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ACC Tiered Conference Preview - Contenders

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Four teams who figure to lead the pack in 2019, including one that we know pretty well

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

The 2018 MLB Draft saw a sizeable amount of top ACC talent head off to the pros. Clemson, Duke, and NC State were among the teams that took the heaviest losses, but even here on the Flats we saw All-everything catcher Joey Bart drafted by the Giants with the #2 overall pick. These heavy losses will undoubtedly cause a shakeup in the ACC standings in 2019, so today we start by looking at the likeliest candidates to hoist the trophy on May 26th in Durham.

Florida State

The discussion of 2019 contenders has to start with the 2018 champs. Florida State went on an incredible run in Durham last year, toppling Virginia, NC State, Clemson, and Louisville to win their seventh conference title, third most all time. The ‘Noles lost All-Americans Cal Raleigh and Jackson Leuck, but return star Drew Mendoza at third base as well as weekend rotation staples Drew Parrish and CJ Van Eyck, who both had sub-3 ERAs in 2018. Mike Martin brought in an outstanding recruiting class for his 40th and final year at the helm, featuring no fewer than six players who were drafted and chose to come to school. The class is ranked fourth overall by Perfect Game and is led by shortstop Nander de Sedas, who is poised to be a star. He is my preseason pick for Rookie of the Year. FSU looks to have the talent to contend for the title this year, and finally get Mike Martin his elusive national championship.

Louisville

The Cardinals started hot in 2018, jumping out to 14-0 overall before cooling off a little to finish at 45-19, 18-12 in the ACC. They were projected to fall back to the pack a little after an outstanding 2017, but exceeded preseason expectations. The Cardinals return a ton in the field, with four starters returning who each hit over .300 in 2018 and several more guys who saw lots of time last year back as well. On the mound they bring back everyone except ace Adam Wolf and closer Sam Bordner, but great depth combined with Perfect Game’s number three recruiting class mean that Louisville will have an embarrassment of riches on the mound in 2019. They should host a regional and be an Omaha contender.

North Carolina

The defending Coastal Division champions look poised for another strong year in 2019. Despite losing 9 guys to the draft, the Heels bring back Gianluca Dilatri and Austin Bergner to their weekend rotation and return leading hitters Michael Busch and Ike Freeman. Behind those stars, the Heels have some question marks heading into the season. The third weekend starter is still up in the air, and Mike Fox’s crew will need young hitters like Ashton McGee, Brandon Martorano, and Dylan Harris to step up because of the heavy losses suffered from their starters in the field. They bring in a deep freshman class ranked sixteenth by Perfect Game and headlined by RHP Max Alba and OF Cameran Brantley, and when it’s all said and done will probably be hosting a regional in May as usual.

Georgia Tech

Yep. I’m drinking ALL of the Kool-Aid heading into this year. This team returns everyone who saw meaningful innings on the mound last year save reliever Jared Datoc, and brings back seven of nine starting hitters. Yes, Joey Bart and Wade Bailey are big losses, but Kyle McCann can slide over from DH/1B to catcher this spring and Luke Waddell is my breakout candidate as the likely second base starter. If Baron Radcliff has matured at the plate, he too could have a big 2019. Transfer P Amos Willingham and freshman P Luke Bartnicki are the impact additions, and Bartnicki especially could see important innings straight out of the gate. Losing Reese Olson and Kendall Simmons to big league contracts hurts, but a small recruiting class isn’t a bad thing with how much Tech returns. If Danny Hall’s squad can find more consistency in the bullpen and in the outfield, it could be a special year.