ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
By Bill Ballew
BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES
The Eagles soared in 2016 when they came within a win of reaching the College World Series while going 35-22. That represented the most victories in a campaign for Boston College since 2005, when the program established the single-season mark with 37. Last year was a little more difficult for head coach Mike Gambino’s team, which went 25-28. To their credit, the Eagles finished with 11 wins despite opening the ACC slate with a 1-14 mark. Gambino believes if his club can pitch better and become more consistent with the little things that BC can build on last year’s 10-5 finish in the conference regular season.
Five starters from 2017 are back in the Eagles’ everyday lineup, led by junior second baseman Jake Alu (.331/.384/.388), who paced all returning players in batting average and 12 stolen bases while adding 23 RBIs. Junior catcher Gian Martellini (.302/.364/.474) provides much of the team’s punch after pacing returning players in slugging percentage, hits (58), runs (28), doubles (14), triples (2), home runs (5), RBIs (35) and total bases (91). Senior shortstop Jake Palomaki (.281/.448/.391) tied Martellini with 28 runs scored. Sophomore third baseman Brian Dempsey (.261/.348/.275) was second on the team with seven sacrifice hits and fifth in on-base percentage. Senior first baseman Mitch Bigras (.208/.300/.270) was third on the team with 28 RBIs and did not allow a run in five relief outings, covering 5.1 innings.
The Eagles also have their entire weekend rotation back but will need a better overall performance after the staff ranked 12th in the ACC with a 5.32 ERA. Senior righthander Jacob Stevens (5-7, 5.10 ERA) is the leading candidate to start on Friday nights after topping the team with 83 innings pitched and 73 strikeouts a year ago. Junior lefthander Dan Matzdorf (4-6, 5.06 ERA) racked up 80 innings while making 15 starts. Senior righty Brian Rapp (3-3, 4.90 ERA) rounds out the rotation after allowing only 68 hits in 71.2 innings in 2017. Senior southpaw Carmen Giampetruzzi (1-1, 3.66 ERA) and junior righthander John Witkowski (1-1, 6.06 ERA) headline the bullpen. Gambino also has high hopes for a pair of newcomers that missed last year due to Tommy John surgery–junior lefthander Brendan Spagnuolo, a transfer from Vanderbilt, and redshirt freshman Joey Walsh.
Prediction: Sixth in the Atlantic Division
Clemson was dominant long before the rest of the ACC decided college baseball was cool. Legendary head coach Bill Wilhelm built the tradition that was continued for 22 years by fellow Hall of Famer Jack Leggett. The Tigers have advanced to an NCAA Regional in 29 of the past 30 campaigns and hosted one in each of the past two seasons under head coach Monte Lee, who received some flirtatious interest from rival South Carolina over the summer before he signed a contract extension with Clemson. While the Tigers have not advanced to a super regional in seven years, Lee has one of the conference’s most passionate fan bases excited about the prospects for greater success.
The Tigers went 42-21 last season yet struggled down the stretch before being eliminated by Vanderbilt in the Clemson Regional. This year’s team should be able to pound opposing pitchers with the return of junior first baseman/outfielder Seth Beer (.298/.478/.606), one of the most prolific hitters in the game. Beer may not have repeated his stellar freshman campaign in 2017 but he still led the team with 16 homers, 53 RBIs and 132 total bases. Senior catcher Chris Williams (.261/.320/.572) had 14 home runs and 51 RBIs while making a seamless transition behind the plate. Sophomore shortstop Logan Davidson (.286/.388/.473) contributed 12 roundtrippers, 41 RBIs and 10 steals. Clemson also welcomes back redshirt junior third baseman Grayson Byrd (.284/.345/.344) and junior second baseman Jordan Greene (.263/.332/.308), who had 20 and 18 RBIs, respectively. The outfield will be revamped, with freshman Kier Meredith among those in the running for playing time.
Clemson also must replace its entire starting rotation from a year ago. Fortunately, the bullpen should be a strength, led by junior righthander reliever Ryley Gilliam (3-1, 2.57 ERA). Gilliam has a mid-90s fastball and registered four saves last year before serving as the closer on Team USA’s Collegiate club last summer. Sophomore lefthander Jacob Hennessy (2-1, 3.82 ERA, 3 saves) and junior righthander Brooks Crawford (4-0, 1.23 ERA) should also play prominent roles. Among those impressing during fall practice were lefthander Jake Higginbotham, who was redshirted last year due to an injury, and sophomore lefthander Mitchell Miller. Newcomers include righthander Ryan Miller, a transfer from the State College of Florida, and freshman righthander Spencer Strider.
Prediction: Third in the Atlantic Division
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
After building a consistent program at Appalachian State, head coach Chris Pollard has led Duke to four straight seasons with at least 30 wins since taking over the Blue Devils’ program six years ago. Included in that run is the team’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 55 years, in 2016, and only their sixth since the program debuted in 1889. Last season the Blue Devils went 30-28 overall, including victories over Clemson and Virginia in the ACC Tournament, and 12-18 in the Coastal Division of the ACC while moving their home games to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a Triple-A facility. With momentum on Duke’s side, Pollard has several returning players in 2018 who could make this season one of the more interesting in program annals.
The Blue Devils are a chic pre-season pick to reside in the national rankings this year thanks to the return of 22 letterwinners, including eight starting position players. Junior outfielders Griffin Conine (.298/.546/.425) and Jimmy Herron (.326/.474/.412) swept Most Valuable Player honors in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game this past summer. The son of former big leaguer Jeff Conine, Griffin possesses outstanding power and should emerge as one of the ACC’s most prolific hitters after clubbing 13 home runs and 11 doubles and posting 56 RBIs last year. Herron, meanwhile, topped the team in batting average while hitting leadoff and added five homers, 17 doubles, 39 RBIs and 17 steals. Completing the garden is junior center fielder Kennie Taylor (.314/.496/.383), who scored 31 runs and drove in 22 last year, and junior shortstop Zack Kone (.291/.359/.345), who had 46 runs, 28 RBIs and 12 steals. Other returning starters include senior third baseman Jack Labosky (.275/.464/.399, 6 homers, 43 RBIs), senior second baseman Max Miller (.237/.299/.363), junior catcher Chris Proctor (.255/.309/.305) and senior designated hitter Michael Smiciklas (.302/.436/.385).
On the mound, Duke returns 68 percent of its innings pitched from last season, led by senior lefthander Mitch Stallings (4-3, 4.50 ERA) and senior righty Ryan Day (4-3, 3.30 ERA). Sophomore lefthanders Adam Laskey (4-5, 6.83 ERA) and Graeme Stinson (3-1, 6.67 ERA), senior southpaw Chris McGrath (1-2, 4.12 ERA), senior righty Jack Labosky (2-4, 4.50 ERA), and sophomore righthander Matt Mervis (2-2, 7.83 ERA) all logged more than 20 innings for Duke a season ago. Freshman righthanders Bryce Jarvis and Josh Nifong are among the newcomers who could see early activity.
Prediction: Second in the Coastal Division
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
After an inconsistent start to the 2017 slate, the Seminoles found their rhythm down the stretch and parlayed their improved play into another ACC Tournament title and College World Series appearance, the 16th in the storied career of head coach Mike Martin. Even though Florida State has yet to emerge from Omaha with the game’s top prize under Martin’s direction, the 74-year-old leader remains one of the premier masters of the dugout at the Division 1 level. The Seminoles have notched 40 consecutive seasons with at least 40 victories, by far the longest in college baseball. And taking one look at the 2018 roster, the only streak that may come to an end this spring is Martin’s long run without a national championship.
The Seminoles return their entire rotation from the 2017 campaign that helped Florida State rank fourth in the ACC with a staff ERA of 3.75. Junior lefthander Tyler Holton (10-3, 2.34 ERA) placed second in the conference last year in victories and strikeouts (144) and is a leading candidate to earn conference pitcher of the year honors. The ‘Noles round out their weekend rotation with junior righthander Cole Sands (6-4, 5.40 ERA) and sophomore lefthander Drew Parrish (6-3, 4.52 ERA). Redshirt junior righthander Andrew Karp (2-3, 4.48 ERA) is a valuable swingman who started 12 of his 18 outings last spring. Redshirt senior righthander Will Zirzow (3-1, 2.58 ERA) started four of his 20 outings last year and allowed only 31 hits in 45.1 innings, which could lead to an increased role in 2018. Junior righty Cobi Johnson is back after redshirting last season, joining Clayton Kwiatkowski (2.45 ERA) and Jim Voyles (6.10 ERA). Freshman righthander CJ Van Eyk and lefties Shane Drohan and Austin Pollock have the ability to take the mound early and often in their collegiate careers.
The lineup is not as deep as the Seminole pitching staff but it does return junior catcher Cal Raleigh (.227/.330/.398), a strong defender who contributed nine home runs and 39 RBIs to the FSU cause. Sophomore corner infielder Drew Mendoza (.270/.400/.534) had 10 home runs and 33 RBIs, while junior left fielder Jackson Lueck (.318/.405/.507) led Florida State in batting average and hit nine home runs with 54 RBIs. Senior first baseman Rhett Aplin (.322/.434/.524) added six homers and 24 RBIs, and sophomore outfielder JC Flowers (.235/.359/.300) will look to build on his first collegiate campaign. Freshmen Cooper Swanson and Mike Salvatore will challenge for starting roles in the infield, while Reese Albert could emerge in the outfield as well as on the mound as a left-handed reliever.
Prediction: First in the Atlantic Division
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
For the first time since head coach Danny Hall arrived at Georgia Tech in 1995, the Yellow Jackets failed to finish a season with a winning record by going 27-28 overall, including 11-19 in the ACC, in 2017. Hall has led the Yellow Jackets to three NCAA tournament appearances in the last five years and has guided the program to three College World Series appearances, with the last coming in 2006. Chances are that last year’s showing will prove to be little more than a minor blemish on a program that consistently contends for conference championships and is always a threat to play deep into June.
Hall believes his Yellow Jackets can return to their aggressive ways by stinging the opposition with its potent lineup. Junior catcher Joey Bart (.296/.370/.575) is considered to be a potential first-round draft pick in June and is coming off a stellar showing in which he had 13 home runs, 13 doubles and 38 RBIs. Bart joins Georgia Tech’s best hitter from a year ago in senior second baseman Wade Bailey (.347/.420/.538), who paced the team in batting average, runs (63), hits (82), doubles (21), triples (3) and total bases (127) while hitting six home runs with 38 RBIs. Sophomore infielder Austin Wilhite (.338/.410/.434) was second in batting average while driving in 25 runs. Other returning starters include senior designated hitter/first baseman Kel Johnson (.269/.345/.482), who had 10 homers and 40 RBIs last spring, sophomore outfielder Chase Murray (.267/.292/.364), and sophomore catcher/first baseman Kyle McCann (.198/.383/.430). Redshirt sophomore first baseman/right-handed pitcher Tristin English, who hit at a .315 clip with 44 RBIs in 2016, is back as well after missing last season due to injury.
Sophomore righthander Xzavion Curry (6-4, 5.23 ERA) made a team-high 15 starts last year and needs to continue to make adjustments to lead Tech back to national prominence. Redshirt senior righthander Ben Schniederjans (2-4, 5.06 ERA) started nine of his 15 appearances last year while bouncing back from elbow surgery. Junior righthander Jake Lee (4-2, 6.10 ERA) made six starts in 16 outings in 2017. Senior righthander Jared Datoc (6-1, 3.77 ERA) worked 57.1 innings out of the bullpen, while junior righthander Micah Carpenter (0-3 2.56 ERA) limited opponents to a .244 batting average. Redshirt sophomore righthander Jonathon Hughes (1-2, 5.68 ERA) could see a more prominent role this year, while freshmen hurlers Jake Brace, Hugh Chapman and Brant Hunter could see early activity.
Prediction: Fifth in the Coastal Division
Posting a 53-12 record, the Cardinals reached the College World Series for the third time in five seasons last year after winning their eighth regular-season title in the last nine campaigns, a streak that dates to Louisville’s time in the Big East. Regardless of the competition, head coach Dan McDonnell has emerged as one of the most respected leaders in college baseball since he took the program’s reins in 2007. With the help of Roger Williams, one of the game’s premier pitching coaches, McDonnell has established Louisville as a force in the ACC as well as a perennial contender for a national championship thanks to well-balanced attacks, as evidenced by last year’s top pitching staff in the ACC with a 2.92 ERA and the third-best offense with a .288 batting average.
Of course, every team is different on an annual basis, and that will definitely be the case for the Cardinals. The offense lost two of the nation’s premier hitters in Brendan McKay and Drew Ellis as well as dynamic shortstop Devin Hairston. Louisville has talented position players but only three with significant experience. Junior center fielder Josh Stowers (.313/.422/.507) combines power and speed that led to 50 runs scored, 34 RBIs and 22 stolen bases last year. Junior second baseman Devin Mann (.268/.363/.434) added 44 RBIs and nine steals, while sophomore infielder Tyler Fitzgerald (.208/.303/.272) is expected to become the starting shortstop and lead a unit that will have to be sound defensively. Freshman catcher Zach Britton should move into the starting lineup in his first season, while outfielder Drew Campbell is projected to contribute after transferring from Olney Central College.
The pitching staff also suffered a few losses but should be in decent shape provided sophomore lefthander Nick Bennett (5-1, 3.18 ERA) builds on his impressive first season that saw him strike out 61 batters in 65 innings and receive Freshman All-America honors. Junior righthander Sam Bordner (2-0, 0.41 ERA) was near-perfect in 23 relief outings and was named a Third Team All-American by the NCBWA. Junior lefthander Adam Wolf (6-0, 2.18 ERA) also dominated out of the bullpen last year. The relief corps could be even deeper in 2018 with the emergence this fall of junior righthanders Riley Thompson (1-0, 4.02 ERA), a flame-thrower whose fastball has been clocked as high as 98 mph, and Bryan Hoeing (5.06 ERA). Newcomers to keep an eye on include righthanders Bobby Miller, Liam Jenkins and Austin Conway and lefties Reid Detmers and Michael Kirian.
Prediction: Fifth in the Atlantic Division
Despite putting together a strong performance near the end of the 2017 season, the Hurricanes failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 44 years, ending a run that began in 1973. Miami finished the campaign with a 31-27 record, including a 16-13 mark in the ACC, good for third in the Coastal Division. More change is on the horizon as head coach Jim Morris will head off into the sunset following the 2018 campaign and hand the program to long-time assistant Gino DeMare. Over the past 24 seasons, Morris has led the ‘Canes to 13 College World Series appearances and national championships in 1999 and 2001. He took Miami to Omaha in each of his first six campaigns in Boca Raton and nine of his first 11, and returned to the CWS in 2015 and 2016 while posting 50-win seasons. He will leave the program as he found it, as one of the best in the country, which could include another run at a national title in 2018.
The biggest challenge in making a serious run at a national championship this spring will involve improving an offense that ranked 289th in the country with a .231 batting average. The ‘Canes will lean heavily on versatile junior infielder Romy Gonzalez (.265/.344/.462) after he hit 11 home runs with 38 RBIs last year. Senior outfielder Michael Burns (.247/.322/.379, 32 RBIs) also has extensive starting experience, while redshirt freshman Mike Amditis, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle, should handle the catching duties. The remaining spots should be occupied by newcomers. Outfielder Danny Reyes, a transfer from Broward Junior College who spent his freshman year at Florida, could be a middle-of-the-lineup bat. Infielder Raymond Gil was a 37th-round draft pick of the Oakland A’s, and first baseman Alex Toral put together a strong showing in the fall. Willie Escala, Freddie Zamora, Dylan Cloonan, and Troy Jenkins also figure into the mix.
The Hurricanes return their entire starting pitching staff from a year ago, led by senior All-ACC lefthander Jeb Bargfeldt (7-3, 2.28 ERA). Also returning are sophomore righthanders Greg Veliz (6-4, 3.39 ERA), who had 66 strikeouts in 61.1 innings, and Evan McKendry (4-2, 4.08 ERA). Junior righthander Andrew Cabezas (5-3, 2.14 ERA) is coming off an impressive campaign that could lead to a closing role this spring. Frankie Bartow (1-3, 3.60 ERA) saved 12 games in 2017, and redshirt senior sidearmer Cooper Hammond should play a larger role after pitching only five games last season. Freshman righthander Chris McMahon, who has a mid-90s fastball, enters the season as a leading candidate to start. Another freshman, Dylan Dederman, could contribute early due to his ability to throw three pitches for strikes.
Prediction: Third in the Coastal Division
Jim Morris podcast on College Baseball Now
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
After an uncharacteristic two-year absence from the NCAA tournament, head coach Mike Fox’s team looked to be on a mission throughout the 2017 season. The Tar Heels posted a 49-14 overall record, including an impressive 23-7 mark in the ACC, advanced to the ACC Tournament championship game before losing to Florida State, and then were upset by Davidson in the Chapel Hill Regional. As shocking as the end of last season may have been, North Carolina has accumulated as much talent as the program has had since advancing to the College World Series six times in eight seasons, from 2006-13.
The Tar Heels welcome back six starting position players from 2017, including sophomore left fielder Ashton McGee (.327/.417/.484), the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year who had seven home runs and 46 RBIs last season. McGee is flanked in the opposite outfield corner by Brandon Riley (.317/.406/.496) after he posted a stellar all-around performance that featured 46 runs, seven homers, 52 RBIs and 10 steals. Junior Cody Roberts (.268/.371/.374) is back behind the plate after driving in 27 runs last spring. Junior third baseman Kyle Datres (.265/.391/.422) hit seven home runs with 51 RBIs in 2017, while senior second baseman Zack Gahagan (.243/.366/.386) showed his power was back during fall practice after battling through an injury-riddled junior slate. Sophomore first baseman Michael Busch (.215/.349/.341) and sophomore shortstop Ike Freeman (.174/.286/.304) also return. The Tar Heels also have center fielder Dylan Enwiller, a transfer from Yavapai Community College.
Pacing the pitching staff will be sophomore righthander Tyler Baum (7-0, 2.57 ERA), who will step into the weekend rotation after he served as the Tar Heels’ midweek starter last year. Baum proved capable of making the jump when he blossomed this past summer in the Cape Cod League and paced the circuit in wins (5), ERA (2.72) and strikeouts (41). Sophomore righthander Luca Dalatri (7-3, 3.34 ERA) had 85 strikeouts versus only 19 walks in 15 starts last year. Sophomore righthander Austin Bergner (4-2, 3.00 ERA) is another candidate for the weekend rotation while hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. The bullpen is led by redshirt sophomore righty Josh Hiatt (4-2, 1.90 ERA), who had 13 saves a year ago, and senior Brett Daniels (5-0, 2.68 ERA). Other stellar pitchers include junior righthander Cole Aker (1-1, 2.12 ERA), Rodney Hutchinson (7-4, 4.14 ERA), and Hansen Butler, the team’s closer in 2016 who missed last season due to injury. Cooper Criswell from Southern Union State Community College and freshman hurlers Joey Lancellotti, Ben Casparius, and Aaron Bradenburg have exceptional potential.
Prediction: First in the Coastal Division
NORTH CAROLINA STATE WOLFPACK
In 2017, the Wolfpack overcame an inconsistent start to win their final four series of the regular season and finish in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a 16-14 record. The team proceeded to go 36-25 overall and was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the final game of a regional for the third consecutive season. While NC State fans might believe their team has been jinxed of late, head coach Elliott Avent has elevated the program to one of the most consistent in the ACC by winning at least 30 games in 20 of his 21 seasons in Raleigh. Avent also has led the ‘Pack to 16 regionals, four super regionals, and the 2013 College World Series and does not intend on resting on his laurels any time in the near future.
Avent could see his team advance past the regional round this year thanks to an experienced team. The lineup has seven returning starters, beginning with a pair of sophomores who had stellar freshman seasons. Catcher Brad Debo (.335/.387/.493) led the Wolfpack in batting average and placed third with 43 RBIs. Shortstop Will Wilson (.300/.352/.471) is a plus defender with a strong arm who produced eight homers, 21 doubles and 48 RBIs last spring. Senior center fielder Josh McLain (.311/.352/.471) tied with Wilson for the team lead with 21 two-baggers. McLain is flanked by corner outfielders Brett Kinneman (.282/.372/.502), a junior who was second on the team with 10 home runs, and senior Brock Deatherage (.218/.304/.330). Seniors Stephen Pitarra (.265/.375/.323) and Shane Shepard (.184/.328/.327) will also contribute.
The offense should provide plenty support for a pitching staff that includes righthander Johnny Piedmonte (7-0, 2.77 ERA), a graduate student who led the team in ERA and had 42 strikeouts and 21 walks a year ago. Lefthander Brian Brown (4-3, 3.76 ERA) will return to the weekend rotation after he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning pitched in his 13 starts. Other returners include righthander Michael Bienlien (3-3, 4.66 ERA), who started 10 times in 18 outings, righthander Austin Staley (2-3, 3.59 ERA, 5 saves), and lefthander Kent Klyman (1-0, 2.16 ERA). Redshirt senior righthander Joe O’Donnell (4-0, 3.91 ERA) paced the team with seven saves and struck out 59 batters in 48.1 innings. Sophomore righthander Dalton Feeney (3-2, 2.53 ERA) had a solid freshman season but suffered an elbow injury during the fall.
Prediction: Second in the Atlantic Division
NOTRE DAME FIGHTIN’ IRISH
Notre Dame got off to a rough start in 2017. The team lost eight of its first nine games, including six straight to six different teams, and was 3-11 after getting swept at Clemson during the second weekend of March. To their credit, the Fightin’ Irish rallied to go 23-21 for the remainder of the campaign and concluded the slate with an overall mark of 26-32. They also went 10-20 to finish in last place in the Atlantic Division for the second straight season. While head coach Mike Aoki has done an excellent job of recruiting pitching, his program has reached regional play only once (2015) since 2006 and has had difficulty finding the same type of consistency in the uber-competitive ACC that the program had in the Big East.
That trend does not appear to be on the verge of ending in 2018, particularly since Notre Dame lost its top three pitchers from a year ago. Senior righthander Charlie Vorsheck (5-0, 2.88 ERA) started four of his 17 appearances last season but is expected to compete for a job in the weekend rotation. Lefthander Scott Tully (2-0, 3.71 ERA), a graduate student, is the only other returner with starting experience, having started five of his six outings in 2017. Sophomore lefthander Cameron Brown (1-0, 5.57 ERA, 21 innings), sophomore righty Patrick McDonald (0-0, 5.71 ERA), and junior righthander Matt Vierling (0-0, 8.74 ERA) are the only others who reached double digits in innings pitched last year. Seven pitchers are among the newcomers, including righthanders John Boyle and Brian Morrell and lefties Tommy Vail, Cole Kmet, and Tommy Sheehan.
Vierling (.330/.398/.549), in fact, is also the team’s top returning hitter after he had 20 doubles, seven homers and 42 RBIs in 2017. Providing solid support are senior outfielder Jake Johnson (.305/.401/.425), who had 24 RBIs last year, and junior second baseman Nick Podkul (.285/.386/.439), who swatted five home runs and drove in 20. Four other returning players have starting experience. That group includes junior infielder Cole Daily (.244/.315/.294), Daniel Jung (.223/.325/.337), junior outfielder Eric Gilgenbach (.333/.500/.608), and McDonald (.192/.218/.219), who plays the outfield in addition to pitching. Among the freshmen who should receive opportunities include John Arndorfer, Ryan Cole, Jared Miller, and Spencer Myers.
Prediction: Seventh in Atlantic Division
Joe Jordano took over the struggling Panthers in November 1997 and molded Pitt into a competitive program in the Big East. Over the past decade Jordano has become the winningest coach in program history as he enters the 2018 slate with more than 550 victories at the school. Success, however, has not been frequent since the Panthers moved to the ACC five years ago. Pitt has yet to earn a spot in the conference tournament but has flirted with the opportunity. In 2017, the Panthers split their first 42 games but won only two of their final nine to finish 23-30 overall and 9-21 in conference play.
Earning that first ACC Tournament bid will not be easy once again in 2018. The Panthers have holes in their weekend rotation, particularly after losing their top two pitchers from a year ago. The top most experienced candidates to fill the voids are sophomore righthander Dan Hammer (3-5, 5.03 ERA) and redshirt senior righthander Matt Pidich (4-5, 4.61 ERA). Hammer started 11 of his 16 appearances last year and was third on the team in strikeouts (51) and innings pitched (59). Pidich started nine of his 16 outings and struck out 48 batters in 56.2 innings. Sophomore righthander Chris Gomez (3-2, 4.41 ERA) started twice in 20 appearances and will receive a long look for a rotation role. Righthander Blair Calvo, a transfer from Eastern Florida Community College, and redshirt sophomore Derek West, who is coming back from injury, are possible starters as well. Sophomore righthander RJ Freure (4-1, 4.74 ERA) and junior righty Yasin Chentouf (0-1, 4.61 ERA) will contribute out of the bullpen.
Fortunately, given the uncertainties on the mound, the offense appears to be ahead of the pitching upon entering the slate. Sophomore second baseman Alex Amos (.304/.456/.348) led the team in batting average as well as with 40 runs scored last season. Redshirt senior outfielder Frank Maldonado (.281/.364/.423) was second in batting average while adding three home runs and 24 RBIs. Redshirt senior first baseman Caleb Perry (.278/,360/.450) tied for the team lead with seven home runs and drove in 47. Redshirt sophomore infielder David Yanni returns after missing last season due to injury. Redshirt junior Liam Sabino should contribute after transferring from Vanderbilt.
Prediction: Seventh in the Coastal Division
Virginia continues to be one of the most consistent programs in the country. Under head coach Brian O’Connor, the Cavaliers have not only won a national championship (2015), they also have reached the NCAA tournament every season for the past 14 years. O’Connor and his coaching staff are considered among the very best in the business, and their work environment is about to rise to a similar level with the completion this spring of an $18 million renovation of Davenport Field.
The Wahoos are coming off a 40-win season and an RPI of 19 that for some reason failed to earn them the opportunity to host a regional. Nevertheless, even though Virginia lost four key position players from last year’s team, including first-round draft picks Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley, O’Connor has several stellar returners, led by junior outfielder Jake McCarthy (.338/.425/.506), who is a candidate to lead off after stealing 27 bases last year while driving in 36 runs. Possessing outstanding speed and baseball instincts that could lead to his being a first-round draft pick in June, McCarthy has taken tremendous strides in his productivity over the past year, and O’Connor believes senior third baseman Nate Eikhoff (.278/.336/.357) is on the verge of making that same type of leap in offensive output from the left side of the plate. Junior outfielder Cameron Simmons (.352/.432/.563) was second on last year’s team in batting average as well as with 57 RBIs while hitting 14 doubles and nine home runs. Junior second baseman Andy Weber (.278/.349/.396) was second on the team with four triples and drove in 43 runs. Senior catcher Caleb Knight (.301/.474/.469) played better as the 2017 progressed and finished with 20 RBIs.
O’Conner is also confident that the Cavs have solid pitching depth. Junior lefthander Daniel Lynch (7-5, 5.00 ERA) and senior righthander Derek Casey (5-2, 3.79 ERA) will once again hold down two of the three weekend rotation spots. Freshman lefthander Andrew Abbott put together an impressive fall and is expected to join Lynch and Casey in the Cavaliers’ rotation this spring. Junior righthanders Chesdin Harrington (3-2, 2.41 ERA), Grant Donohue (1-0, 3.86 ERA), and Evan Sperling (3-3, 7.51 ERA) and senior lefthander Bennett Sousa (3-0, 4.09 ERA) will pitch meaningful innings. Two other freshmen expected to toe the rubber are righthander Griff McGarry and lefty Rob Adams.
Prediction: Third in the Coastal Division
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
The Hokies’ administration proved how committed it is to achieving success on the diamond when the school hired Maryland’s John Szefc last summer to replace Pat Mason, who resigned at the end of a 2017 campaign that saw Virginia Tech go 23-32 overall after an 8-1 start. The Hokies did not reach a regional under Mason after he replaced Pete Hughes in 2013. Szefc, who is reportedly being paid twice what Mason was, also will have an impressive ballpark to call home once the huge renovation of English Field is finished around the start of the 2018 campaign. The new AstroTurf infield is expected to slow the speed of balls on the ground, which should make the Hokies a more consistent defensive team.
Virginia Tech’s top returning player is Sam Fragile (.310/.372/.610), who hit 15 home runs with 63 RBIs while playing first base last year but look good across the diamond at third base during fall practice. The Hokies also welcome back two other big bats in designated hitter/left-handed pitcher Tom Stoffel (.342/.410/.563), who had eight homers and 49 RBIs to go with a 2.45 ERA, and redshirt junior second baseman Jack Owens (.358/.424/.504), who led the team in batting average and had 16 doubles and five long balls. Sophomore infielder JD Mundy (.232/.341/.414) and junior outfielder Stevie Mangrum (.284/.376/.527) started more than half the games last year and could see their roles increase. A trio of junior college transfers–catcher Luke Horanski (Cisco Junior College), infielder Nick Owens (St. John’s River State College), and center fielder Nick Menken (Iowa Western Community College) could see significant activity, as could freshman outfielder Darion Jacoby.
The Hokies should score more runs than they did in 2018, but their pitching will go a long way in determining how much improvement the team makes in Szefc’s first season. Senior righthander Connor Coward (5-4, 4.75 ERA) has the most experience among the returning arms. Redshirt senior righthander Andrew McDonald (3-3, 7.78 ERA) had 71 strikeouts in 59 innings but struggled otherwise. Redshirt sophomore Nic Enright missed all of last season due to injury but was a 19th-round draft pick of the New York Mets in 2015. Senior righthander Joey Sullivan (1-3, 5.55 ERA) had a team-high 30 appearances last year and has proven durable out of the bullpen. Freshmen will contribute on the bump as well, with lefties Ian Seymour and Ryan Okuda showing tremendous promise during fall practice.
Prediction: Sixth in the Coastal Division
WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
The Demon Deacons have enjoyed tremendous success over the past two seasons. In 2016 Wake Forest earned its first regional appearance in eight years and then posted a 43-20 mark in 2017 to reach a super regional for the first time since 1999 before falling to eventual national champion Florida in a hard-fought series. Head coach Tom Walter has done an amazing job of building a winner in his nine years in Winston-Salem. That includes last year’s opening of the new $14 million player development facility at David F. Couch Ballpark, which has received constant improvements since Walter’s arrival.
Walter’s teams have a reputation for being able to hit the ball with authority. The Deacons posted a team batting average of .308 last year while stroking 129 doubles and 106 home runs. Several of the big bashers, such as Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, and Ben Breazeale, have advanced to the next level but there should be plenty of firepower in the lineup. Wake will be counting on a pair of returning All-ACC players–junior third baseman Johnny Aiello (.328/.417/.643) and junior second baseman Jake Mueller (.345/.413/.430)–to lead the charge. Aiello is coming off a 2017 performance in which he had 17 doubles and 20 home runs with 53 RBIs despite striking out 76 times. Mueller contributed 16 doubles and 34 RBIs. Three other starters also return. Redshirt junior shortstop Bruce Steel (.264/.383/.533) went deep 13 times with 38 RBIs, senior right fielder Keegan Maronpot (.214/.318/.409) hit a dozen round-trippers, and junior catcher Logan Harvey (.263/.386/.362) is another multi-year starter who scored 43 runs in 2017. The strong freshman class will also contribute, including infielders Bobby Seymour and DJ Poteet, outfielders Michael Ludowig and Chris Lanzilli, and catcher Shane Muntz.
The Deacons’ pitching staff could be better than last year’s corps, thanks in part to the return of four of the team’s top eight hurlers from a season ago. Junior righthander Griffin Roberts (2-5, 2.19 ERA) had 80 strikeouts in 53.1 innings and eight saves in 2017 but is projected to make the move to the weekend rotation. Sophomore lefthander Carter Bach (2-0, 3.26 ERA) displayed tremendous progress over the offseason and is projected to pitch on Saturdays or Sundays. Walter is also expecting continued success from sophomore right-handed relievers Colin Peluse (5-1, 3.54 ERA) and Morgan McSweeney (5-1, 3.50 ERA). Redshirt senior righthander Chris Farish (5.89 ERA) is projected to be the Deacons’ closer. Among the freshmen that could see extended activity include Antonio Menendez and Jared Shuster.
Prediction: Fourth in the Atlantic Division