UNC baseball got a bit of good news over the holiday weekend with the Rocky Mount Telegram reporting Benton Moss woud return to UNC for his senior season instead of sign with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants had selected Moss in the 15th round of last month's MLB Draft. At that point it appeared as though Moss would skip his senior season in favor of starting his professional career. As it turns out, Moss is coming back for one more season in Chapel Hill.
Moss' return boosts what was already going to be a solid pitching staff.The junior right hander held down the Saturday starting pitching spot going 4-2 with a 3.62 ERA and 77 Ks in 96 innings pitched. Moss pitched an absolute gem against Virginia in the ACC Tournament going 6.2 IP giving up four hits, two unearned runs and striking out eight against the eventual national runner-up. In addition to his performance on the field, Moss was recently named to the All-ACC Academic Team along with teammates Tyler Ramirez and Trent Thornton.
The Tar Heel pitching staff in 2015 should be one of the best in the ACC returning all three starters from the 2014 weekend rotation with Thornton, Moss and Zac Gallen in position to reprise their roles. In addition freshman Jacob Bukauskas could contribute right away and Reilly Hovis showed that he was a viable option as a starter. In the bullpen, Chris McCue is expected to return from surgery last season to clear a blood clot in his shoulder. Spencer Trayner, Trevor Kelley and Zach Rice all provided quality relief in 2014. Assuming they continue to develop plus other less used pitches coming to the forefront, UNC should be set as far as arms go in 2015.
And the Heels will need all the quality pitching that can be mustered. The 2014 team's best hitter, Michael Russell was drafted as a junior and is headed to the professional baseball ranks. That removes a solid bat from a lineup that struggled to produce runs consistently. UNC has the potential in the roster of returning players but it is a matter of producing. Much of that focus will be on Skye Bolt who was very good as a freshman but had a true sophomore slump. A big junior season is important to Bolt who has a great all-around game and likely wants to be drafted. Landon Lassiter rebounded from a slow start to hit well on the season. Those two will form the core of the lineup which will need others to step up in a big way.
As good as the pitching will be, the offense may determine if 2015 can mark a return to the College World Series.