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2023 ACC Preview - Wake Forest is Preseason Darling

The ACC continues to be one of the strongest conferences in college baseball sending nine teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2022. However, the conference has only had one team win the College World Series since 2001. With plenty of contenders in 2023, will this be a marquee year in the ACC?

A year ago, Notre Dame was the only ACC team to reach Omaha after their remarkable upset over top ranked Tennessee in the Knoxville Super Regional. Not long after the Irish exited the College World Series, then their head coach, Link Jarrett, took the same job at another ACC school, Florida State.

Last season also saw the rise of potential new power in the ACC in the form of Virginia Tech. The Hokies finished as the top ranked ACC team in 2022 and the number four national seed after going 40-11 (19-9) in the regular season. They advanced to a super regional for the first time in the school’s history where they lost in three games to the eventual College World Series runner-up, Oklahoma.

What’s ahead in 2023?

The ACC figures to be as deep as ever with nine teams in College Baseball Nation’s Top 50, including six in the top 25. But there are questions about which of those teams has what it takes to compete for a College World Series championship with the likes of some the SEC powerhouses and Stanford.

Wake Forest is one of the darlings of the preseason with perhaps one of the best pitching prospects in the country in right-hander Rhett Lowder. The Demon Deacons always bring the thunder at the plate with this group led by first baseman Nick Kurtz and third baseman Brock Wilken who combined for 28 home runs last year.

North Carolina won the ACC Tournament last year and should once again be good at the plate with Vance Honeycutt and company. Honeycutt hit 25 home runs as a freshman last year and figures to be one of the first bats taken in the 2024 MLB Draft.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech will be trying to prove they weren’t one-hit wonders in 2022 by following it up with another run to Omaha in 2023. They lose Gavin Cross who became the highest drafted Hokie in school history when he was taken 9th overall last year. But Jack Hurley may not go much further behind, if at all, in this year’s MLB Draft. Despite their losses, Virginia Tech once again has talented position players and pitchers.

Louisville, Virginia, Miami, and NC State certainly all have the talent to make some noise and get to Omaha as all of them earned a spot in the preseason top 25. And while it might not happen in 2023, Jarrett figures to have the Seminoles back as a national powerhouse sooner rather than later. The Seminoles feature several high ceiling arms who have yet to produce at the college level, perhaps none more prominent than Carson Montgomery.

Top prospects to watch

Wake Forest is full of potential draft picks. Outside of Lowder, third baseman Wilken and right-handed pitcher Teddy McGraw are top 50 prospects for this year’s draft, while left-handed pitcher Josh Hartle and Kurtz are considered top picks for the 2024 draft. Lowder is probable to be the first ACC player taken in the upcoming draft – likely somewhere in the middle of the first round.

Yohandy Morales will have a strong case as well with a very good bat and strong arm at third base. Morales led Miami in a variety of offensive stats a year ago, including slugging (.532).

Virginia Tech’s Hurley leads a group of outfielders that includes Virginia’s Kyle Teel (also plays catcher) and Boston College’s Travis Honeyman. Honeyman hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow Eagle, Sal Frelick, who was drafted 15th overall in the 2021 draft.

Duke, whose talent level has elevated under head coach Chris Pollard’s tenure, has an interesting shortstop in Alex Mooney who is a draft eligible sophomore that had an impressive record at the plate last year.

Series to watch

Non-conference play heats up quickly as North Carolina will go to Greenville in week two of the season and face the East Carolina Pirates who rank 17th on our preseason Top 50. That same week, Florida State takes a trip to Fort Worth to face TCU with both teams looking to jump into the top 25.

Louisville will represent the ACC in the Shriners Children’s College Classic in week three where they’ll face Texas A&M, TCU, and Michigan. Some of the SEC crossover matchups happen in week three as well with Clemson facing South Carolina, Georgia Tech taking on Georgia, and Miami going up against Florida.

The ACC begins conference play earlier than most conferences, starting conference play in week four. Right off the bat, we will see a couple of top 25 matchups with Virginia at North Carolina and NC State at Miami.

Intriguingly, Wake Forest might not face their first ranked opponent until March 24 when they host Miami. Attempts to accurately assess Wake forest will be largely speculation until they get into the meat of their conference schedule. If things play out the way we expect, the top two teams in the ACC will face off on April 14 as Louisville hosts Wake Forest.

Virginia was the last ACC team to win the College World Series and they always have the talent to make a run. Now that their rival, Virginia Tech, is in the mix it should make their battle in Blacksburg on the weekend of March 31 very entertaining. The Hokies took two out of three games in the 2022 iteration of the rivalry series in Charlottesville. Speaking of rivalries, Florida State and Miami will be playing that same weekend.

Final thoughts

There is no question that the ACC will feature some of the best teams and some of the best talent in the country as they always do. The question will be can one of those teams reach an elite level and win the College World Series.

While Wake Forest seems like the favorite and the most talented team, they’ve had teams with a lot of promise before but couldn’t break through. They have just one Super Regional appearance since 1999 and they haven’t reached Omaha in over 60 years. Will the Deacons be able to handle the pressure of being preseason favorites in the ACC?

It will be interesting to see who steps up from that group behind them and makes a run to Omaha like Notre Dame did last year.


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