Looking at the ACC.

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 1st, 2011 in 2011 National Preview, ACC
 

I shudder to say this, but look for a slight downturn in the ACC bravado this year as many teams lost a lot of star power. But don’t shed any tears for these guys, they’ll still have a team (or two) in Omaha and hang around the top of the rankings all season long. As any economist will tell you, don’t expect this “slight downturn” to last.

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2010 in a Paragraph:

It’s beginning to become the same old script for these guys. Soon after they yell “quiet on the set” they start to pile up the wins early on. Then they beat the hell out of each other in conference play. That’s followed by a no-holds-barred bloodfest of a finish down to the wire. Then they end up sending two teams to Omaha once again. Annnnnnnd, cut! Last year it was Florida State and Clemson playing in Rosenblatt for the final time. Both teams left the old stadium on the hill shaking their heads with a modicum of disappointment. The Seminoles, because they couldn’t figure out TCU and the Tigers, because they raced out to a 2-0 record and then saw their hated rivals from South Carolina beat them in two straight games. Virginia should’ve been there too if not for running into an insanely hot Oklahoma team in the Supers. Yet, no one would’ve blinked had they won the national title. VaTech was the surprise of the conference as the Hokies won 40 games overall and got their most conference wins this decade under star-in-training coach Pete Hughes. Miami and North Carolina were in a bit of a rebuilding mode, but that merely means they won 43 and 38 games respectively. Heh. Typical of the ACC.

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2010 Conference RPI: 3

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2011:

- Atlantic Division:

1- Florida State

2- Clemson

3- North Carolina State

4- Wake Forest

5- Boston College

6- Maryland

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- Coastal Division:

1- Virginia

2- North Carolina

3- Miami

4- Georgia Tech

5- Virginia Tech

6- Duke

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2011 in a Paragraph:

Can the ACC heavies keep riding the momentum? Will the conference actually reach that down cycle I talked about above? It may be slight, but the talent levels at each campus in the loop is still going to be some of college baseball’s best at this stage in the game. If anything, it could be a slow start for most teams and then back to the usual lofty heights by the time all is said and done. The two Omaha alums Florida State and Clemson will remain the big dogs on the block, mostly because players like Mike McGee for FSU and John Hinson and Jeff Schaus for Clemson decided to return for another year in uniform. I get the sneaky suspicion that Georgia Tech will be better than expected in their rebuilding season and on the opposite end of the spectrum, it looks like North Carolina and Miami still won’t be quite up to snuff. But you never want to count out any of those traditional powers. The seeming forgotten team is Virginia, which still has ridiculous talent hanging around just waiting to make people look silly. When it comes down to it, I’d take UVa in a three-game weekend against just about anyone in the country. Well, you’ll soon find out what I mean I’m sure.

Danny Hultzen and the Virginia Cavaliers are the team to beat in the ACC.

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Favorite: Virginia

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Contenders: Florida State, Clemson.

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Darkhorse: Georgia Tech.

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Can’t-Miss Series of the Year: Virginia at Clemson, March 11-13.

Close Second: Florida State at Virginia, March 18-20.

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Best Non-Conference Series: Clemson at/vs. South Carolina, March 4-6.

Close Second: Miami at Florida, March 4-6.

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Hot Coach: Brian O’Connor, Virginia

Florida State's Mike McGee is the top two-way player in the country.

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Hot Seat Coach: None.

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The “You Gotta See” Player: Mike McGee, Florida State

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Three Non-Conference Series The ACC Better Not Overlook:

1- Kent State at Georgia Tech, Feb. 18-20.

2- VMI at Florida State, Feb. 18-20.

3- St. John’s at Georgia Tech, Feb. 25-27.

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Three Bold Predictions:

1- Georgia Tech will enter ACC play on March 11th with a .500 record… or close to it.

2- Maryland will pick up a win at Texas, at Georgia Tech and at Virginia, but will run out of gas at the end of the season.

3- Virginia Tech will – gulp! – return to having a losing record. But it won’t last to next year.

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Atlantic Division

- BOSTON COLLEGE (30-28, 14-16)

2010 RPI: 46

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Anthony Melchionda (.358-7-41)

SS Brad Zapenas (.318, 6Es)

RHP Taylor Lasko (4-2, 5.14)

RHP Matt Brazis (1-0, 4.73, 9svs)

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The Good News:

In the grand scheme of things, BC has acclimated well to the move to the ACC, especially when you consider a season where the RPI finished at No. 46 as a “disappointment.” The Eagles know exactly where their strong suit will be this year as they finished 3rd in the country in defense last year and will return 2B Matt Hamlet (.291, 10SBs, just 3Es), SS Brad Zapenas and 3B Anthony Melchionda. They’ll also have the comfort of senior catcher Garrett Smith (.221, .978 defense) to call the signals behind the dish. The arms crew will have three guys back with starting experience in righties Taylor Lasko, Mike Dennhardt (4-7, 7.22) and John Leonard (2-2, 6.04), who combined for 30 starts last season. But BC will definitely benefit from a full, injury-free season from Leonard, who only threw the last half of 2010, but was drafted by the Giants last June. The Eagles got a bonus whe 38th round draftee Tom Bourdon, a strong-armed outfielder, decided to bypass the pros and come to campus. He’s just the kind of incoming talent BC needs to excel in the ACC.

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The Bad News:

First of all, Mik Aoki, the most successful coach in BC’s modern era, moved on to Notre Dame. New coach Mike Gambino has some challenges ahead of him, including regaining the team’s confidence after the Eagles looked to be on their way to another run toward the Big Dance, but then went on a 6-11 stretch run in the month of May that cost them precious RPI points. The offense will lose three of the top five bats, including school home run king Mickey Wiswall. A team ERA of 6.71 just won’t cut it in the ACC. Let’s talk again about RHP John Leonard, who was 4-0, 5.27 as a frosh, but he needs to revert to that form as he has gone 3-8, 7.25 since then (although shoulder problems early last season hampered his work). There is certainly a need for some left-handed pitching to emerge as all six returnees of significance are righties.

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Schedule Note:

Good to be home, but not exactly easy street.

BC’s home portion of the ACC schedule is a real ball-buster, as the Eagles will have Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Virginia and North Carolina State coming to Chestnut Hill. Ouch. They’ll also have one of the tougher non-conference schedules as they’ll open at Coastal Carolina and follow that up with a trip to Florida for three games. That’ll put hair on your chest.

With all the returning talent, Clemson could be riding high in 2011 with a few breaks.

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- CLEMSON (45-25, 18-12)

2010 RPI: 16

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Scott Weisermann (9-2, 4.90, .268OBA)

LHP/1B/OF Will Lamb (4-4, 5.02, 2svs/.289-4-36, 14SBs)

SS Brad Miller (.357-8-49, 10SBs)

3B John Hinson (.351-17-75, 25SBs)

RHP Alex Frederick (7-2, 3.75, 4svs)

OF Jeff Schaus (.320-15-87, 4th nationally in RBI)

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The Good News:

Well, I said in this preview last year that IPTAY Nation wouldn’t be completely happy until we saw Orange paws in Omaha again… I’ve got two words for you, BING! GO! Put it in writing, IPTAY is happy. The 2010 season just proved once again how solid of a coach Jack Leggett is. This wasn’t his best team, but they played like it down the stretch and made the promised land once again. What a great program he’s running there. And prospects are high this year, as witnessed by CU getting the No. 4 pre-season ranking in Collegiate Baseball. Getting off to another 19-2 start like last season would be bully for 2011, don’tcha figure? With four hitters going .300+ and returning for this season, the CU offense could be even better than last season. Three-fourths of the infield returns with the brick wall of a left side featuring Brad Miller and John Hinson, two All American-types with the bat and glove. They’re joined by the platoon of 1Bmen Richie Shaffer (.323-7-36) and Will Lamb, both of whom filled in at DH at times as well. Between Lamb, Scott Weisermann, RHP Dominic Leone (3-2, 4.78) and RHP Scott Firth (2-1, 3.58) the Paws return 42 starts between them from last season. They’ll be backed by senior RHP Alex Frederick, who pulled dual duty between starter and reliever and junior RHP David Haselden (4-4, 4.61, 2svs). The MLB draft was a real bonus of the off-season for CU as John Hinson (13th round, Phils) and Jeff Schaus (27th round, Indians) both came back to campus for another season. They’ll be joined by a new crop of Hold-that-Tigers which come in as the No. 30-ranked class in the country, featuring SS Steven Wilkerson (a 15th round pick of Boston) and 1B Jon McGibben (a 29th round pick of Seattle). So yes, don’t expect Leggett and his Tigers to go down the drain anywhere anytime soon.

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The Bad News:

Well getting back to Omaha was great, no doubt. But living with the fact that your hated rival and sworn enemy eliminated you after you started the Series off 2-and-0 is a tough pill to swallow for eight months of the off-season. The Tiger defense was a major sticking point last year, defending at a .963 clip, which was 9th in the conference. That number must improve, obviously. Casey Harman was the staff ace, going 8-4 and throwing for a staff-high 121 innings last season and has now moved on to the pros. Joining Harman in the play-for-pay leagues will be SS/2B, and team leader, Mike Freeman, who hit .333-8-51 last season. And, without further ado, the quarterbacking hero of Paws Nation and an outstanding outfielder in his own right, Mr. Kyle Parker, will also move on to greener pastures after posting .344-20-64 numbers last season. The offense must also step up after hitting “only” .306 last spring.

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Schedule Note:

Carolinas-centric.

Other than a three-game set at Boston College in mid-April, from now until May 13th, the Tigers will play the remainder of their games in the Carolinas. But in the final two weeks of the season, they’ll travel to Virginia Tech and to Florida State to close out the remainder of the ACC set. So it’s imperative that the Tigers play good early in the season just in case it doesn’t pay off at the end. I’m still very, very happy to report that their series against in-state rival South Carolina is going to be another three-game set and not the two-game variety it had been for years.

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- FLORIDA STATE (48-20, 18-12)

2010 RPI: 18

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP/OF Mike McGee (4-1, 2.96, 13svs/.328-17-73)

LHP/1B Sean Gilmartin (9-8, 5.24/.383)

3B Sherman Johnson (.337-10-58)

1B Jayce Boyd (.326-8-39)

RHP Scott Sitz (5-0, 3.76)

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The Good News:

These Seminoles are ready to chop. Lots of experience. Lots of familiar names around. So expect a lot of scalps lying on the ground by the time the season ends. You see, when Mike Martin gets his hands on an experienced team, it’s usually very good news. That’s the Seminoles for 2010. For most teams, getting a Mike McGee back to the lineup would be enough to label them as serious contenders. But the two-way megastar also has fellow All American candidate Sean Gilmartin on the hill and loads of bullpenners ready to step in when called upon like RHP Daniel Bennett (5-1, 3.51, 3svs) and RHP Tyler Everett (3-1, 3.77, 1sv) as a pair of reliable senior flingers. They’ll also lean on hulking intimidator Hunter Scantling (3-2, 4.47 and the No. 6 pro prospect in the Florida Collegiate League), a mean fireballer, and RHP Robert Benincasa (2-0, 5.32), who should star as a soph. Four of the top five hitters return, led by former walk-on (and outright stud) Sherman Johnson and All-World Mike McGee, who both had many highlight moments in the post-season. But don’t forget about a pair of players that should have bounce-back senior years in C Rafael Lopez (.278) and Stuart Tapley (.272-7-38), who seems like he’s been on campus since Bobby Bowden’s first year. The incoming class is another in a long line of quality collections for coach Martin (ranked No. 17 by Collegiate Baseball), featuring RHP Peter Miller (38th round, Mets) and C/1B Eric Arce (27th round, Blue Jays), a pair of talents that turned down a chance to play pro ball to be a Seminole.

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The Bad News:

The biggest bad news is the elephant-in-the-room fact that Tyler Holt, a leadoff man, team leader and dirty-uniform-type of player, will be sorely missed. A big presence in the program, hitting the bricks to pro ball. He is joined in the gone department by Stephen Cardullo, who combined with Holt to steal 51 bases last year. Now you see why the ‘Noles hate to leave home, going just 11-8 in true road games last season. After having two straight years of terrible defense, FSU was better last year (.968 fielding), but were still just the 6th-best in the ACC, so improvement is still necessary. Oddly, the offense was rather tepid too, hitting .300 (7th in the conference) and striking out an ACC-high 489 times last season. Discipline people, discipline. Lastly, Sean Gilmartin has to get over his sophomore slump and start dominating on Fridays again as he did as a freshman.

Schedule Note:

Stat-padding.

I’m not sure which factor pads the stats of the Seminoles more, that freakishly short right field fence at Dick Howser Stadium or their usual array of easy punching bags on the pre-ACC schedule? This year they’ll host VMI (though they’re not horrible), Hofstra and Maine, while also taking a trip (yes, a roadie) to the last place team in the SEC at Georgia. I do like the four-gamer against Florida, but they will be all mid-week contests unfortunately. Trips to Virginia, N.C. State and Miami in conference play will be arduous, but if the ‘Noles can just break even there, a home Regional will be easily attainable.

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- MARYLAND (17-39, 5-25)

2010 RPI: 170

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 0

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Brandon Padula (.333-5-33, 10SBs)

SS Alfredo Rodriguez (.280-5-30, 23SBs)

RHP Brett Harman (5-8, 4.50, 92Ks in 86inns)

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The Good News:

Nothing earthshaking here yet. But be sure to put the emphasis on the word “yet” because year two in the Erik Bakich era should go much smoother. As a Vanderbilt assistant he was known as a recruiter nonpareil and it’s beginning to show. Bakich welcomes in 23 new players from the No. 40th ranked class in the country, including two that were drafted last June, Canadian 1Bman Tim Kiene (30th round, Washington) and J.C. All American RHP Chuck Ghysels (36th round, Cincinnati), who was also rated as the No. 5 talent in the Prospect League last summer. Somehow, he also convinced the Oregon player of the year, RHP Brady Kirkpatrick out from under George Horton and Pat Casey. The weekend rotation will welcome back RHP Sander Beck (0-8, 7.38) and LHP Eric Potter (2-10, 8.80), who both bring a lot of experience as Saturday and Sunday starters.

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The Bad News:

Well, the bad news is pretty obvious. There have been a lot bad news over the years, including the stat sheet from 2010 that showed that the Terrapins were the worst hitting (.258) and worst pitching (7.19) team in the conference. Last year’s foibles are things Coach Bakich can’t change. Four of the top five ERA pitchers are gone from last year’s team, and expected ace Brett Harman (5-8, 4.50, 92Ks in 86inns) is out for this season with Tommy John surgery. Dang me! Beyond Harman, the other remaining pitchers have ERA’s of 7.38 or higher. Despite the recruiting bonanza for this coming season, it will take a while for all those new players to gel into a solid unit. Expect a few bumps in the road early on.

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Schedule Note:

A tougher road than a heavy metal support band.

Maryland has some harsh road games this year. Opening with four games at Texas is bad enough. But then check out this ACC slate;  at Georgia Tech, at VIrginia, at Clemson, at N.C. State and at North Carolina. Damn. What did Coach Bakich do to deserve THIS?

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- NORTH CAROLINA STATE (38-24, 15-15)

2010 RPI: 54

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Harold Riggins (.331-12-44, ACC tourney MVP)

C/1B Pratt Maynard (.273-11-49)

C Chris Schaeffer (.315-11-35)

RHP Cory Mazzoni (7-3, 5.20, 81Ks in 91inns)

LHP Grant Sasser (3-4, 3.56, 5svs)

3B Andrew Ciencin (.316-10-77)

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The Good News:

There was a lot of improvement in Wolfpack Nation in 2010. The win total went from 25 in 2009 to 38, the offense went from .266 in 2009 to .326 and the HRs went from 46 in 2009 to 98. For somebody who needed a big bounce back season, that was a nice recovery by Coach Avent and his crew. There is enough firepower back from that potent lineup in 2010, including three .300+ hitters in Riggins (who won the Northwoods League Home Run derby), Ciencin and Schaeffer, who all hit double-digit dingers. They also get back part-time starters in INF Danny Canela (.313), OF John Gianis (.363) and OF Tarran Senay (.313), plus, OF Cameron Conner, who hit .342 as a part-timer in ’09, returns after missing all of last year. Keep an eye on a pair of incoming JC transfers in C Peter Bako, a power-hitter who was a 15th round draftee in 2009, and RHP Josh Easley, who was a 35th round pick last summer. If these newbies begin to play up to their potential early, the Pack will be ready to howl.

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The Bad News:

The Pack will lose two weekend starters on the mound and their top three hitters at the dish, along with football QB Russell Wilson, who hit .306 and was second on the team in stolen bases despite playing about half of last season. The defense has been a sticking point the last few years, including last year’s .958 fielding percentage which caused some problems. Biggest piece of gum stuck to the bottom of the boot? The pitching. It worries me… or, well, it worries Coach Avent even more. Last year’s corps wasn’t great and returns a lot of familiar faces that need to improve or State will not escape the middle of the ACC standings.

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Schedule Notes:

Carolina on their minds, and under their cleats.

NC State will only leave the Carolina’s on four occasions, all in conference play. But each of those excursions will be rugged, going to Georgia Tech, Miami, UVa and ending the regular season at Boston College. Love the second weekend where they’ll go to Coastal Carolina to take on the Chanticleers, along with west coasters Pacific and Cal. That’ll test some of the new arms for sure.

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- WAKE FOREST (18-37, 8-22)

2010 RPI: 137

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Matt Conway (.382-6-32)

OF Steven Brooks (.349-6-39, 23HRs)

LHP Austin Stadler (3-4, 5.26)

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The Good News:

As the 2010 season went along, new head coach Tom Walter got his team playing better down the stretch, winning three of their last four ACC series, including a weekend over CWS alum Clemson. Not bad. And if coach Walter’s track record at New Orleans is any indication, it won’t be long before the Deacons are a winning program, even in the cutthroat ACC. For 2011, four of the top six hitters who went .280 or better return to the batting order, as do all three weekend starters on the mound. The best part is that most of them are sophomores, including two-way threat Matt Conway, who had a great summer, being named the No. 7 pro prospect in the New York Collegiate League, and LHP Tim Cooney (4-6, 5.49), who was the most-used pitcher on the staff last season. A good recruiting class comes in, featuring 3B James Harris, who was drafted by the Twins, and OF Kevin Jordan, a 19th round draftee of the Yankees. (Turning down the Yanks… Atta boy!). Is the “Walter Touch” ready to work its magic? Well, the wand is being raised as we speak.

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The Bad News:

This team showed a lot of growing pains in 2010. Just about every facet of the team needs a bump up as the Deacons finished dead last in team defense (at a horrible .947) in the ACC, second-to-last in hitting (.281) and third-to-last in pitching (6.29). None of the returning pitchers were under 5.00 in ERA and the returnees also accounted for just two saves out of the bullpen. The lack of depth in almost all positions, particularly on the mound, could be a problem that still dogs this team. It’ll be a

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Schedule Note:

Back to familiar territory.

Coach Walter will venture back to an old stomping ground as the Deacs will open the season at LSU, who coach used to take on regularly in his UNO days. After that, Wake will stay at home for 16 of the next 17 games, including ACC weekends against North Carolina and Miami. That should give his team some time to gel together and improve.

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Coastal Division

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- DUKE (29-27, 8-22)

2010 RPI: 83

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 1

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All Conference Candidates:

2B/RHP Marcus Stroman (.265, 11SBs/6-4, 5.31)

OF Will Piwnica-Worms (.313-6-44, 10SBs)

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The Good News:

The Devils posted their fourth straight winning campaign last year, all of which have been 29 wins or more. Coach Sean McNally has a real budding star on his hands with two-way talent Marcus Stroman, who was voted the ACC Rookie of the Year by the conference coaches. He and fellow dual threat Dennis O’Grady (who hit .283 while splitting time at 1st and 2nd base when he wasn’t on the mound, 2-5, 5.09) will hope to keep the defense one of the best in the ACC (.975 as a team last year). RHP Ben Grisz (3-3, 4.40, 3svs) has turned out to be one of the Dookies most consistent flingers. The incoming class features 14 newbies from 10 different states and is led by LHP Dillon Haviland (drafted by the Pirates last June), strapping infielder Jordan Betts and All American RHP Robert Huber from Texas.

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The Bad News:

The Dookies didn’t win 30+ games for the first time since 2007 and are still chasing that elusive NCAA tournament bid. An 8-16 road record was one of the biggest culprits as the Devils need to cultivate a better road mentality. Lots of losses off of last year’s experienced squad, including most of the power in the lineup since top hitters Jake Lemmerman and Jeremy Gould both high-tailed it. The bullpen was nearly depleted by graduation as well with Ben Grisz being the only bullpenner with more than 10 innings of work coming back. This team may take a while to get its cleats about them, but there’s ability to crack the code once they do.

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Schedule Note:

Allowing the youngin’s to grow.

There’s a little good and bad with the schedule too. The fact that there are winnable weekends against Richmond, Villanova and LaSalle before ACC play means the youthful team will be able to get some confidence under its collective belt. But if this team DOES come around and get hot this season, I’m not sure this schedule will do the Devils any favors in the RPI if they happen to be on the fence for that elusive NCAA bid.

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- GEORGIA TECH (47-15, 21-9)

2010 RPI: 17

Starters Returning: 2

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Matt Skole (. 335-20-63)

LHP Jed Bradley (9-5, 4.83, 99Ks in 91inns)

RHP Mark Pope (8-1, 3.78)

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The Good News:

There were times last season where the Jackets looked as good as anyone in the country – swept Clemson and North Carolina, beat Georgia 25-6 and raced out to that 22-3 start. And how about this as a barometer for your program: The Jackets tied a school record with 10 draftees in the MLB Draft last June. Also, nine high school signees were picked up as well with the good part being that six of them are on the roster for this season, led by 4th round pick Matthew Grimes, 14th round pick DeAndre Smelter and 19th round pick Daniel Palka, who should all be prime time players right off the bat. The strength of this year’s squad will certainly be the pitching staff, which has Mark Pope and Jed Bradley returning with a combined 27 starts last season. Both were named pre-season 3rd team All Americans by Collegiate Baseball and will be building blocks for this year’s revamped staff. Watch for the continued rise of sophomore RHP Buck Farmer (5-1, 3.63) who held his opposition to a microscopic .204 batting average. Coach Danny Hall has to love the return of RHP Kevin Jacob, a giant of a man who had posted 5-3, 4.69 marks in 2009 before missing most of last season. He also got drafted in the 18th round last June by the Yankees, but chose to come back for one more year with the Bees. OF Brandon Thomas (.262), who was a part time starter last year, was listed as the top pro prospect of the Florida Collegiate League last summer and should ascend to stud status this year. It’ll be a patchwork of returnees and newbies, but there is certainly enough talent to make a push to the ACC title.

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The Bad News:

Tech lost at home in the post-season for the second straight year, dropping back-to-back games to Alabama in the Regional finals. That’s eight months of pain to live with there (or big time motivation?). They hit a school record 122 HRs as a team last season, but a full 100 of those have departed the batting order, so a lot of new power bats will have to be cultivated. In all, five regulars that hit .322 or better have moved on. Also missing will be stud ace Deck McGuire (who threw 112 innings last year) and nine-game winner Brandon Cumpton. The No. 6-ranked recruiting class will have to really hit the ground running as the Engineers will be in full-on rebuilding mode in 2011. Suffice to say, Danny Hall has the biggest coaching job in his career ahead  of him. Not that the dude won’t be able to handle it, mind you.

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Schedule Note:

Okay, maybe this time they need a softer schedule.

I’ve been pretty harsh on the scheduling habits of the Bees over the years, and mostly for good reason. This year, with all the new blood on the team, Tech’s penchant for soft non-conference play may have some merit. Pre-ACC weekends will see them facing Kent State, St. John’s and Rutgers, not bad teams mind you, but all of three of them will probably still be works-in-progress since they are northern teams playing early in the season. But the cool thing about this year’s slate is that they’ll actually make a return trip to a northern locale as they’ll travel to Illinois-Chicago in early May. How about that?

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- MIAMI (43-20, 20-10)

2010 RPI: 13

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (25+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Harold Martinez (.298-21-69)

OF Chris Pelaez (.314-11-53)

OF Nathan Melendez (.301-9-35, 15SBs)

RHP E.J. Encinosa (1-1, 2.20, 61Ks in 49inns, .186OBA)

LHP Daniel Miranda (5-3, 3.23, 5svs, .215OBA)

RHP Eric Whatley (5-1, 4.28, 51Ks in 48.1inns., .258OBA)

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The Good News

Okay, let’s start with two things. 1- Last I checked Jim Morris is still the coach at The U and he simply wins, year-in, year-out regardless of returning starters or prognostications. And 2 – Let’s face facts, the Canes are never out of the conversation and rarely – rarely – do they have “off” seasons. There is still a lot of skill and talent around, particularly in the six returning position players. Harold Martinez is one of the best raw talents at 3rd base in the country, and a great power stick of course. Coach Morris is counting on his leadership and example he displays. But Chris Palaez and Nathan Melendres are the leading hitters coming back, combining for 20HRs and 88RBI. Keep an eye on sophomores Stephen Perez (.255-8-39) and Zeke DeVoss (.251-9-33), both of whom had stolen 24 bases last season and should bring back memories of the Figueroa Boys from the early 2000s. The pitching staff has a pair of emerging stars in sophomores E.J. Escinosa and the variously-used Eric Whatley, both of whom had more Ks than inning thrown. Most importantly to the Canes, they may have found a replacement for Yasmani Grandal behind the dish with incoming frosh Shane Rowland, who was expected to be a top 10 round draftee last June, but slid down to the 36th round. Rowland has a power-packed lefty swing despite being just 5’10″, 175. He leads an outstanding incoming class of players that were ranked as the No. 23 recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball.

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The Bad News:

I know, this isn’t your father’s Hurricanes… not even close lately. Wanna hear a weird stat? The Canes have now finished with 20 or more losses in four of their last five seasons. (Not that it’s a horrible season, but this IS Miami we’re talking about). They finished 2010 on a 7-9 skid down the end of the season, including two losses at Florida in the Super Regionals, which was the second year in a row that the Gators have ended their season. The Canes will surely miss all-everything catcher Yasmani Grandal, who handled the bat and the pitching staff so freakin’ well the last three seasons. Speaking of the toes on the rubber, they’ll be missing all three weekend mound starters, which is a big problem, even with the abundant talent in South Florida. It will be a trial-by-fire decision as to who gets the coveted weekend starting posts. Off the field, the Canes are also dealing with the loss of Frank Ratcliff, who led the team with six triples and had 52 starts as a freshman, after his drug/steroid arrest in September.

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Schedule Note:

Perhaps the easiest draw in ACC play.

The Canes will have a three-gamer at Florida in week three of the season that will test their mental toughness, bar none. But the ACC portion of the schedule is relatively easy (emphasis on “relatively” of course.). The road trips will be rather light, going to Wake Forest, Boston College, Maryland and rebuilding UNC. The final conference road trip will be a national monster Virginia in the middle of May. By then we should know if this will be a battle for the ACC or an exhibition for the Cavs. C’mon Canes, make it interesting, wontcha?

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- NORTH CAROLINA (38-22, 14-16)

2010 RPI: 24

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Levi Michael (.346-9-54, 20SBs)

OF Ben Bunting (.313, 10SBs)

C Jacob Stallings (.307, just 3Es)

1B Jess Wierzbicki (.307-8-52)

RHP Patrick Johnson (6-3, 3.71)

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The Good News:

Obviously, 2010 was an off year for the Heels. But when your off years still produce 38 wins and a trip to the NCAAs, you know your program is set at a high level in college baseball. Levi Michael is the straw that stirs the Tar Heel drink at the dish and in the field. He’ll team with middle infield mate Tommy Coyle (. 282, 14SBs) to turn a mean double-play and to give opposing pitchers the willy-nillies on the basepaths. The defense was its usual solid self, playing at a .970 level last year and these two sweeps will help keep it that way. Speaking of good defense, Jacob Stallings has become one of the best backstops in the college game, scooping pitches in the dirt and handling the mound corps with aplomb. Expect RHP Garrett Davis (3-3, 4.59) to take on a bigger role this season, as will fellow righty Greg Holt (3-4, 5.11, 3svs), as they held opposing batters to .210 and .231 averages respectively last season. The Tar Heels had a capital recruiting season as well, bringing in 25th-best class in the country, featuring four players that were drafted last June by the pros, but chose to wear the blue for Coach Mike Fox instead. Look for immediate contributions from C Matt Roberts (38th round, D-backs), RHP Andrew Smith (40th round, Rays) and big lefty Kent Emanuel (19th round, Pirates). Interesting note: incoming RHP Jake Cole (24th round, Rangers) was named the No. 1 ranked prospect in the state of Arizona last season, but escaped from the clutches of ASU and UofA to come across the country and be a Tar Heel. Great coo.

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The Bad News:

Into a every life a little rain must fall. Even for the Tar Heels. Yep, they had the latest indignity of being a sad sack team that did not make its conference tournament and still got a bid to the 64-team Big Dance. (Shake you head side to side while looking down). Maddening! But even more troublesome will be losing ace stud Matt Harvey and spot duty hurler Colin Bates, who combined for 38 wins in their three years on the hill. Those are two big hits to the roster. The Heels collected only 45 home runs last year and will need to find some bats that can go yard and score some sac fly runs when necessary. Expected stud OF Brian Goodwin, who hit .291-7-61and was a Freshman All American, has been suspended for the entire 2011 season and 1B Dillon Hazlett, who was 3rd on the team with a .324 average, has transfered out.

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Schedule Note:

A good start… or an ominous start.

I was excited to see that the Heels are heading out west in the opening weekend because their games against Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, USC and Missouri will tell a lot about this team. Good or bad. And I was also excited because UNC has played some pretty crappy non-conference schedules in recent years. But this makes up for it. Most of the toughies in conference play will be on the road as they’ll go to VaTech, Florida State, N.C. State and Georgia Tech. They get Clemson, Miami and Virginia at the Bosh.

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- VIRGINIA (51-14, 23-7)

2009 RPI: 3

Starters Returning:  6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

UTL Danny Hultzen (11-1, 2.78, 123Ks, .193OBA/.281)

2B Keith Werman (.414, 10SBs)

3B Steven Proscia (.314-10-65)

1B John Hicks (.307-8-48, 10SBs)

RHP Tyler Wilson (8-4, 3.41, 3svs)

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The Good News:

It’s hard to start writing anything about this program without re-mentioning the job that Brian O’Connor and his staff have done in C’ville. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing that the Cavaliers have become such a national power and have been no flash in the pans either. Okay, I’ll move on I promise. The weight of heavy expectations won’t be dogging this team quite as much this season, but we’ll see if the Cavs respond with greener pastures come June. And O’Connor has a lot of familiar names still around to pile up Ws, particularly in the dual-threat known as Danny Hultzen, who intimidates on the mound and at the dish, Steven Procia, a solid and smart power-hitter, plus John Barr and John Hicks, a pair of reliable contact hitters. It’s a comfort to add in arms like Tyler Wilson (who turned down the Reds as a 35th round pick last June) and Will Roberts (7-0, 3.98 in two years) who are both battle-tested vets. Two players to watch out for, soph Branden Kline (5-1, 3.62), who Coach O’Connor is extremely high on, and the oft-injured, but highly regarded Scott Silverstein, who returns to the mound after missing all of 2010 and most of 2009, are both former MLB draftees that will be big time in 2011. Diminutive Keith Werman may be one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, as he will pace UVa’s remarkable .977 defense. Incoming RHP Tyler Skulina (45th round, A’s) and OFs Mitchell Shifflett (an absolute burner who stole 37 bases in his senior season of high school) and Mark Podlas (a Baseball America Top 100 prospect) should make immediate impacts for the Wahoos in their first year. And they’ll also keep them in the upper crust of college baseball for the years to come.

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The Bad News:

Despite having a better team than in 2009 and hanging around the top of the rankings all season, last year’s Cavs didn’t make it to the promised land, ending their season on their home field and losing in shocking fashion to Oklahoma. Eh, those kind of upsets happen from time to time. Shake it off Hoos. Hultzen is amazing, but had just 57 at-bats last year (as opposed to 199 in the CWS season of 2009). He’ll need to become a force with the bat again. Lots of big time talents that were responsible for building this program up have moved on, including the steady offense and basepath savvy of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker and Tyler Cannon and pitchers like Robert Morey and closer Kevin Arico (who had 18 saves last year). Oof-fah! Also, it will be strange to see no Franco Valdes crouched down behind the dish. He was a block of granite for this program, to say the least, and will be tough to replace.

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Schedule Note:

A little bit tougher.

The Wahoos are playing better and better non-conference games over the years, including this year’s opening weekend against UAB, Auburn and Arkansas State and hosting East Carolina in week two. ACC play will get their blood pumpin’ right away, with three of the first five weekends being at Clemson, at Virginia Tech and at Georgia Tech. They’ll also host Florida State in weekend No. 2 of conference play. These tougher games should pay dividends in June.

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- VIRGINIA TECH (40-22, 16-14)

2010 RPI: 35

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (19+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Tim Smalling (.349-7-37)

1B Ronnie Shaban (.346-8-67)

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The Good News:

How about the turnaround job that coach Pete Hughes has orchestrated in Blacksburg? Forget BeamerBall, make room for HughesBall man. From ’08 to ’09 to ’10, Tech’s win total went from 23 wins to 32 wins to 40 wins last year. Sweet. He has been the difference in taking this program to the next level since the malaise-ridden days of the legendary Chuck Hartman. Last year’s 40 wins was the most since 1999 and the 16 conference wins was the most since joining the ACC. The defense played at a .964 level last year and could be the best in the ACC for 2010 with all four infield positions coming back, including SS Tim Smalling (who comes back to campus after getting drafted in the 14th round by the Nats) and double-play mate 2B Michael Seaborn (.283-7-44). Lots of pitchers who got valuable experience last season return, especially from the bullpen, led by RHP Marc Zecchino (1-1, 4.74) and LHP Joe Mantiply (4-1, 5.62). Freshman LHP Eddie Campbell was a 44th round pick of the Reds last June but chose to attend VPI instead. There may be some losses to overcome, but sure-as-shootin, things are looking up for a program that has been down for so long.

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The Bad News:

Last year was THE year for the Hokies to make a big national move, and they did. This year could be much tougher to keep up those high standards with significant losses of some big time talents. The UVa-Tech game I went to last April saw C Steve Domecus absolutely dominate, and that kind of performance will be sorely missed. The ultra-smooth and blinding fast Austin Wates’ exodus is another significant blow and expected power-stick Buddy Sosnoskie decided to transfer during the off-season. The Gobblers lost just four pitchers off last year’s squad, but those four (Jesse Hahn, Justin Wright, Ben Rowen and Mathew Price) accounted for 316 innings of work and all earned post-season accolades. Zonk! This will certainly be a rebuilding season in Blacksburg… not that coach Hughes hasn’t pulled some rabbits out of his hat before though.

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Schedule Note:

A good slate for rebuilding around.

Normally I might chastise a national program that has a non-conference slate like this, but with the new faces that are coming to campus this spring, coach Hughes will have some time to gel his team together as a single game with Coastal Carolina on the opening weekend will be the only arduous test. The month of May will see the Hokies sleep in their own beds with James Madison, Clemson and Georgia Tech coming to town for the last three weekends.

 

COMMENTS:

February 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm
Michael McGill says:

Thank you thank you thank you ! I have looked for cb previews since Jan.11 there are none well okay one cbi has some if you want to call it that. Have you ever thought of printing a magazine myself and friends would buy it.