be a rebuilding year for the Cavs which made their impressive 50 win season and second place Coastal division record all the more impressive. Eight of nine Cavalier starters return from one of 2013’s most productive linueps in the country, highlighted by sophomore outfielder Mike Papi (.383 AVG, 7HR).

Sophomore lefty Brandon Wadell (8 – 4, 3.88 ERA) should take over as the Cavaliers Friday starter with the departure of Scott Silverstein. Kyle Crockett is a key loss in the bullpen as he was one of the nation’s best closers but sophomore lefty David Rosenberger (1.38 ERA) could very well assume the role with success. The Cavs are bringing in the 22nd ranked recruiting class headlined by RHP Connor Jones, who could have an impact as soon as his freshman year. Perfect Game considered Jones one of the better high school pitching prospect in the country in 2013.

With a roster this deep and talented coming off such an impressive season, it’s no surprise that the Cavaliers find themselves atop several of the major polls heading into the 2014 season. If there’s a team with a great chance of ending the ACC’s absurdly long 59-year National Title drought, this year’s Virginia Cavaliers may be that team.

Virginia Tech Hokies

2013 record: 40 – 22 (15 – 14 ACC, 3rd place)

Finish: Regionals (2nd place, Blacksburg)

Going into 2013, many projected the Virginia Tech to finish behind Miami and Georgia Tech in the division but the Hokies had other plans as they finished in third and earned their first regional host bid in the NCAA tournament in team history. Unfortunately, the Hokies were eliminated on their home turf by Oklahoma.

The Hokies lost third-baseman Chad Pinder (Athletics, 2nd round) and outfielder Tyler Horan (Giants, 8th round) to the draft, two key cogs in last year’s potent offense. The Hokies do return junior Mark Zagunis (.341, 9 HR,) perhaps the best catcher in the ACC in 2014. The main question mark surrounds the Hokies pitching staff as they lack a clear go-to Friday night starter with the departure of Joe Mantiply and his 2.58 ERA. Senior Brad Markey may be asked to fill the role but he will have to improve upon his 4.93 ERA.

The ACC coaches are expecting a step back for the Hokies in 2014, projecting them to finish in sixth place. The reasoning likely relates to the questions surrounding the pitching staff, which pitched to a below average 4.22 ERA last season as well as some losses on offense. With a large freshman class coming in, the Hokies may be set up well for future seasons.