ACC Baseball Preview: Wake Forest

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 here.  We conclude with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Last season, the Demon Deacons were 33-24, with a 13-17 record in ACC play.  Many experts believed the Deacons would be one of the last at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament, but Wake Forest was left out in favor of teams such as Michigan State and East Carolina, which led to considerable protest from prominent college baseball writers.

Head coach Tom Walter is entering his fourth season with the Demon Deacons.  2012 was Wake Forest’s first season with a winning record since 2007, when they reached the NCAA Tournament.  Before coming to Winston-Salem, Walter posted a 153-147 record as the coach of the New Orleans Privateers, leading them to the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Tournaments.

Only two regular starters from last year’s Wake Forest lineup depart, as outfielder Mac Williamson and graduated third baseman Carlos Lopez were selected in the first 12 rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft.  Williamson and Lopez accounted for 27 of Wake Forest’s 42 home runs last season, so it will be up to the returnees to make up for the loss of power in the Demon Deacon offense.

Shortstop Pat Blair will be a key part of that offense.  Last season, Blair batted .292 with 15 doubles.  Blair was also seventh in the ACC in walks (46), and second to the ridiculous Trea Turner in stolen bases (22).  Blair was selected in the 24th round of the MLB draft, but chose to return to Wake Forest for his senior season.

Kevin Jordan is best known for the inspirational story that unfolded prior to the 2011 season.  Needing a kidney transplant as soon as possible, Coach Walter tested to be a potential donor. When it was determined he was a match, the coach donated his kidney to the then-freshman Jordan.  Jordan was redshirted for the 2011 season, but returned to the field in 2012.

Jordan was also a premier prospect coming out of high school.  Ranked 43rd in the country by Perfect Game, Jordan was part of the 2009 Under Armour Team.  His time on the field was limited as a high school senior due to his developing kidney issues, but the New York Yankees still saw enough talent in him to merit a 19th round selection in the 2010 MLB Draft

Jordan understandably struggled in his first full season of baseball since 2009 last year, batting .224 for the Demon Deacons.  However, many are optimistic that his numbers will improve dramatically this season as he recaptures his old form.

Jack Fischer will be the cornerstone of the Wake Forest rotation.  When Fischer arrived in Winston-Salem in 2011, he was used primarily as a shortstop. However, he began a transition to the bullpen during that freshman season, which led to a role in the rotation late in 2012.  Fischer was one of Wake’s most consistent arms last year, posting a 2.84 ERA over 63 1/3 innings and holding opposing batters to a .236 average.  With a full season of pitching under his belt, Fischer should be able to translate some of his bullpen success last year into a strong showing as the ace of the staff.

Sophomore Matt Pirro figures to make a similar transition to the rotation in 2013. As a freshman, Pirro recorded a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.  Pirro was a New York Gatorade Player of the Year finalist as a senior in high school in 2011, also.  If he can adjust to pitching several innings against ACC competition, then that would give Wake Forest two solid arms for each weekend series.

In all likelihood, Wake Forest will once again be on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament appearance, possibly alongside another ACC team, such as Virginia Tech.  Can the Demon Deacons find ways to produce runs with their two prominent sluggers gone?  Can pitchers Fischer and Pirro step up with the departures of Brian Holmes and Tim Cooney? If so, then they should be able to avoid another snub.  If not, it could be a long season in The Dash.

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