The ACC is annually one of the deepest college baseball leagues in the country, routinely sending eight or nine teams to the tournament and multiple teams to Omaha. These teams may make up my projected second tier for this season, but they all have the pieces to not just make the tournament, but even find themselves among the lucky eight still playing in the College World Series.
Clemson, like Florida State, had an excellent 2018 regular season but fell short in a regional on their home field. While the Tigers lineup is annually among the nation’s best, they look poised to take a step back in 2019 with the departures of Seth Beer (and thus no more so-called “Beer Runs”), Chris Williams, Patrick Cromwell, and others. SS Logan Davidson returns after hitting 15 homers in 2018, and C Kyle Wilkie is back after hitting .324 last year. On the mound, Clemson returns weekend starters Jacob Hennessy and Brooks Crawford, but lost projected Friday starter Spencer Strider for the year to an injury. Look for freshman pitchers Justin Wrobleski and Michael Green to be among the arms that step up in his place.
The Blue Devils come into the season in a similar place roster-wise as Clemson. They lost a lot from a lineup that took the team to its first ever Super Regional, but return a sizeable amount of their pitching staff. Replacing Max Miller, Griffin Conine, Zach Cone, and others will be a challenge for Duke in 2019, but DH Chris Crabtree, who hit .500 in 5 games at the athens Regional last year, leads the group of returners. On the mound, Duke brings back star Graeme Stinson, who had a 1.89 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 62 innings of work, and he will likely be joined in the weekend rotation by Adam Laskey and Brice Jarvis, although freshman Cooper Stinson (Graeme’s brother) could see time. Duke is going to surprise some people in 2019 if they can answer the questions they have in their lineup.
The Hurricanes had one of the youngest teams in the league last year, and they went 28-26 and missed the NCAA Tournament. With more experience, Miami may have been able to improve on the 11-12 non-conference record that probably cost them a tournament bid. The most notable departure for the Canes this offseason was head coach Jim Morris, who retired after 25 years at the helm. Despite their youth, they also lost a couple of key pitchers in Jeb Bargfeldt and Andrew Cabezas. In the field, they return freshman All-American SS Freddy Zamora and several other key pieces as well. If the Hurricanes can adapt to a new coach and answer questions at the top of their weekend rotation, a return to the NCAA tournament is likely.
Elliot Avent’s squad is one of the tougher teams in the league to peg in 2019. They return C Andrew Bailey, who hit .321 with 13 longballs last year and SS Will Wilson, who hit .307 with 15 dingers. Those two and 1B Evan Edwards figure to be the heart and soul of the lineup for the Pack this year. Kent Klyman pitched to a 2.34 ERA in 61.2 innings last season and will probably take one of the vacant weekend rotation spots. After Klyman, NC State has a group of unproven young pitchers like Reid Johnson and Dalton Feeney, but also adds five transfers to the staff this year who could have an immediate impact. NC State also brings in Jonny Butler, a highly touted JUCO transfer who could start right away in the outfield. These new faces will play a big part in deciding whether NC State has a successful 2019 campaign.
The Cavaliers are usually one of the programs in this league contending for a bid to Omaha, but they missed the NCAA tournament in 2018 after finishing 29-25, including a disappointing 12-18 mark in the ACC. UVA could be a very one-dimensional team in 2019 with the bevy of arms they have returning, in addition to bringing in some of the best freshman pitchers in the country. Bobby Nicholson and Andrew Abbott headline the rotation, and freshman Mike Vasil is in Charlottesville after withdrawing his name from draft consideration. Some projections had him going as high as the first round. Look for Brandon Neeck and Grant Donohue to also be among UVA’s top pitchers. In the field, UVA returns less. SS Tanner Morris is back after hitting .298 last year and Nate Eickhoff (.290) also returns, but those two combined for only five home runs last season and a similar lack of power is evident in other parts of the lineup as well.