Can a league’s Pitcher of the Year also be its Player of the Year?

It’s a debate that’s been raging for as long as, well, as long as leagues have been honoring pitchers with their own position-specific awards.

In the ACC, that would be 2005.

Since then, the only pitchers to win the conference’s Player of the Year award were also 1st basemen when they weren’t on the mound. It’s a list that includes Virginia’s Sean Doolittle in 2006, Wake Forest’s Will Craig in ‘15 and Louisville’s Brendan McKay in ‘17.

None of them were also named Pitcher of the Year. So there’s precedent to keep the 2 awards separate.

Precedents, however, were made to be broken.

If a pitcher’s performance is so extraordinary that he’s clearly the league’s best player, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be recognized as both.

This season in the ACC, Chase Burns’ performance has been that extraordinary.

The junior right-hander, who transferred to Wake Forest from Tennessee, is 10-1 with a 2.63 earned run average. He has a fastball that’s topped out at 101 MPH to go along with a nasty slider and a plus changeup. Opposing hitters are hitting just .161 against him.

But even then, most of them are usually just swinging and missing. He’s struck out 10 or more in 11 of his 14 starts. That includes the 13 he punched out on Friday in 7-inning no-decision against NC State.

Burns’ 169 strikeouts in just 90 innings are already a school record. And depending on how far the Deacons advance in the postseason, he’s got an outside shot at the ACC record of 208 set by Clemson’s Brian Barnes in 1989.

“You don’t face many guys like that in college baseball. That’s why he’s one of the best,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said after watching Burns strike out 13 Cavaliers on the way to a 9-3 victory on March 16.

“He is incredibly talented. It’s not just the 96-100 MPH fastball, it’s also 2 different breaking balls. A guy’s tough enough with that kind of arm and you can throw any pitch. You can throw a 3-2 slider for a strike, it’s really, really impressive.”

Burns is a lock to run away with the ACC’s Pitcher of the Year. We’ll have to wait until the official winners are announced next week to find out if he takes home both of the year’s top awards.

Until then, here are some predictions on how the voting will turn out:

Player of the Year

Okay, so maybe the ACC’s “blue ribbon panel” is loaded with traditionalists who cling to the long-held belief that pitchers should only be considered for a pitcher’s award.

Going on that assumption, there are any number of legitimate candidates.

Florida State’s James Tibbs III has hit 21 homers and leads the ACC with 74 RBI. Wake Forest’s Nick Kurtz leads the league with an .816 slugging percentage and 66 walks while also hitting 21 dingers. Duke’s Ben Miller is hitting .401 with 17 doubles.

But the best of the position players this season has been North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt.

The junior center fielder has bounced back from a back injury that limited his offensive production in 2023 to post a career-high 324 batting average with 22 homers, 57 RBI and an ACC-leading 27 stolen bases while leading the Tar Heels to the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.

Honeycutt became the first player in UNC history with at least 50 career home runs and 60 stolen bases. His 59 dingers are the most in school history, breaking a record that stood for 37 years.

Freshman of the Year

This one is as much a foregone conclusion as Pitcher of the Year.

It’s hard to imagine a freshman arriving on campus with higher expectations than those that preceded Drew Burress to Georgia Tech. And yet, the compactly built 5-foot-9, 180-pound prep All-American has managed to do it.

Hitting leadoff in his first college game, he made an immediate impression by hitting 2 home runs in a win against Radford. Ten days later, he hit 4 homers in a game against Georgia State.

Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Burress was tied for 2nd in the ACC and 1st among all freshmen nationally with 21 home runs. He’s hitting .382 overall with 65 runs scored and 60 driven in. He’s also shown great discipline at the plate for a freshman by drawing 47 walks.

His explosive bat is a big reason why the Yellow Jackets have a good chance of ending up on the right side of the bubble for an NCAA regional bid.

Coach of the Year

Link Jarrett has a track record of turning reclamation projects into winners after building successful programs at both UNC Greensboro and Notre Dame. Sometimes, though, you have to tear things down before you can build them back up.

That was the case upon his return to Tallahassee last year.

Jarrett’s 1st Florida State team stumbled to an un-Seminole-like 23-31 record while missing out on the NCAA Tournament. But it didn’t take the former All-American shortstop long to get his alma mater back on track.

FSU was picked to finish 4th in the Atlantic Division in the ACC’s preseason poll. But with a revamped roster bolstered by transfers Daniel Cantu and Cam Leiter from UCF and Max Williams from Alabama, the Seminoles got off to a blistering start. They won their 1st 19 games and were the nation’s last unbeaten team.

Despite suffering a rash of injuries at midseason, Jarrett and his team were able to hold things together and finish the regular season with 39 wins, the 2nd most in the conference and at No. 10 in last week’s poll, they’re in contention for a top 8 NCAA Tournament seed.