Photo courtesy of Louisville athletics
The 2021 college baseball season is approaching and the perception of the ACC is at an all-time high.
In the D1Baseball preseason poll, seven ACC teams made up the top 25. It seems that several more remain on the cusp.
The question remains which team will be able to elevate itself and make a run, with some of the top programs designed differently. Will it be a squad like Louisville, who is loaded with prime Major League Baseball draft talent or one like Virginia, who returns a stacked veteran core?
In this feature, we break down some of the most intriguing teams in the conference this year. We categorize them based on their chances to secure the ACC crown in 2021.
As indicated by their top-5 preseason ranking, the Cardinals are going to be a force to reckon with this season. Louisville was slated as the top team in the country when the season ended in 2020. Even after losing their top two pitchers in Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller, the Cardinals will showcase several highly-touted prospects this year.
The middle of their lineup could be considered one of the best in the country. It features third baseman Alex Binelas, catcher Henry Davis, and center fielder Levi Usher.
However, the factor that puts Louisville over the top this year is depth, especially in the bullpen. The Cardinals have a full roster of players that are among the best at their craft.
In addition to the returning talent, head coach Dan McDonnell brings in junior college transfer shortstop Cooper Bowman. He also secured two of the top arms in the high school class in Benjamin Wiegman and Alex Galvan.
While last year might have been McDonnell’s best team, the Cardinals may be even more well-rounded this year, with plenty of superstar talent to fall back on.
The overall intrigue with the Cavaliers is that they return practically every key piece from a roster that started 14-4.
The Hoos have a well-balanced lineup, starring third-baseman Zack Gelof and outfielder Chris Newell — both of which were selected as second-team All-Americans.
Brian O’Connor also has one of his deepest pitching staffs, most notably Andrew Abbott. Abbott is another veteran who is seemingly returning simply due to last year’s shortened draft. He is regarded as one of the best relievers in the country and will presumably rack up plenty of innings.
If the Hoos can put their pieces together, they will certainly be a contender to go to Omaha.
The Yellow Jackets are not quite in the elite tier of the country but certainly can be categorized as top-15 group with high upside.
One of their most intriguing players is Luke Waddell, who is a quality glove at shortstop but can play anywhere on the infield. He is also highly-touted for his plate discipline. This has allowed him to walk on 13% of his plate appearances, while remaining one of the toughest to strike out.
Georgia Tech brings in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. This includes right-handed pitcher Marquis Grissom Jr., who already has a fastball which reaches 95 miles per hour. Grissom, the son of the two-time MLB all-star, has plenty of room to fill out. His arm motion is also very easy to replicate.
The Jackets will rely on younger talent compared to the other conference powers. Still, they have plenty of veteran pitchers that will keep them in any given game.
NC State is another team that has Omaha potential, but a few question marks hold the Wolfpack back at the moment.
In their pitching rotation, the Wolfpack will have to replace the production of Nick Swiney. Reid Johnston looks to be the ace — a pitcher who has mildly struggled in the past but had a very productive segment of the 2020 season. David Harrison and Dalton Freeney fill out the rest of the weekend. They were among the better relievers in the conference, but do not bring a ton of starting experience.
The intrigue with NC State, however, is the lineup. It does lose star catcher Patrick Bailey but return its other nine top hitters. This includes Luca Tresh, a power bat who will finally be able to showcase his arm behind the dish.
Because of their hitting, the Pack will remain one of the top teams in the ACC and produce multiple top-round draft prospects.
The Dark Horses
Wake Forest has a pair of potential All-Americans who can make the Demon Deacons a surprising team in the ACC this year.
First baseman Bobby Seymour got off to a slow start in 2020 but was one of the most complete hitters in the conference in 2019.
Right-handed pitcher Ryan Cusick will look to anchor the staff as a highly-rated draft prospect.
If Cusick and the rest of the pitching staff can continue to progress, the Deacons will be poised to make a run.
The Eagles may not be cracking many preseason top 25’s. However, there is no reason why they should not be on the bubble.
Over the last few years, Boston College has been regarded as a young roster with tons of potential. It certainly missed out on a lost season last year in terms of development.
Nonetheless, Mason Pelio could be one of the best pitchers in the country with a slight improvement in control and consistency. The electric outfielder Sal Frelick is capable of leading this sleeping giant as well.
The Eagles would be a Cinderella story but the roster is capable.
Opening day for the college baseball season is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19.