The Five Biggest Voids to Fill in ACC Baseball 2016

Photo Boston College Athletics

Earlier this week, we covered the five biggest voids to fill in the SEC in 2016, taking into account not only the talent of the player(s) leaving, but also the program’s likelihood of filling in the gaps. If you missed the SEC post, you can read it here.

Today, we’re covering the ACC baseball, which had quite the season in 2015. Not only did they field the eventual national champions in Virginia, but they also boasted three other elite or near-elite teams in Miami, Florida State, and Louisville.

Coming off that banner season, the following are the biggest shoes to fill in the ACC in 2016.

Chris Shaw- Boston College

Slugger Chris Shaw provided much of BC’s offensive punch in 2016. Of the team’s 27 total home runs, he had 11. His .611 slugging percentage was also 174 points higher than the next-highest slugging percentage among regulars. With that in mind, it’s tough not to figure that he may have been the single biggest reason that the Eagles enjoyed a much-improved record last season.

Now, without him in 2016, they’ll have to find offense from somewhere else, and that’s a tough ask, particularly since BC has not been known for offensive firepower in recent years.

One potential source of similar offensive prowess, though, may be junior Michael Strem. Last season, Strem put together a slash line of .296/.379/.437 with a team-leading 21 doubles. His 90 total bases on the season was the only total higher than Shaw’s 88. Head coach Mike Gambino will undoubtedly be looking for a lot from him and sophomore spark plug Jake Palomaki, who led the team in on-base percentage at .447 and in steals with 15.

Jack Leggett- Clemson

Most think that new Clemson head coach Monte Lee is set up for success, but there’s no way around the fact that he has huge shoes to fill in replacing legendary head coach Jack Leggett. Plus, there’s always risk involved when a program moves on from a successful coach in attempt to find a better option. While that approach ends up working out its fair share of times, it can also backfire and make the faithful wish the program had stuck with the original coach.

Lee will have his work cut out for him in year one, what with the likes of Matthew Crownover, Zack Erwin, Tyler Krieger, Tyler Slaton, and Steven Duggar having moved on. But that’s not to say that the roster has been strip-mined by the draft and graduation altogether. Reed Rohlman and Chris Okey, among others, make for a nice offensive foundation, and while the pitching staff will require more turnover, Drew Moyer, returning from a shoulder injury, is a nice arm to have to help build the staff.

In any event, Lee will be facing significant pressure. Not only is Clemson a proud program not accustomed to the up-and-down seasons they’ve endured of late, but his success will ultimately be compared to the significant success enjoyed by his predecessor.

Trent Thornton photo by Joe Bray courtesy UNC Athletics

Trent Thornton photo by Joe Bray courtesy UNC Athletics

Trevor Kelley and Trent Thornton- North Carolina

It certainly wasn’t a year to write home about for the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. After all, they stumbled to a rather pedestrian 34-24 overall record and 13-16 mark in ACC baseball play on the way to missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

Over the course of what was a trying season at times, Kelley and Thornton provided much-needed relief work. Neither veteran put up glittering numbers that will put their 2015 seasons along with the greatest performances in UNC history, but they were both absolute workhorses at a time when the program needed them most. With usual stalwarts Reilly Hovis and Chris McCue combining to only make 11 appearances on the season, they needed this duo to step up.

Kelley had a 2.55 ERA and five saves on the season over a staggering 77.2 innings in 41 appearances. Thornton had a 5.08 ERA, but he, too, shouldered a significant workload. He threw 62 innings over 28 appearances. He did some closing as well, as evidenced by his six saves.

Even if their outings weren’t always perfect, that’s a lot of innings that the UNC coaching staff is going to have to replace in 2016.

Garrett Kennedy- Miami

The 2015 Hurricanes were an offensive juggernaut, and catcher Garrett Kennedy was a big part of that. He put together a .320/.435/.473 slash line with 11 doubles, 7 home runs, and 51 RBI. But even with that kind of offensive production, it’s not so much the offense that the Canes will miss from Kennedy.

More than anything else, it will be tough to replace Kennedy’s leadership on the team. Kennedy was more or less the everyday catcher for the last three years of his Miami career, and as a freshman, he saw action in 31 games, in part as a replacement for starting catcher Peter O’Brien, who was struggling with injury. His offensive game wasn’t always a plus (he hit .165 as a freshman and .231 as a junior), but he was always a quality receiver for a Miami pitching staff that ranged from very good to great during his four years in Coral Gables.

And never was he more valuable than as a senior, when the Miami pitching staff wasn’t as talented or as dominant as it had been in his first three seasons. Nevertheless, he helped serve as a coach on the field to guide the staff to a quality season in support of the offense.

Photo - Virginia Athletics

Photo - Virginia Athletics

Nathan Kirby and Brandon Waddell- Virginia

Opposing ACC teams have to be thrilled to see these two move on to pro ball, not only because they’re both outstanding pitchers, but also because it seems like this duo has been in Charlottesville for the better part of a decade or more.

After a quiet freshman season, Kirby developed into one of the very best pitchers in the country as a sophomore and junior. Waddell, meanwhile, inserted himself into the UVA starting rotation as a freshman (starting on Friday nights in his first season, no less) and never looked back. While he was never quite as dominant as Kirby, he was a steadying influence in the rotation during his entire career and he proved to be incredibly durable.

These two will be missed immediately, but head coach Brian O’Connor can rest easy in knowing that Conner Jones, an obvious heir apparent, is back for another go-round.

Honorable Mention:

  • Matthew Crownover- Clemson
  • Andrew Istler- Duke
  • D.J. Stewart- Florida State
  • A.J. Murray- Georgia Tech
  • Brendon Hayden- Virginia Tech


About the Author

Joseph Healy
Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he's not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master's in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.