Thursday, March 4, 2010

ACC baseball preview, part 2

In which we continue peering into the crystal ball for the sake of familiarizing you with the competition that stands in the way of a repeat ACC championship.

Georgia Tech

Last season: Made ACC tournament; lost in NCAA regionals
Record: 38-19-1 (17-10-1, 4th in ACC)
Return: 71% of ACC starts, 88% of total innings pitched
Names to know: SP Deck McGuire, 1B Tony Plagman, SS Derek Dietrich

The Yellow Jackets were thought to be one of the prime contenders for the ACC crown, but that went away last weekend when they were upset on Sunday by Xavier at home. Didn't it?

Or not. Xavier, I'd remind you, was a tournament team, and losing that game doesn't stop GT from being as stacked as they are. The most remarkable stat is that they return almost 90% of their IP from last year - in fact, of all the players that ever took the hill for any amount of time, GT lost just one. That means they'll need to find a third weekend starter, but they could put a crippled zebra on the mound on Sundays and still have about as solid a rotation as any in the league.

Most of that has to do with Deck McGuire, a tall, lanky right-hander and the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year. McGuire is an absolute horse - one of only two pitchers in the league to top 100 innings pitched last year. Second starter Brandon Cumpton wasn't especially inspiring last season, but he's begun 2010 in lights-out mode and gives the Jackets a nasty one-two punch on the mound. Both of them can touch the mid-90s with their fastball when it's on.

Tech lost a big bat or two over the offseason, but any questions about their hitting should be pretty well dispelled by now given the hurt they've put on opposing pitchers. Tony Plagman is the best returning hitter; 3rd in the ACC in RBI last year, he's already got 10 this year - which puts him fourth among his teammates. Yikes. No doubt about it - the series with these guys is going to be epic.


Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 27-26 (10-20, 10th in ACC)
Return: 24% of ACC starts, 75% of total innings pitched
Names to know: 2B David Poutier, OF Brandon Padula, RP Dan Gentzler

Here are some words sure to warm the heart of any Cavalier fan: Maryland sucks. No beating around the bush about it. The Terps were lousy last year, which caused a coaching change and a lot of transfers. New coach Erik Bakich installed a "So what?" mantra, meant for use when things don't go Maryland's way. One guesses that mantra has been getting a lot of use, because the list of teams the Terrapins have already lost to in 2010 is long and thoroughly undistinguished. VMI. Two out of three to Delaware (one of them ending up 17-3.) A sweep at the hands of FIU. It's going to be a really ugly season in College Park.

Making things worse is the need to replace almost the whole batting lineup, thanks to graduation, the draft, and the aforementioned transfers. Maryland got hit hard here. One returning bright spot is middle infielder David Poutier (yes, Robert's elder brother, so you know he's got the genes.) Transfer Brandon Padula, from West Virginia, is hitting .538 so far, which is, y'know, pretty good. If anyone could drive him in it'd be better, but Maryland lost just about everyone who had any power, and they'll be hoping to score mostly with station-to-station ball.

They do return most of their pitching, but most of that pitching stank last year. Of the three most common weekend starters (and they tried a lot of different folks on the mound, hoping to find one that could retire any batters) none of them managed an ERA lower than 5.50, and the only one who came close was a senior. Despite all that turnover in the field, Maryland should actually be able to push runs across the plate, but not at a rate fast enough to make up for their ungodly pitching. If they do make it to the 9th with a lead, closer Dan Gentzler actually is one of the better ones in the league, but he's only in charge of one inning.

Bottom line here: if Maryland wins more than five games in ACC play, I'll be surprised, and if we don't sweep them, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Despite cramming Towson into every nook and cranny on their schedule (they just beat Towson yesterday and have them twice more on future weekdays) it actually wouldn't be a shocker if Maryland failed to win 15 all year.


Last season: Made ACC tournament; lost in NCAA regionals
Record: 38-22 (17-12, 5th in ACC)
Return: 51% of ACC starts; 74% of total innings pitched
Names to know: C Yasmani Grandal, SP Chris Hernandez

One of the consequences of an upstart like UVA moving into the elite ranks of the conference is that someone has to get edged downwards to make room. That someone is Miami. The Hurricanes are one of the titans of college baseball, but they looked awfully mortal last year and they find themselves with a lot of holes to fill for this year.

Miami does return a full set of weekend starters, but they'll have to improve. Chris Hernandez looks ready to take a big step forward this year, but Iden Nazario started on the hill in every series and ended up with an ERA north of 7. Their batterymate Yasmani Grandal should be the ACC's top catcher this year.

Miami was surprisingly light-hitting last year; not a single Hurricane position player made first-team honors in the ACC (and the only player who did, superstud closer Kyle Bellamy, is now on the fast track in the White Sox orgs.) And this year, they'll be using a lot of new starters in the field, some of them freshmen. There's bound to be some bumps in the road for the Hurricanes this year - they've already hit one, in fact, in the form of a loss to Manhattan. (!) Baseball America has them holding steady ranked at #16, but this year, the Hurricanes just aren't one of the elite and should end up with another middle-of-the-pack showing in the ACC.

North Carolina

Last season: Made ACC tournament; lost in College World Series
Record: 48-18 (19-10, 2nd in ACC)
Return: 50% of ACC starts; 46% of total innings pitched
Names to know: LF Ben Bunting, 2B Levi Michael, SP Matt Harvey

If we're occupying Miami's spot atop the ACC, UNC has given theirs up to Georgia Tech. UNC was a fellow Omaha visitor last year, and in fact is working on a four-year streak of trips to the CWS, but that could very well end this year. Losing to Maine (what is it with ACCers losing to crappy northern teams they're supposed to be sweeping?) was a harbinger of rougher waters for the Heels.

Like Miami, UNC has a pile of position players to replace and will be going with freshmen for a lot of those spots. Of their top five hitters in 2009 - the only five to hit better than .300 in a qualifying number of at-bats - only one returns (Bunting, and he was the one with no power whatsoever.) Nobody who earned any kind of all-conference honors returns, in fact, including POTY Dustin Ackley.

Matt Harvey should provide some stability in the rotation, and Patrick Johnson has also had a nice start to the season (even though he took the Maine loss - but you can blame the fielding and the lack of run support.) UNC's pitching isn't stellar, but it's good enough. But the bats - oy. UNC is vulnerable this season. Most good ACC teams will probably have the pitching to take two of three from them, and UNC will get back to the ACC tournament largely by feasting on the Marylands and Wakes of the world.

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