2019 Preseason Top 25 Capsule: No. 5 North Carolina

Image credit: Michael Busch (Photo by Carl Kline)

Last Year: 44-20 (22-8 in ACC); reached College World Series.
Final Ranking: No. 4.
Coach (record at school): Mike Fox (890-378-1, 20 years).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: OF Michael Busch (No. 31), RHP Austin Bergner (No. 89).

The Good News: There are a lot of familiar faces in key positions. Brandon Martorano returns as the team’s starting catcher, Ike Freeman will man shortstop, and Ashton McGee and Michael Busch—the latter moving from first base to the outfield—will patrol the outfield corners. Ben Casparius wasn’t a regular all season, but he was by the time the Tar Heels made it to the College World Series and will now take over at third base. On the mound, a nucleus of Gianluca Dalatri, Austin Bergner, Tyler Baum, Caden O’Brien, and Joey Lancellotti will give the Tar Heels the talent and experience to handle a grueling Atlantic Coast Conference slate and any postseason opponents that come their way.

The Bad News: The Tar Heels are returning a number of key pieces from last year’s College World Series team, but the losses they do have are significant. Gone are UNC’s leading hitter, third baseman Kyle Datres, along with outfielders Brandon Riley and Cody Roberts and second baseman Zach Gahagan. To help fill in some of those gaps, Fox will turn to a couple of freshmen in second baseman Danny Serretti and first baseman Aaron Sabato. How well they perform in their first taste of Division I baseball will have a lot to do with how well the UNC offense picks up where it left off last season. It’s a similar story on the pitching staff with the departures of workhorses like Brett DanielsCooper Criswell, and Josh Hiatt. With O’Brien potentially moving into a starting role, the Heels will need some fresh faces to step up into big roles right away to provide adequate depth.

Player To Know: Michael Busch, OF.

After hitting just .215 with three homers as a freshman, Busch made the jump into stardom in his second season, hitting .317/.465/.521 with 13 homers and 63 RBI as the team’s primary first baseman. With some holes to fill offensively, North Carolina will look for Busch to lead the offense once again, this time while manning a new position in left field. Putting up similar, or better, offensive numbers in 2019 will take some pressure off of the new faces in the lineup, and proving capable in the outfield will allow Fox and the coaching staff more defensive flexibility as they look for the right combinations early in the season.

Path To Omaha: Health is a key for every program in the country, but it’s particularly important for this UNC team on the mound. Last season, Dalatri was limited to just seven appearances due to an injury. While he was out, the staff was able to mix and match in the rotation, as evidenced by the fact that several pitchers saw time in both a starting and relief role. This season, if the projected weekend rotation is able to provide a combined 35-40 starts, they’re capable of putting the team on their backs and leading the way to a repeat Omaha appearance.

2019 Lineup 


C Brandon Martorano Jr. .246 .375 .491 9 36 171
1B Aaron Sabato Fr. (HS — Rye Brook, NY)            
2B Danny Serretti Fr. (HS — Berkeley Heights, NJ)            
3B Ben Casparius So. .326 .409 .404 0 15 57
SS Ike Freeman Jr. .305 .383 .377 3 51 223
LF Michael Busch Jr. .317 .465 .521 13 63 240
CF Dylan Harris Jr. (JUCO — Walters State CC)            
RF Ashton McGee Jr. .257 .367 .366 2 28 191
DH Jackson Hesterlee Sr. .316 .453 .439 1 10 57
RHP Gianluca Dalatri Jr. 2 2 3.33 27 31 0
RHP Austin Bergner Jr. 7 3 4.25 82.2 84 1
RHP Tyler Baum Jr. 4 1 4.57 65 74 0
LHP Caden O’Brien So. 7 0 2.62 48 52 0
RP Joey Lancellotti So. 3 3 3.96 38.2 43 1

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