The 2021 college baseball season in the ACC was not what we have become accustomed to. Link Jarrett led Notre Dame to their first conference championship since 2006. Duke captured their first ever ACC Tournament Championship. Louisville missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
To top it all off, North Carolina State began conference play at 1-8 before making a run to the College World Series to see their season abruptly ended in the middle of the night due to COVID within the Wolfpack program.
Just how it was drawn up.
Like last season, there are not many guarantees in the ACC in 2022. The amount of conference games has been reduced from 36 to 30, which was the annual amount played prior to COVID. The ACC Tournament will be played in Charlotte, North Carolina for the second consecutive season. That just about sums up the list of guarantees in the ACC this season. Everything else is up for grabs.
With the league being as wide open as it has ever been, who are the contenders?
Who is Notre Dame post Niko Kavadas? Link Jarrett and Co. have to find a way to replace one of the best players in their program's history. Outside of Kavadas, the Fighting Irish have a plethora of talent returning to South Bend. Ryan Cole, Spencer Myers, Jack Brannigan, and Brooks Cotzee will all be relied upon to increase their production at the plate.
There will be many familiar faces on the mound with John Michael Bertrand, Will Mercer, and Aidan Tyrell who will all be involved in the rotation this season, but keep an eye on a few transfers that Fighting Irish fans will become familiar with.
Ryan McLinskey, the Friday night starter for Seton Hall for the two previous seasons, will make his debut for Notre Dame in 2022. Matt Lazzaro, after stints at Houston and Furman, will make an impact in the bullpen for the Fighting Irish. The bullpen should be one of the deepest in the conference.
With the talent returning in South Bend, can Link Jarrett get Notre Dame back to Omaha for the first time in 20 years?
For the Yellow Jackets, it starts with Kevin Parada, who was recently named the ninth best college player in The 2022 MLB Draft : The Top 50 College Players. Parada will be joined by Tres Gonzalez, Drew Compton, and UAB transfer, Chandler Simpson, to fuel the offense.
There will be quite a few familiar faces returning on the mound, but that was from a staff that was less than to be desired. Marquis Grissom could be relied upon to be the ace of the staff this year, but his numbers must improve if the Yellow Jackets want to make a run at the ACC and beyond.
Skipper Danny Hall has taken Georgia Tech to the College World Series on three separate occasions, most recently in 2006. Is this the year they return?
There will be no shortage of starting pitching for the Seminoles who return both Friday and Saturday starters in Parker Messick and Bryce Hubbart. Along with Parada, they each found a spot in The 2022 MLB Draft: The Top 50 College Players, the only ACC team with multiple pitchers on the list. These two guys alone will win a lot of games for Mike Martin Jr. this season.
Finding a way to replace Matheu Nelson, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, will not be an easy task. It will take a group effort from many of the new faces that Florida State fans may not be familiar with. The Seminoles will rely on transfers and freshmen to fill some major gaps this year.
Hurricanes fans will see plenty of new faces this season with the departure of over 15 players from last year's roster, nine of which were via the transfer portal. The good news for Head Coach Gino DiMare is that the Hurricanes just reload. Miami has recorded a top 20 recruiting class in each of the last four cycles.
Yohandy Morales, the Hurricanes most consistent returning hitter, will be joined by Vanderbilt transfer, Max Romero Jr. to help kickstart a young and inexperienced Miami roster. The Hurricanes will be tested early with a home series against Florida in the third week of the season. The talent is there, the main question is how well the new faces mesh together.
Virginia and Louisville
It would be a disservice to both Brian O’Connor and Dan McDonnell if I did not include Virginia and Louisville on the list of teams that could make noise in the ACC. Do they have as much talent or will they be as highly ranked as other teams in the conference? No, but they have both proved us wrong in the past.
O’Connor has taken Virginia to the College World Series five times since 2004, most recently last season. He has the ability to beat you with this team, then trade rosters and beat you again. Never count Virginia out.
Louisville Baseball was nonexistent before McDonnell. The Cardinals first NCAA Tournament win came in 2007, which just so happened to be McDonnell’s first season with the program. They have since made five College World Series appearances. Louisville will be young, but like Miami, they have plenty of talent.
Notre Dame will repeat as ACC Champs in 2022. The Fighting Irish have enough talent to collectively replace Kavadas and more arms in their arsenal than any other staff in the conference.
Player of the Year Candidates
In the “new year, new me” look in the ACC, we are going to see many unfamiliar faces, partly due to the transfer portal and mass exodus teams are experiencing after the shortened MLB Draft in 2020. Here are a few names that have the potential to set themselves apart from the rest of the field.
Parada started 51 games as a freshman last season, batting .318 with nine home runs, 20 doubles, and 42 RBI. Parada could find himself as the top pick in the 2022 MLB Draft.
Cross may be a name that some are unfamiliar with but will be a household name by the end of the season. He was named First Team All-ACC last season after an impressive campaign in right field, batting .345 with 11 home runs, 13 doubles, and 35 RBI. Harris Frommer has Cross ranked as the fifth best college prospect in the 2022 MLB Draft.
Max Romero Jr.
After a season at Vanderbilt, Romero transfers to Miami to take over behind the plate, replacing Adrian Del Castillo. Romero appeared in 21 games for the Commodores last season, batting .300 with four home runs and four doubles. How will he respond being “the guy” instead of the backup?
After sending eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, the second highest of any conference, and two teams to the College World Series in 2021, the ACC has high expectations heading into 2022. With so many question marks surrounding the league, who has what it takes to finish the season on top in Omaha?