Wednesday, February 8, 2012

acc baseball preview, part 1

The weekend of the 17th-19th is a big deal.  On Friday the 17th, the baseball team kicks off its season in Myrtle Beach with a tourneyish game against Boston College.  (That is the team we skip these next two seasons in the ACC schedule, and no, this game won't count in the ACC standings.)  The following day, lacrosse is underway with the now-traditional season opener against Drexel.  And the lady swimmers will be in the midst of the ACC championships - in which, again, they are favored.  (Because I was a high school swimmer, every spring you're subjected to a few posts dedicated to swimming and diving.)

So the next two weeks will be a spring bonanza of sorts, as we move into that season of athletics.  We're very fortunate at UVA - whereas other blogs often divide the year into "football season" and "not football season" we have no shortage of excitement.

We'll fire up this spring bonanza with Part 1 of the ACC baseball preview.  You won't have to sit through a post on each team - this'll be a three-parter.


Last season:

Record: 17-33 (7-22)
ACC tournament: No
NCAA tournament: No

2012 schedule: Skips Virginia
Names to know: RF Matt McGovern, OF/P Andrew Lawrence, SS Anthony Melchionda

In even-numbered years, the team you skip on the schedule changes.  (Dunno how that'll work when Pittsburgh joins, but that's the way it is now.)  UVA missed out on two years of crappy-ass Wake Forest and now, just as Wake is improving, we'll now miss out on two years of crappy-ass Boston College.

Like most northern baseball teams, BC isn't any good.  Last year's pitching was especially disastrous.  The Eagles shuffled their rotation like few teams ever do; out of 10 ACC weekends, only two of them had the same pitching permutation.  This year there may be a ray of hope.  Do-everything senior Andrew Lawrence - who hails from St. Christopher's in Richmond, same as UVA's freshman DE Thompson Brown - returns, as does sophomore righty Eric Stevens.  Stevens pitched out of the pen mostly in 2011, but likely moves to the rotation this year.  BC's team ERA was a miserable 5.63 last year, but Lawrence and Stevens pitched in the 4's and allowed a respectable .250ish BA.  So there's hope for improvement here.

The Eagles must replace most of their (light-hitting) infield, but will have a veteran outfield.  Anthony Melchionda manned the hot corner last year but as a team captain and returning veteran, will play shortstop in 2011.  The rest of the infield, though, is left to new starters.  Lawrence - the team's best power hitter - will play a corner outfield position when he's not pitching, and the Eagles will lean heavily on Matt McGovern, the team's leading hitter last year at .374.  McGovern doesn't bring much power, but he's a good fielder and - since Melchionda was the only other .300 hitter on the roster - an irreplaceable bat.  Tom Bourdon is the returning center fielder, a .289 hitter in 2011, and leading base-stealer (although BC rarely attempts to steal), and Marc Perdios started quite a few games last year in left and provides decent depth.

The schedule does BC no favors, as conference favorite UNC replaces UVA on the schedule.  Chances are that BC will battle it out with Maryland, again, to stay out of the Atlantic cellar.  I think they'll improve by a game or two, but there's no reason to expect them to qualify for the 8-team ACC tournament.


Last season:

Record: 43-20 (17-13)
ACC tournament: 6th seed; 2-1
NCAA tournament: regional host; 2-2 (lost in regional)

2012 schedule: skips Virginia Tech
Names to know: 1B Richie Shaffer, C Phil Pohl, RHP Kevin Brady, RHP Scott Firth, RHP Jonathan Meyer

Like UVA, Clemson got slammed by the draft and departures; most of last year's lineup is gone.  Nevertheless, they're the media's favorite in the Atlantic Division, probably due to a pitching staff that's likely to be the envy of most of the conference.

That staff is led by Kevin Brady, a flamethrower who missed a lot of last season, but was more than effective when on the mound.  He allowed just a .218 BA, but more impressively, struck out 33 and walked only one hitter.  Scott Firth and Jonathan Meyer will likely be the other weekend starters, and all three of these guys had opponent BAs under .230 and ERAs under 4.  The Clemson rotation has a good chance to be the best in the conference, without a weakness on any weekend day.  The one shortfall is a dearth of lefthanders, but it probably won't matter.

Discussions of the Clemson offense begin with Richie Shaffer, who Baseball America calls the best raw-power hitter in the conference.  With 13 home runs last year, it's easy to see why.  Shaffer slugged .577 last year and drew 44 walks, most on the team; the result was an OPS of 1.015.  Clemson also has good quality depth behind the plate, returning both Phil Pohl and Spencer Kieboom, who will share catching duties.  Pohl is a regular and will play first or DH when not catching.  However, other than shortstop Jason Stolz, that's it for returners.  Clemson hit so well last year that they'll be very hard-pressed to match that kind of lineup, which might put a crimp in their "favorite" label.

The schedule doesn't help either, trading off Coastal bottom-feeder VT for Coastal contender Miami.  But the Tigers do get the other two division contenders - NC State (kinda) and FSU - at home.  Truthfully, the Atlantic is a two-team race, and Clemson's pitching staff will keep them in contention all season.


Last season:

Record: 26-30 (7-23)
ACC tournament: No
NCAA tournament: No

2012 schedule: skips Wake Forest
Names to know: RHP Marcus Stroman, CF Will Piwnica-Worms, C Jeff Kremer

Last year, despite the fact that they historically suck, I pegged Duke as a surprise ACC tournament team.  They repaid my faith by historically sucking.  But almost the whole team returns, so....maybe this year?

They've got Marcus Stroman, for starters.  Stroman is BA's top 2012 draft prospect in the conference.  He played some infield last year, but his pitching arm is what makes him his money.  Stroman struck out 90 batters last year and boasted a 2.80 ERA.  He's the kind of guy that gives his team a chance no matter who they're playing.  I wouldn't even be surprised if Duke pulls the offset-your-rotation strategy and pitches their ace on Sundays to try and steal wins against their opponents' #3 guy.  But Duke's Saturday guy is probably going to be Chase Bebout, who's not that bad either.

Duke's center fielder might be a pedestrian .264 hitter, but he stole 21 bases in 23 attempts last year and has far and away the best name in all of ACC baseball: Will Piwnica-Worms.  At catcher, there is Jeff Kremer, who led the Blue Devils with a .347 average.  However, Duke's hitting isn't ACC-level stuff overall.  As a team they slugged just .359 last year, and overall they don't hit for a high enough average to overcome their general lack of power.  The team home run leader was 1B/OF Chris Marconcini with just four.  UVA is kind of like that in the power department, but hits for a much better average, and that's the difference between going to the NCAA tournament and not even going to the ACC one.  (That and way better pitching.)  Duke might have a shot at the ACC tourney if they played in the Anemic Division, where only FSU and Clemson pose a major threat, but they're stuck in the Coastal, which means either they or Tech will be in the basement.


Last season:

Record: 46-19 (19-11)
ACC tournament: 2nd seed; 2-2 (lost championship game)
NCAA tournament: super-regional host; 4-2 (lost in super-regional)

2012 schedule: skips North Carolina
Names to know: RF James Ramsey, 1B Jayce Boyd, 2B Devon Travis

It really is stupid that we spent the last two years not playing one of the worst teams in the league and will spend the next two years also not playing one of the worst teams in the league, and meanwhile FSU's skip buddy was Georgia Tech and now will be North Carolina.  Clemson can't be pleased about that, either.

Speaking of Clemson, though, here we have their major opposition in the Anemic Division, and their opposite as well.  FSU won't have any trouble finding hitters to send to the plate, but they spent all of last year having one ace pitcher and hunting for Saturday and Sunday guys to back him up.  Now that ace (Sean Gilmartin) is gone and the Noles have to piece together a rotation from a lot of misfit parts.  Hunter Scantling is probably the first place to look, and there are other possibilities - Gary Merians, who allowed a .292 BA; lefty Brian Busch, who along with Scott Sitz pitched their way right out of the rotation in the first place; Robert Benincasa (no relation to UVA laxer Ryan), who has decent numbers but a slight penchant for pitching taterballs.

But the lineup looks like the usual Florida State murderer's row.  Start with all-purpose hitter James Ramsey, who led the team in just about everything and put together a .364-10-67 stat line.  1B Jayce Boyd also drove in 60 runs, and Devon Travis was a .329 hitter as well (though a bit of a butcher in the field.)  This is, even in the new dead-bat era, a team that lives on the home run.  In 2011 there was a weird cliff on the FSU stat sheet where the top five hitters hit .321 or better and the sixth guy hit .264, but there was no such drop-off in the slugging department.

It's safe to assume FSU will find hitters to replace those they lost, and those that remain make up an excellent core.  And not playing UNC is a big advantage.  But the pitching - eeesh.  It's problematic.  It's why FSU isn't being picked by anyone to win the division.

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