Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 6 North Carolina
2017 Record: 49-14 (23-7 in ACC); reached regional final. Final ranking: No. 11. Coach (Record at school): Mike Fox (846-360-1, 19 years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: RHP Austin Bergner (64).
The good news: The loss of flamethrowing ace J.B. Bukauskas would be a crippling blow to many teams in the country, but not the Tar Heels, who have more than enough arms to absorb the loss. In fact, Bukauskas’ is the only significant departure on a staff that was among the deepest in the nation a year ago. Sophomore Gianluca Dalatri was a steady Saturday starter as a freshman and should comfortably slide into Bukauskas’ Friday-night role. Electric sophomore righties Austin Bergner and Tyler Baum project to round out that weekend rotation. Both showed flashes of dominance last year and are coming off strong summers. Combined with sophomore changeup artist Josh Hiatt at the back end of the bullpen, UNC’s pitchers will be a tough assignment for lineups in the ACC.
The bad news: UNC lost a significant amount of offensive juice to the draft, with shortstop Logan Warmoth and center fielder Brian Miller both going on Day 1. Their losses create sizable voids up the middle and at the top of the lineup for the Tar Heels, but UNC could still have the pieces in place to have a productive offense. Neither third baseman Kyle Datres nor second baseman Zack Gahagan played up to their offensive tools a year ago, but both are strong bounceback candidates. Outfielder Brandon Riley has been one of UNC’s most consistent hitters over his two-year career, and sweet-swinging sophomores Ashton McGee and Michael Busch could become key lineup cogs.
Returner to know: Ashton McGee, OF/IF/DH: The reigning ACC freshman of the year, McGee enrolled at UNC early and played well beyond his years, displaying an advanced hit tool that ranked among the best in his class. Defensive limitations lowered McGee’s draft stock out of high school, but his excellent bat-to-ball skills, plate discipline and growing power should make him a mainstay in the middle of UNC’s lineup. Currently projected as UNC’s left fielder, McGee’s next step as a prospect is to find a defensive home.
Path to Omaha: The Tar Heels had the look of a national championship contender when they entered last year’s NCAA tournament as the No. 2 national seed. Instead, they fell in Davidson-vs.-Goliath fashion against the No. 4-seeded Wildcats in Chapel Hill. The last few seasons have ended in postseason disappointment for UNC. The Tar Heels have consistently had Omaha-caliber talent—again the case this year—but haven’t been to the CWS since 2013. UNC’s pitching depth should carry it again to regional play, but the Tar Heels will need to find the right buttons to push once they get there.
C Cody Roberts, Jr. .268/.371/.374 | 198 AB | 2 HR | 27 RBI
1B Michael Busch, So. .215/.349/.341 | 135 AB | 3 HR | 22 RBI
2B Zack Gahagan, Sr. .243/.366/.386 | 210 AB | 7 HR | 42 RBI
3B Kyle Datres, Jr. .265/.391/.422 | 230 AB | 7 HR | 51 RBI
SS Ike Freeman, So. .174/.286/.304 | 46 AB | 1 HR | 8 RBI
LF Ashton McGee, So. .327/.417/.484 | 223 AB | 7 HR | 46 RBI
CF Dylan Enwiller, Jr. (Transfer—Yavapai (Ariz.) JC)
RF Brandon Riley, Jr. .317/.406/.496 | 224 AB | 7 HR | 52 RBI
DH Brandon Martorano, So. .068/.208/.068 | 43 AB | 0 HR | 5 RBI
RHP Gianluca Dalatri, So. 7-3 | 3.34 ERA | 97 IP | 85 SO | 0 SV
RHP Austin Bergner, So. 4-3 | 3.00 ERA | 48 IP | 45 SO | 1 SV
RHP Tyler Baum, So. 7-0 | 2.57 ERA | 63 IP | 47 SO | 0 SV
RP Josh Hiatt, R-So. 4-2 | 1.90 ERA | 52 IP | 64 SO | 13 SV
RP Rodney Hutchison, Jr. 7-4 | 4.14 ERA | 59 IP | 53 SO | 1 SV