Overview

The 2015 season was a year of change for ACC baseball fans. Maryland left for the Big 10 but the ACC added Louisville to stay at 14 teams. Louisville has been a perennial power the last 10 years and didn’t disappoint, bringing home the regular season ACC title and earning their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

The season was also historic for the conference, earning seven bids to the NCAA Tournament and two to the College World Series in Omaha. Even though the ACC is top loaded with many perennial contenders and traditional powerhouses, the conference had not won a national championship since 1955. Many thought Virginia was poised for a title run before the season after reaching the College World Series final in 2014, but the Cavaliers struggled early on in conference play due to injuries. Brian O’Connor’s club needed a series win at North Carolina to even make the ACC Tournament. After roughing out a 2-1 win in the series opener, the Cavaliers won their next three games to sneak into the Lake Elsinore regional as a number three seed. The club caught fire at the right time, sweeping their way through the regional and super regional to earn a ticket to the College World Series. There, they defeated Arkansas and won two out of three against Florida to set up a rematch with Vanderbilt in the College World Series final. Virginia lost the first game of the best of three series and many experts counted them out like they had all season long. However, the Cavaliers had other plans and rallied for back-to-back close victories over the defending champions, clinching the first national championship in school history.

2015 Standings

Atlantic

  1. *Louisville (47-18, 25-5)
  2. Notre Dame (37-23, 17-13)
  3. *Florida State (44-21, 17-13)
  4. Clemson (32-29, 16-13)
  5. NC State (36-23, 15-14)
  6. Wake Forest (27-26, 12-18)
  7. Boston College (27-27, 19-19)

Coastal

  1. Miami (50-16, 22-8)
  2. Virginia (42-23, 15-15)
  3. North Carolina (34-24, 13-16)
  4. Virginia Tech (27-27, 13-16)
  5. Georgia Tech (32-23, 13-17)
  6. Duke (31-22, 10-19)
  7. Pittsburgh (20-32, 9-21)

*ACC Regular Season Champion

*ACC Tournament Champion

2016 Preseason Rankings

D1baseball.com – #2 Louisville, #6 Miami, #10 NC State, #13 Virginia, #16 North Carolina, #20 Florida State

Baseball America – #2 Louisville, #4 Virginia, #6 Miami, #17 Florida State, #19 NC State

Perfect Game – #2 Louisville, #9 Virginia, #11 Miami, #13 NC State, #20 Florida State, #22 North Carolina, #24 Notre Dame

NCBWA – #2 Louisville, #6 Miami, #8 Virginia, #14 Florida State, #20 NC State, #21 North Carolina

2016 Predictions

Atlantic

  1. Louisville
  2. NC State
  3. Florida State
  4. Notre Dame
  5. Clemson
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College

Coastal

  1. Miami
  2. Virginia
  3. North Carolina
  4. Duke
  5. Georgia Tech
  6. Pittsburgh
  7. Virginia Tech

Regional Teams (8): Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia

Super Regional Teams (2): Louisville, Miami

College World Series Teams (2): Louisville, Miami

Player of the Year: Corey Ray, OF, Louisville. The junior from Chicago hit .322 with 11 home runs and 34 steals for the Cardinals last season. He’s the number five 2016 MLB Draft prospect (top position player) according to MLB.com with plus speed and other offensive tools. Expect a big year from him and serious consideration for national player of the year awards.

Pitcher of the Year: Connor Jones, RHP, Virginia. Jones is a pitcher with a plus fastball that has experience in Omaha. He has an above-average slider, but could work on his curve. If Virginia returns to Omaha for the third consecutive season, Jones will carry them on his right shoulder. He was especially clutch down the stretch last season, going 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA and a .214 batting average against in his last nine starts.

Preseason Analysis and Headlines

  • It’s tough to pick against Virginia to advance to their third consecutive College World Series, but the Cavaliers lack experience in their rotation behind Connor Jones and return seven starters from last year’s lineup that ranked 160th nationally in scoring and 149th in on-base percentage. They will have a nice middle of the order with Pavin Smith, Daniel Pinero, and Matt Thaiss, who all hit above .300 last year and combined for 23 HR. I think they will need excellent debut seasons from freshmen 3B Ryan Karstetter and OF Doak Dozier to advance past a regional when Jones isn’t on the mound.
  • Louisville is the clear favorite for the regular season and tournament championships. Kyle Funkhouser looks to rebound from a few rough outings down the stretch and surprised many when he turned down the Dodgers’ $1.5 million-plus offer after he was selected 35th overall in last June’s draft. LHP Brendan McKay is one of the better Saturday arms in the country and proved he could play on the big stage when he went 9-3 with a 1.77 ERA as a freshman over 96 2/3 innings. Corey Ray anchors the line-up with power and speed, but he has plenty of offensive firepower around him with Nick Solak, Logan Taylor and McKay, one of the best two-way players in the country.
  • Miami will seriously challenge Louisville in a very top-heavy ACC. I think the ‘Canes will return to Omaha behind the power bat of Zack Collins (.302/.445/.587 with 15 HR), the speed of Christopher Barr (.306 with 14 SB), and the outfield bats of Jacob Heyward, Carl Chester, and Willie Abreu. Heyward is the younger brother of MLB All-Star outfielder Jason Heyward and hit .327 with 4 HR and 7 SB in his sophomore season last year. On the mound, the Canes have senior leadership in LHP Thomas Woodrey, who went 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 103 innings last year. They will need to fill the other two spots in the rotation, but have a promising freshman arm in Andrew Cabezas and plenty of stability in the bullpen with Bryan Garcia, who notched 10 saves and a 2.50 in 39 2/3 innings in 2015.
  • NC State is a trendy pick this year and rank as high as #10 in the preseason rankings. The primary reason for their high ranking is an experienced rotation in Brian Brown, Johnny Piedmonte, and Joe O’Donnell. All three pitchers threw at least 49 innings last year and had sub-3.30 ERAs. One area of weakness for the Wolfpack is at the plate, but they have a potential star in Preston Palmeiro, the son of MLB great Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro hit 7 HR with 49 RBI and a .305 average last season and will give stability to a lineup that lost its leader in nearly every offensive category in Logan Ratledge.
  • North Carolina looks to bounce back from an inconsistent 2015 season and return a top offensive weapon in Tyler Ramirez (.285 with 10 HR, 40 RBI and 18 SB). The X-factor is Tyler Lynn, a transfer from Chattahoochee Valley CC in Alabama who impressed in the fall and shows power to all fields. On the mound, the Tar Heels return two key starters in Zac Gallen and J.B. Bukauskas. Gallen went 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 84 innings last year.
  • Florida State needs to replace D.J. Stewart offensively and benefited from timely hitting last season. Their rotation is shaky after Mike Compton (3.55 ERA in 71 innings) and Drew Carlton (4.04 ERA in 71 1/3 innings).
  • Clemson is an interesting program to watch after they fired their legendary coach Jack Leggett after 22 seasons despite a .665 winning percentage.
  • Duke has one of the most experienced weekend rotations in the country, centered around RHP Bailey Clark who had a 2.95 ERA last season. RHP Brian McAffee will make an immediate impact as a graduate transfer from Cornell and is coming off a 5-2 season with a 1.77 ERA. The Blue Devil’s stability in the rotation could carry them to their first regional appearance under Chris Pollard.
  • Notre Dame returns with one of the best middle infields in college baseball in All-Americans Cavan Biggio and Lane Richards. The Fighting Irish are on a mission to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke in their first year in the ACC.
  • Georgia Tech is a possible tournament team, but the Yellow Jackets strike out plenty and will need a healthy season from sophomore Kel Johnson, who hit .298 with 10 HRs last year but a nagging ankle injury hampered him for most of last season.

About The Author

Sam Bellestri

Sam is a lifelong Detroit sports fan and is a senior at the University of Alabama. He primarily covers college baseball and the Detroit Tigers. Follow him on Twitter @sbellestri.

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