Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. This preview features the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Since Pete Hughes came to Virginia Tech from Boston College in 2007, he has worked to build up the Hokies as a contender in the ACC. The Hokies hit a high note in 2010, reaching the NCAA Tournament with a 16-14 conference record and a 40-win season, but have followed it up with consecutive 11-19 marks in ACC play. This year’s team seems destined to improve on the last two, thanks to a high-powered offense that should overwhelm some of their conference foes.
Last season, the Hokies were fourth in batting average and third in slugging percentage and home runs in the ACC. Six of the seven best hitters from that offense return in 2013, giving the Virginia Tech offense some potency in the new season
Sophomore catcher Mark Zagunis is a preseason second-team All-American for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and it is easy to see why. As a freshman, Zagunis batted .344 with 13 doubles and five home runs. He also stole 17 bases, the fourth-best steals tally in the ACC. If he continues this success, Hokies’ fans will enjoy watching Zagunis play for another couple of years in Blacksburg.
Tyler Horan will provide some explosiveness to the lineup as well. The junior outfielder finished third in the ACC in home runs last season, with 15, and his .585 slugging percentage was good for fourth in the conference. Horan was invited to Omaha to participate in the 2012 TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby, where he finished second to Fresno State’s Aaron Judge. Horan’s success continued into the summer, when he hit a record-tying 16 homers in the Cape Cod League.
Chad Pinder could join Horan in the double-digit homer tally in 2013. The third baseman batted .325 with 22 doubles (5th in the ACC) and 7 home runs as a sophomore. With just a little more power (or good fortune), some of those doubles will turn into bombs for Pinder and the Hokies.
Senior Andrew Rash hopes to rebound from a disappointing 2012 and recapture some of his form as a sophomore. In 2011, Rash batted .335 with 17 doubles, as well as ACC-bests in home runs (18) and slugging percentage (.707). Last year, Rash was a .273 hitter with only 11 doubles and seven homers, striking out 40 times. Rash, like Horan, participated in the College Home Run Derby, finishing fifth. After a monster sophomore season, it’s reasonable to expect Rash was simply putting too much pressure on himself to perform at a high level last year and paid the price. With a better approach to hitting this year, he could be another dangerous batter in the lineup.
With so many powerful threats in the Virginia Tech offense, opposing pitchers won’t have the luxury of pitching around somebody like Horan to pick on weaker hitters. The question will be whether or not Virginia Tech can keep opponents off the scoreboard. The Hokies were in the bottom third of the ACC in ERA and opposing batting average
Joe Mantiply will likely be the Friday starter for the Hokies. Last season, Mantiply posted a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts. He’s not an overwhelmingly dominant pitcher, but he doesn’t make many mistakes either, as he allowed only four homers in 2012. He should be consistent and reliable atop the rotation, but the question marks soon follow.
One pitcher that Virginia Tech hopes will fill in the blanks is transfer Brad Markey. Markey was at Georgia Tech as a freshman, but made only six appearances. He transferred to Santa Fe (Fla.) College following that year, and posted a 1.33 ERA for the Saints, earning Mid-Florida Conference Pitcher of the Year and First Team FCSAA All-State. Markey will now return to the ACC as a member of the Hokies. If his success can continue against the tougher competition he will face this season, it would be a huge boost for them.
After this football season in Blacksburg, it is news to the ears of Virginia Tech fans to know that the baseball team won’t be plagued by similar offensive struggles. If the pitching can step up and improve from last season, then the Hokies should have no problem making the NCAA field of 64.