The ACC has taken its share of lumps lately in football and basketball.

A lot of that is the conference’s fault.

There can be no argument, however, that when it comes to college baseball, the ACC is still right up there with the nation’s best. The league has had at least 1 team qualify for the College World Series in each of the past 18 years, with 2 making it to Omaha in 2023.

While Wake Forest fell 1 win short of the championship series and lost several key players to the Major League Baseball Draft, it still has enough returning talent to be ranked No. 1 at the start of this season.

The Deacons are among 6 ACC teams ranked in the various preseason polls. which should make for a competitive, entertaining spring.

These 20 players are among the reasons the conference is so strong. They’re not necessarily the best 20, though some are. But they’re definitely players whose names you need to know. Because you’ll be hearing from them a lot between Friday’s Opening Day and June.

Nick Kurtz, 1B, Wake Forest

The star was somewhat overshadowed last season hitting ahead of Wake’s all-time home run king Brock Wilken. He also wasn’t himself at the College World Series because of a rib injury. But he hit .353 with 24 homers, 69 RBIs and 63 walks last season. He’s also solid defensively. He’s healthy again and ready to be the centerpiece of his team’s still potent lineup, not to mention a national Player of the Year candidate and potential top overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft.

Josh Hartle, LHP, Wake Forest

Hartle moves into the Friday night spot in the rotation vacated by 1st-round draft pick Ryan Lowder. If Lowder was Wake’s ace in 2023, Hartle was the king of diamonds. He went 11-2 with a 2.81 ERA and 140 strikeouts, the 2nd-highest single-season total in school history. The hard-throwing lefty beat eventual national champion LSU in the College World Series with an impressive 6-inning outing. He’s a preseason 1st-team All-American and an ACC Pitcher of the Year frontrunner.

Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest

The Deacons might not have the highest national profile or the biggest NIL war chest. But thanks to their state-of-the-art pitching lab and a history of 1st-round picks, they’re an attractive destination for top transfer arms. Burns is the latest to come to Winston-Salem. The national Freshman of the Year in 2022 at Tennessee, Burns bolsters an already star-studded staff featuring 3 preseason All-Americans. He went 13-5 with a 3.54 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 2 seasons with the Vols. He throws harder than anybody in the country.

Seaver King, OF, Wake Forest

You’d think with a name like Seaver, King would be a stud pitcher. But he’s a line drive-hitting, slick-fielding athlete who caught the attention of MLB scouts this summer with strong performances in the Cape Cod League and for USA Baseball. His performance earned him the D1Baseball.com’s Summer Breakout Prospect Award. Prior to that, King starred at Division 2 Wingate, where had a 47-game hitting streak. He hit .411 with 11 homers last year.

Cam Cannarella, OF, Clemson

The 2023 ACC Freshman of the Year burst onto the scene by hitting .388 with 7 homers, 47 RBI, 72 runs scored and 24 steals. His insertion as the Tigers’ leadoff hitter was the catalyst for a turnaround that saw Clemson go 38-10 on the way to the ACC Tournament championship. His most amazing accomplishment, however, is that he started 59 games in centerfield despite never having played outfield before arriving on campus. He played shortstop in high school. Baseball America has ranked him as the No. 1 MLB prospect in the 2025 draft.

Jay Woolfolk, RHP, Virginia

Woolfolk, a 2-sport standout, had a realistic shot at winning the starting quarterback job for the Cavaliers last fall but decided to give up football to concentrate on baseball. He’s an A-plus prospect with a fastball topping out in the high 90s and has had some success as UVa’s closer over the past 2 seasons. This year, with a full offseason to prepare – including a successful stint with the USA Baseball College National Team – he’s ready to join the rotation and help get his team back to Omaha.

Griff O’Ferrall, SS, Virginia

The job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base and be a table-setter. No one in the country does it better than the Cavaliers’ junior shortstop. O’Ferrall led the ACC with 108 hits last season. Twenty-eighth of those hits came in the 1st inning, helping UVA get off to fast starts more times than not. O’Ferrall was the catalyst for his team’s run to the College World Series. He then joined Woolfolk on Team USA and hit .463 with a team-leading 19 hits in 10 games against Chinese Taipei and Japan. He is a preseason All-American and ranked as the No. 2 shortstop in the country by D1Baseball.com.

Ethan Anderson, 1B, Virginia

Anderson had a breakout sophomore season in which he set a school record and led the ACC with 26 doubles, to go along with 16 homers, 66 RBI, 81 runs scored and a .375 batting average. But as good as he was in the regular season, he was even better during the Cavaliers’ march to Omaha. He became the 1st UVa player to hit at least 1 homer in the ACC Tournament, an NCAA regional, a super regional and the CWS in a single season. The switch-hitter will be called upon to carry the middle of the order with UVa’s all-time home run leader, Jake Gelof, having moved on to the professional ranks.

Jacob Cozart, C, NC State

The Wolfpack have produced a long line of talented catchers, including 2 – Patrick Bailey and Andrew Knizner – currently in the Major Leagues. Cozart is well on his way to upholding that tradition. D1Baseball.com has ranked him as the No. 1 draft-eligible prospect in the country heading into the season. He’s a projected 1st-round pick and Golden Spikes Award contender who is equally adept as a receiver and framer of pitches as he is with a bat in his hands. And he’s pretty darn good at the plate, having hit .301 with 10 homers 14 doubles and 42 RBIs last season.

Dominic Fritton, LHP, NC State

The sophomore left-hander was already going to be a key contributor to the Wolfpack’s weekend rotation after earning 1st-team status on virtually every major Freshman All-American team in 2023. But his role became exponentially more important earlier this month when projected ace Matt Willadsen was lost for the season to an injury. Fritton has an electric fastball that helped him earn 3 saves in 8 relief appearances before becoming a starter last season. He limited opponents to a .211 batting average and rang up 75 strikeouts in 62 ⅔ innings.

Chance Mako, RHP, NC State

The fact that Mako is even on campus is already a win for coach Elliott Avent and his team. The hard-throwing 6-7 freshman is a highly-rated prospect who would likely have been drafted had the young pitcher been willing to take less money and not be so adamant about attending State. He’s a raw talent who could become a key arm out of the bullpen, though if he’s effective he could follow Fritton’s path and eventually be transitioned into a starting role.

Carson DiMartini, 3B, Virginia Tech

DiMartini was limited to DH duties over the final 21 games last season after suffering a labrum injury that required offseason surgery. He still managed to hit 321 with 10 homers, 4 triples and 47 RBIs. Fully healthy again, he’ll be counted on to be the centerpiece of the Hokies’ hopes for rebounding from a 2023 season that saw them fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament – a year after hosting a super regional for the 1st time in school history. DiMartini is ranked as the No. 35 prospect in the 2024 draft by PerfectGame.com.

Fran Oschell III, RHP, Duke

Oschell became the star of the Blue Devils’ injury-riddled pitching staff last season. Not as a starter or as a closer. But as a nearly unhittable mid-game weapon coming out of the bullpen to shut down opponents and eat up innings. He appeared in a team-leading 22 games, compiling a 6-0 record with a miniscule 0.69 ERA in 39⅓ innings. He allowed only 3 earned runs while striking out 66. The 6-7 junior is ranked as the No. 2 relief pitcher in the country by Baseball America heading into 2024, although there’s a chance coach Chris Pollard might decide to use him as a starter.

Jonathan Santucci, LHP, Duke

Santucci was slated to be the Blue Devils’ ace last year after a strong freshman season. But that plan went out the window on March 31 when he suffered a season-ending arm injury in a loss to Pittsburgh. His return adds another dynamic dimension to a pitching staff that’s already one of the ACC’s best and deepest. He’s got a 95 MPH fastball and a hard-breaking slider that gives opposing hitters fits. Although he’s also played some outfield in his Duke career, his status as a top-50 MLB prospect, his contribution will be primarily on the mound.

Kyle Johnson, OF/LHP, Duke

D1Baseball.com’s Aaron Fitt describes the 2-way freshman standout as “the most impactful newcomer at Duke.” His fastball consistently is in the low-to-mid 90s and he pitched so well during the fall that he’ll likely end up in the rotation as a weekday starter. When he’s not on the mound, he’ll take up residence in right field because of his power bat and reliable glove. According to Fitt, Johnson is “a quality at-bat machine who can drive the ball with authority and he’s an excellent defensive outfielder.”

Cam Smith, 3B, Florida State

Smith was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise un-Seminoles-like 2023 season while starting 51 games as a freshman. Although his average was only .258, his 12 homers were the most by an FSU rookie since 2004. He also led the team with 5 triples while driving in 36 runs. His continued development will be the key to improvement in coach Link Jarrett’s 2nd season. As a draft-eligible sophomore, it could also help catapult him even higher on the draft board, perhaps even into the 1st round.

Colton Hartman, LHP, Louisville

Hartman was considered a potential high-round draft pick, rated as a top-150 prospects by PerfectGame.com. His addition to Louisville’s pitching staff will be a major boost in the Cardinals’ bid to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out a year ago. The young Cincinnati native has good size at 6-3, 210 and already has a fastball clocked in the 93-95 MPH range. He’s still raw and has issues with his command, but he’s got enough natural talent to become an integral role on Louisville’s rebuilt staff.

Drew Burress, OF, Georgia Tech

You’d never know it from his compact 5-9, 180-pound stature, but Burress possesses one of the most explosive bats in this year’s freshman class. He hit 31 homers and tied a Georgia state record with 73 RBIs as a high school junior, before hitting .430 while earning All-American honors from both PerfectGame.com and Under Armour. He is ranked as the top outfield prospect in Georgia and No. 4 nationally and will immediately slot into the heart of the Yellow Jackets’ batting order.

Luke Stevenson, C, North Carolina

Stevenson hit a slow-pitch softball-like .512 as a high school senior last year with 17 homers and 58 RBIs in only 33 games. He backed that up with a standout performance at the MLB’s Draft Combine. He was considered a top-10 round prospect, but chose to play for the Tar Heels where his performance both at bat and behind the plate during the fall put him in line to succeed Thomas Frick as UNC’s starting catcher.

Vance Honeycutt, OF, North Carolina

Honeycutt was the ACC’s preseason Player of the Year in 2023 and ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the 2024 draft by PerfectGame.com. While he went on to be the conference’s Defensive Player of Year, his season didn’t exactly go as planned. He hit just .257 with 12 homers, 43 RBI and 19 stolen bases. But those numbers were down significantly from a freshman season in which he hit .296 with 25 bombs, 57 RBI and 29 steals to become the 1st 20-20 player in program history. Some of that dropoff can be attributed to a back ailment that forced him to miss the entire postseason. After skipping summer ball to regain his health and strength, he’s ready to bounce back in 2024. And he continues to be ranked as the top prospect in this year’s draft.