Predicting who wins ACC baseball postseason awards
The debate is the same, regardless of the sport or the level of competition.
Should a league’s Player of the Year award go to the individual with the best stats? Or should it go to the best player on the best team?
It’s a matter of personal preference.
But when the pitcher and hitter with the best overall stats are also the best pitcher and hitter on the league’s best team, as they are with this year’s Wake Forest baseball team, there’s no real guesswork involved.
The only real mystery in the equation is determining which of the Deacons’ heavy hitters is actually the best.
As dominant as Wake has been throughout the season, the nation’s top-ranked team doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the ACC’s major honors. Clemson’s surge into the postseason as the league’s hottest team has put the Tigers in line for some hardware, too.
The official winners will be announced next week. While we wait, here are some predictions on how the voting will turn out:
Player of the Year
Brock Wilken, Wake Forest
This was the toughest call of the ACC’s 4 major awards. Both Wilken and teammate Nick Kurtz have put up nearly identical numbers in fueling an offense that averages 9 runs per game and leads the league in homers.
Wilken came into the final weekend of the regular season leading the conference in runs scored with 68, home runs with 24 and RBI with 69 while ranking 2nd in slugging percentage and walks. While career achievements don’t factor into the conversation for seasonal honors, it should also be noted that the junior 3rd baseman is just 5 homers shy of the all-time ACC record. Anthony Maisano and JD Drew currently hold the mark with 69.
Kurtz has a slightly better batting average at .359, compared to Wilken’s .341. He also comes close in the other categories with 20 homers, 57 RBI and 57 runs scored.
The decision might have come down to a flip of the coin had Kurtz not missed 9 games during the ACC schedule because of injury.
Pitcher of the Year
Rhett Lowder, Wake Forest
Second verse, same as the first.
The 2022 ACC Pitcher of the Year has been even more dominant this season as he positions himself to be 1 of the top players selected in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft. The hard-throwing right-hander, with his trademark mane of hair flowing from beneath his cap, is the undisputed ace of a staff that boasts the 4 best ERAs in the ACC and has allowed 74 fewer runs than anyone else in the conference.
With his win against Virginia Tech on Thursday, Lowder improved his league-leading win total to 12 without a loss while upping his career-best strikeout total to 108. He’s allowed only 14 earned runs in 82 2/3 innings. His 1.52 ERA is 2nd in the ACC only to teammate Seth Keener’s 1.40.
Freshman of the Year
Cam Cannarella, Clemson
The Tigers’ young star is living proof that recruiting rankings aren’t always an accurate predictor of how a player will do once he gets to the college level. Although he was the South Carolina prep Player of the Year at Hartsville High School in 2022, PerfectGame USA had him rated as only the No. 125 shortstop prospect nationally.
As it turns out, he’s a darn good center fielder. And leadoff hitter.
He burst onto the scene by getting hits in his first 15 games for Clemson, including a 5-for-6 effort with 4 runs scored against Georgia Tech on March 10. He was one of the Tigers’ only consistent hitters during the team’s early struggles and he has continued to rake now that the rest of the lineup has heated up to match him.
Cannarella ranks among the top 5 in the ACC in batting average (.388), runs (42), stolen bases (21) and doubles (13) while serving as a catalyst for one of the nation’s hottest teams heading into the postseason.
Coach of the Year
Erik Bakich, Clemson
A strong case can be made for Wake Forest’s Tom Walter, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the nation and has more than lived up to its lofty preseason expectations. Duke’s Chris Pollard has also done a remarkable job of putting his team in the national polls and around the top of the Coastal Division despite losing his top 2 pitchers to injury. And Brian O’Connor has Virginia positioned for another high NCAA Tournament seeding.
As good a job as all 3 have done, Bakich tops them all.
He got off to a shaky start in his 1st season after coming over from Michigan. The Tigers were just 17-14 overall (2-8 in the ACC) after a 5-1 loss at Florida State on April 6. But Bakich found something that clicked and his team has been nearly unbeatable since.
Clemson entered the final weekend of the regular season having won 20 of its previous 23 games, going 16-2 in the ACC, to settle into 2nd place in the Atlantic Division behind Wake and all but assure itself a home NCAA regional.
All that with a team picked to finish 5th in its division.