Midseason Stars of ACC Baseball

This week marks the halfway point for college baseball. While “If the season ended today …” is one of the silliest introductory clauses in all of sports (SPOILER ALERT: The season never ends on the day this saying is used), this provides a chance to look at which players have shined during the first seven weeks of the season. After all, college players don’t get an all-star break like their professional counterparts. In that spirit, here is our Midseason All-ACC team, along with some additional thoughts.

C: Zane Evans, Georgia Tech – Evans is one of four players nationally with at least ten home runs.
1B: Daniel Palka, Georgia Tech – The left-handed junior is batting .408 and leads the ACC in slugging percentage.
2B: Matt Gonzalez, Georgia Tech – The freshman is top-ten in the conference in batting average and RBI.
3B: Colin Moran, North Carolina – One of the top college players eligible for this year’s MLB Draft, Moran is third in the conference in RBI (35).
SS: Trea Turner, NC State – The sophomore missed some time with a high ankle sprain, but didn’t miss a beat upon his return last weekend, batting 5-for-10 against Maryland.
OF: Skye Bolt, North Carolina – The .402 hitter has announced his presence with authority during his freshman campaign.
OF: Kyle Wren, Georgia Tech – The son of Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren, the junior has the ACC’s second-best batting average (.408) and stolen base total (18).
OF: Brandon Downes, Virginia – Downes has driven in 30 runs, thanks in no small part to four triples (tied atop the ACC) and five home runs (tied for fourth in the conference).
DH/UT: Landon Lassiter, North Carolina – The Tar Heel freshman started the season at second base, but his move into the DH spot has paid dividends offensively.
SP: Buck Farmer, Georgia Tech – Farmer is top-six in the conference in ERA (1.34), opposing batting average (.190), and strikeouts (57)
SP: Kent Emanuel, North Carolina – The junior has pitched two complete games this season, posting a 1.16 ERA.
SP: Benton Moss, North Carolina – It’s hard to take a series against UNC with Emanuel and Moss pitching on back-to-back days. The sophomore has a better opposing batting average and more strikeouts than his rotation mate.
RP: Robby Coles, Florida State – A transfer from Chipola Junior College, Coles leads the ACC in saves (7) and has struck out 24 batters over 17 1/3 innings of work.

Hokie Highlights: The two best position players that didn’t make this midseason All-ACC team both play for Virginia Tech. Catcher Mark Zagunis and third baseman Chad Pinder have the misfortune of being overshadowed by Zane Evans and Colin Moran, but their efforts are one reason why the Hokies are just 2.5 games behind the Tar Heels in the Coastal Division.

Choosing between Zagunis and Evans is similar to choosing between a Kreme-filled or Original Glazed doughnut at Krispy Kreme: Either way, you’re getting something sweet. Evans leads Zagunis in home runs, 10-4, but Zagunis has 11 stolen bases without a single steal by Evans. Zagunis’ .351 batting average is just a hair above Evans’ .343, and Evans has 37 RBI to Zagunis’ 30. Defensively, Zagunis has only allowed one stolen base on 12 attempts, while Evans has given up five on 18 attempts. Zagunis has also allowed only one passed ball to Evans’ three, making him the better defensive choice statistically.

Like with Evans-Zagunis, Chad Pinder has been a better defensive third-baseman than Moran. Pinder’s .968 fielding percentage is considerably better than Moran’s .953 mark. However, Moran holds the edge in slugging percentage, home runs, on-base percentage, and runs batted in.

However, Virginia Tech will have the chance to show they are better where it matters – on the scoreboard. Coming off a series where they took two wins from No. 7 Florida State, the Hokies still have home series against North Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina’s toughest tests are all still ahead of them on the schedule, and most of them (including Georgia Tech and NC State along with the Hokies) will be on the road. Virginia Tech won’t be favorites to leap frog the Tar Heels, Yellow Jackets, and Cavaliers in the division, but they have the talent to finish strong and carry momentum into the postseason.

Mid-week Wonders: While the glory often goes to the weekend pitchers for their efforts in marquee conference matchups, the players who take the ball in mid-week non-conference games can be just as valuable in the postseason. If an early loss puts a team in the loser’s bracket of a regional or the College World Series, it is those mid-week pitchers who often get the call in a key game, with an entire season’s workload on the line.

Two ACC freshmen in particular are shining in those outings, and one has now earned a spot in his team’s weekend rotation. Florida State’s Luke Weaver (3-0, 1.09) ERA will replace a struggling Peter Miller in the Seminoles’ rotation in their series against Miami. Two of Weaver’s wins came against the Florida Gators, so pitching to an in-state rival will not be new for the freshman. Weaver boasts the conference’s best opposing batting average, holding hitters to a .155 clip.

Meanwhile, the ACC’s best pitching staff has another weapon in its arsenal. The North Carolina Tar Heels have a team ERA below 2.00 and an opposing batting average below .200. Emanuel and Moss have plenty to do with that, but so does freshman Trent Thornton. Thornton leads the ACC in ERA (0.68), allowing only three earned runs in 2013. When the Tar Heels’ Sunday contest against Clemson was suspended to Monday afternoon last weekend, Thornton got the call to start the resumed game. Ultimately, Thornton also finished the game, pitching 6 1/3 innings and striking out seven Tigers while allowing six hits and two unearned runs.

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