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2023 College Top 25 Preview: No. 17 North Carolina

Last season: 42-22 (15-15 ACC); lost in super regionals
Final ranking: No. 13
Coach (record at school): Scott Forbes (70-49, 2 seasons)

The good news: Superstar sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt is one of the top talents in college baseball and is a candidate to be selected first overall in the 2024 MLB Draft. Last year he put up video game numbers, hitting .290 with 10 doubles, 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He is a five-tool talent and will be the igniter for the UNC offense. After garnering significant draft interest following his strong second half of the season, Mac Horvath will play third base and looks to carry over the momentum he built by sustaining his production over the course of a full season. He hit .268 with 15 doubles and 18 home runs, and his approach and hit tool continue to improve. Alberto Osuna returns after an impressive first season at the Division I level where he hit 20 home runs and was tied for the team lead in RBIs with 57. Veterans Johnny Castagnozzi and Tomas Frick round out the returning group of notable producers offensively. Another player who garnered draft interest but instead opted to return to Chapel Hill is righthander Max Carlson. Carlson had a standout 2022, pitching his way to a 3.77 ERA while striking out 88 in 77.2 innings. His fastball reaches the upper 90s and is supplemented nicely by a changeup that generates a fair amount of swing-and-miss with a 39% whiff rate. Connor Bovair will make the jump to being a weekend starter after spending most of last season in a bullpen role.

The bad news: While UNC returns the players who hit 86 of its 101 home runs in 2022, it will be without shortstop Danny Serretti and outfielder Angel Zarate, both of whom got drafted after their stellar seasons. The pair posted batting averages of .365 and .352 last season, respectively. The dynamic duo ignited the Tar Heels offense with their advanced approach and bat-to-ball skills, and they’ll be tough to replace. Reliever Davis Palermo also heard his name called last July after a fantastic 2022 season where he had a 2.78 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. The live-armed righthander will be sorely missed in late-inning situations and leaves a question mark in the back end of Scott Forbes’ bullpen.

Player to know: Dalton Pence, LHP.

After not pitching in 2022, Pence will be thrust into a weekend starter role after a lights-out summer in the Coastal Plain League where he posted a 0.88 ERA with 35 strikeouts to just nine walks in 41 innings. The lefthander has advanced pitchability and pounds the strike zone, with an above-average slider being his best secondary offering—it had a 48% whiff rate in the CPL. Reports out of Chapel Hill were positive on his performance this fall and he will be a name to follow closely this spring.

Path to Omaha: After reaching a super regional last year and returning most of the starpower from that team, North Carolina is in prime position to reach the College World Series. Its lineup will hit for tons of power, pose trouble on the basepaths and piece together consistent quality at-bats. The main question mark revolves around the pitching staff and whether the arms are ready for a more significant role and heavier workload.

College Hotsheet Copy (1)

College Hot Sheet: 20 College Baseball Standouts From The Past Week (3/21/23)

Two premier SEC pitchers lead this week's Hot Sheet.

CTomas FrickJr..260.348.372215333
1BAlberto OsunaR-Jr..265.360.5512342057
2BAustin HawkeFr.HS—Pfafftown, N.C.
3BMac HorvathJr..268.390.5572461853
SSColby WilkersonJr..222.355.2706304
OFMax RiemerR-Sr..185.353.2222703
OFVance HoneycuttSo..296.409.6722472557
OFCasey CookR-Fr.Medical redshirt
DHEric GrintzR-Jr..310.432.4482919
SPMax CarlsonJr.433.7178880
SPDalton PenceR-Fr.Did not play—injured
SPConnor BovairJr.545.5054491
RPMatthew MatthijsFr.HS—Greenville, N.C.
RPNik PryR-Sr.304.5438430

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