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2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 18 North Carolina

Last season: 46-19 (17-13 in ACC); reached super regionals.
Final ranking: No. 14.
Coach (record at school): Mike Fox (936-399-1, 21 years).

Top 100 draft prospects: 1B Aaron Sabato (No. 41).

The good news: With its ballyhooed 2016 recruiting class now largely in pro ball, UNC is moving forward with a new core and Sabato is at the heart of it all. The All-American slugger is back at the heart of the lineup and gives the Tar Heels one of the most feared hitters in the country to build around. Shortstop Danny Serretti and center fielder Dylan Harris also return, giving UNC continuity up the middle. On the mound, while the Tar Heels may not have as much star power as they did in recent years, they have plenty of depth returning. New pitching coach Bryant Gaines needs to figure out how best to arrange the pitching staff, but there’s no doubt there’s talent to work with on the mound in Chapel Hill.

The bad news: The Tar Heels lost seven players to the draft, opening significant holes both in the lineup and pitching staff. They must replace half the lineup, starting with slugger Michael Busch, who was drafted in the first round. UNC will lean on its 17th-ranked recruiting class to fill some of those holes, with both freshman Tyler Causey and junior college transfer Mike Madej both expected to figure prominently into the lineup. The draft also hit UNC hard on the mound, with starters Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner now gone. Veteran righthander Gianluca Dalatri is back from injury and will play an important role, as is righthander Max Alba, who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. Veterans Joey Lancellotti, Austin Love and Will Sandy all have experience and can play a variety of roles, but none have frontline starting experience. The Tar Heels’ depth gives them solid option, but it may take some time for the rotation and bullpen to settle into consistent roles.

Player to know: Aaron Sabato, 1B.

Last year, Sabato led the Tar Heels in most offensive categories, including hitting, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and doubles (25). Now a draft-eligible sophomore, he will have to shoulder an even bigger load after the departures from last season’s team. Sabato has game-changing power and will need to tap into it often for the Tar Heels’ offense to reach its ceiling. He’s also worked hard to develop defensively and becoming a more complete player would improve his draft stock and help UNC’s versatility if he doesn’t have to often be used as a DH.

Path to Omaha: With its depth on the mound and the presence of Sabato in the heart of the order, UNC has some strong pieces to build around. To get to the College World Series, the Tar Heels are going to need some of their inexperienced players to quickly get up to speed, especially in the lineup. They should be solid defensively and they have a lot of options to try in various roles on the pitching staff. If the offense pops, this team could be dangerous. But to get to that point, UNC may need to fight through some early season growing pains.

Patrick Bailey NC State Brianwesterholtfourseam

Top North Carolina 2020 MLB Draft Prospects

31 players from North Carolina rank among the game's 500 best draft prospects, headlined by Patrick Bailey and Aaron Sabato.

CKyle Smith, Fr.HS -- Wilmington, N.C.
1BAaron Sabato, So..343.453.6961863230
2BMike Madej, R-Jr.Transfer -- Northwest Florida State JC
3BPatrick Alvarez, Fr.HS -- Charlotte
SSDanny Serretti, So..299.373.424345231
LFAngel Zarate, R-So..100.182.1000010
CFDylan Harris, Sr..268.397.423729246
RFCaleb Roberts, So..227.374.280017150
DHTyler Causey, Fr.HS -- Fort Mill, S.C.
RHPGianluca Dalatri, R-Jr.112.2532350
RHPMax Alba, R-Fr.Did not play -- Injured
LHPWill Sandy, So.225.5259410
RPJoey Lancellotti, Jr.643.1252563
RPAustin Love, R-So.843.1867675
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