Friday, February 10, 2012

acc baseball preview, part 2

We continue with the next four teams on the list.


Last season:

Record: 42-21 (22-8)
ACC tournament: 3rd seed; 1-2
NCAA tournament: regional host; 2-2, eliminated in regional

2012 schedule: skips Maryland
Names to know: 1B Jake Davies, RHP Buck Farmer, DH Daniel Palka, CF Kyle Wren

Georgia Tech is one of those reload-don't-rebuild teams, and always one of the best in the conference.  But they don't have much reloading to do this year, with seven position players returning.  And that's a tough lineup.  It was one of the most consistent in the league last year - rarely did the Jackets shuffle anyone in or out or give many days off, not even at catcher where Zane Evans caught all thirty ACC games.  And nobody in that lineup hit below .270, either.

Tech is a power-hitting team, and their top slugger - DH Daniel Palka - returns this year.  Palka hit .297-10-52 last year, but isn't much good in the field.  Doesn't matter, because Jake Davies hit .347 and fielded .996 at first base with just two errors all season.  Also a great fielder: CF Kyle Wren, who had only one error, and bats leadoff for the Jackets (.340 BA.)  We could really just go up and down this lineup and not find anything resembling a weakness.  The only thing Tech has to replace is the left side of the infield, but at shortstop, they'll just move over last year's second baseman, Mott Hyde.

OK, well, they also have to replace 2/3 of the weekend rotation.  The Friday starter is Buck Farmer, who moves up from Sundays last year.  Farmer was 11-3, 2.91 last year with 106 Ks, so they're pretty well set.  Tech has a little competition going for the other three starter spots, but we'll call it right now: DeAndre Smelter will end up with one of them.  Smelter was a 14th-round pick out of high school and is a versatile athlete, but is probably more valuable on the mound than with a bat; he gave up one run in 17.1 innings last year.  If he cuts down on the walks (11 against 8 strikeouts) he'll be pretty fearsome.  Out of the bullpen, GT does have maybe the conference's best closer in Luke Bard.

Tech has an interesting test to start the season; they'll have a pair of games against Kent State, one of the better northern teams in the country.  You might remember Kent State from "holy shit who beat Texas?" in last year's NCAAs, or else you might vaguely remember that that was Tyler Skulina's destination after Skulina thrilled UVA fans by not signing with MLB out of the draft and then bolting out of town barely two months later.  GT also drew the "skips Maryland" straw in the 2012-2013 rotation, which means they probably have the toughest schedule in the whole ACC.  Even so, they're a favorite to contend for the ACC title and have a terrific shot at hosting a regional again.


Last season:

Record: 21-35 (5-25)
ACC tournament: No
NCAA tournament: Ha

2012 schedule: skips Georgia Tech
Names to know: RF Charlie White, RHP Brett Harman, 2B Ryan Holland, INF Tomo Delp

The Terps are this year's exhibit of that age-old conundrum: A lot of players return, but is that a good thing when you suck?  Maryland was 5-25 in-conference in both of Erik Bakich's first two seasons.  Last year they were badly hurt by the loss of ace pitcher Brett Harman to hip surgery and had to shuffle the rotation every other week.

Maryland boasts of having a great number of senior starting pitchers, and that sounds nice til you remember how things work in college baseball: nine out of ten players who are any good leave after their junior year.  Still, the staff ERA did improve in 2011, from 7.19 to 5.24.  Whether they can continue that or if it was an artifact of the new clankbats remains to be seen.  Evidence from the K/BB columns points toward the latter, with the best K/BB ratio among Maryland's starting pitchers from last year belonging to Brady Kirkpatrick at about 1.6.

At the plate (and on the mound, too, really) Maryland is almost all seniors (holdovers from before the Bakich era began) and sophomores who jumped right in as freshmen last year.  That suggests potential for improvement, but there's a lot of room for it.  They're led by sophomore Charlie White, the only .300-hitting regular last season.  White has zero power, but Maryland is more of a base-stealing, station-to-station team - there's little power in the whole lineup.  2B Ryan Holland was probably the best overall hitter at .284-3-30, and yes, 30 was enough to lead the team.  The real shame is that corner infielder Tomo Delp hit his way right out of the lineup.  He's not a "name to know" because he's any good at hitting; quite the contrary, his .178 batting average got him removed from even this anemic batting order.  It's just that Delp is the guy with the habit of whipping his bat around over his head before every pitch like a little aluminum helicopter.

I think, because of how many freshmen started for Maryland last year and because of Harman's return to the rotation, that they're due for a bump upwards from that five-win total.  And they don't play GT, which is a help.  But the Terps are still miles away from the ACC tournament, and one certainly hopes that our tradition of plating 20+ runs on them in one of the weekend games will continue.


Last season:

Record: 38-23 (19-10)
ACC tournament: 5th seed; 2-1
NCAA tournament: regional 2 seed; 2-2, eliminated in regional

2012 schedule: skips NC State
Names to know: IF Rony Rodriguez, LHP Brian Radziewski, RHP Eric Whaley, RHP E.J. Encinosa

Miami and UVA tied for third in the division in the preseason media poll, because the media couldn't decide whether it was better to lose most of your best hitters and all of your pitchers, or most of your best hitters and none of your pitchers.

Actually, it's a tribute to the leftover talent here in Charlottesville that Miami wasn't voted ahead outright, because the pitching staff they bring back is pretty excellent.  It should be a contender for best in the conference.  Freshman Bryan Radziewski turned out to be last year's staff ace, pitching every Friday for the Canes.  Right behind him were sophomores Eric Whaley and E.J. Encinosa, and the only thing that kept the whole trio from making 10 ACC starts each was a rainout.  When you go from Friday to Sunday against Miami you go up the scale; Radziewski is a diminutive southpaw and a location artist, while Sunday hurler Encinosa is a huge, linebacker-sized right-hander.

As mentioned, most of Miami's best hitters have moved on, but they still have big-time slugger Rony Rodriguez (.308-13-44 in 2011.)  Rodriguez's .596 SA was good for second in the ACC.  Miami actually does return most of their infield (if not all of it - it depends on who you consider the regular infield as there was plenty of rotation last year) but mostly it's a crew of steady hitters who field badly.  They do get some help at catcher, too; last year there was a platoon and little to no offensive production from either candidate (and of course one of them was terrible at throwing out basestealers and the other was a horrible hitter, which is always how it seems to go.)  But the Canes got a transfer in the form of Peter O'Brien from Bethune-Cookman, who'll provide a year of upgrade in both departments.

Miami has higher standards than what they showed last year, but in such a tough Coastal Division they'll have a difficult time progressing beyond that 2 seed.  That starting rotation will give them a chance to win every conference game, though, and is their best hope for hosting a regional this season.  As with the reloading Hoos, call it a 50/50 shot at that particular goal.


Last season:

Record: 51-16 (20-10)
ACC tournament: 4th seed; 1-2
NCAA tournament: super-regional host; College World Series; 6-2, T-5th

2012 schedule: skips Florida State
Names to know: 3B Colin Moran, LHP Kent Emanuel, C Jacob Stallings, INF Tommy Coyle

In looking at UNC's stats from last year, there's not much that's especially outstanding (except that you'd have to admit that ace pitcher Patrick Johnson would have some pretty incredible numbers if we weren't used to having our minds blown out by what Danny Hultzen would produce.)  The Heels just kept winning, is all.

They did have some pretty terrific freshmen - now sophomores - to help them bounce back from a disappointing 2010 in which they failed to make the ACC tournament.  Colin Moran at third base was the team's best hitter by far, batting .335-9-71 and leading the team in every conceivable hitting category but triples.  Moran happens to be the nephew of MLBer B.J. Surhoff.  Tommy Coyle, another freshman, was the next guy on the list, hitting .311; he's also flexible enough to play either middle infield position.  UNC will also return catcher Jacob Stallings, a very good hitter who cut down 32 of 76 basestealers last year.

There's also Kent Emanuel, a southpaw who'll be this year's Friday starter.  He pitched Saturdays last year but could've pitched Fridays for most teams in the conference.  Emanuel only lost one game last year and had a sterling 2.33 ERA.  And when it comes to returning players.....that's about it.  Those four right there, plus left fielder Chaz Frank, a solid but unspectacular player, and Sunday starter Chris Munnelly.

UNC is the favorite to win the conference largely on the strength of those four.  They've got to plug holes everywhere else.  Munnelly is the likely Saturday guy this year, but he was decent-not-great in 2011, and as for Sunday, who knows?  UNC has a deep bullpen to draw from, but the non-Emanuel portion of the pitching rotation is the biggest obstacle to repeating last year's success.  Coyle will probably move to shortstop after playing second most of last year, but that still requires replacing a middle infielder, and they'll break in a new center fielder, too.  If UNC solves the starting rotation, they'll be as dangerous as any team in the conference and likely live up to the preseason expectations; if not, they could find the division crown stolen by any of three tough competitors.

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