Carolina enters this season with a veteran team poised to potentially make a run all the way to the College World Series. While a national title or even a trip to Omaha would be both optimistic and above expectations, a trip to the Super Regionals is realistic a the goal for the season. The strength of this team is its pitching staff and the goal for the Heels should be to win a lot of 3-1 and 4-3 type games this year. For the Heels to take the next step, they will need to win those games, and ensure they don't bungle those games away with dumb decisions and costly errors.
Heading into this season, the Heels bring back a very strong pitching rotation but also questions about the offense. Before accounting for any contributions from freshman, the Heels' staff is already very deep. The Heels only lost two pitchers from last year; Luis Paula and Tate Parrish. These two had only pitched 23.2 innings and started 5 games combined, so the Heels' staff is almost entirely intact from last year. The Heels' closer for this season figures to be Reilly Hovis, (7 saves 9-1 record last year), Hovis boasted a strong ERA last season at 2.25 and figures to be a factor late in games all season. Chris McCue, who was last season's closer before going out with a blood clot in his shoulder, also figures into the bullpen strength.
The three primary starters from last season; Benton Moss, Trent Thornton and Zac Gallen, also return for Carolina, and it is from there that the strength in this staff really comes from. Gallen struggled a bit last year in his Freshman season, posting an ERA 4.64 over 85.1 innings. The staff ace, Thornton, comes back after a sophomore season where he posted a 2.73 ERA in 95.2 innings. Thornton should really hold the staff down this year and along with projected improvement from Gallen, the pitching staff will be able to propel the Heels to the Super Regionals if the offense steps up to the tune of about 4 runs per game.
One weakness to look at is that the pitching staff does lean towards right-handers with only three lefties on the roster. Of those lefties, two are freshman and their roles aren't clear yet. The one returning left-hander Zach Rice, only appeared for 21 innings last year and will need to improve his 4.29 ERA if he wants to become a more central component of the rotation.
College baseball in general is suffering from a deficit of offense, home runs per game have been declining steadily annually. Last year the number of home runs per team per game dropped to its lowest level in the history of the statistic, even though college baseball used wooden bats for the first few years of the statistic. That being said, the Heels will need to improve across the board offensively if they want to be as good a team as their pitching. Last year the Heels only hit .274 as a team, 27 home runs and only slugged .367. The team also lost its best offensive player in Michael Russell who led the Heels in every offensive category as a junior last year.
To build its offense the Heels will rely Skye Bolt to step up. Bolt is really the Heels' catalyst for a better season. During his freshman year Bolt showed that he has one of the highest ceilings of any college baseball player but he regressed badly last year while never being very healthy. This season Bolt figures to be at full health for most of the campaign, a comeback year from Bolt could be enough to send the Heels into the Super Regionals and even to Omaha.
Outside of Bolt the team needs to hit better as a group, a good goal for the Heels this year would be to have five players hit at or above .300. Landon Lassiter has hit over .300 in career at UNC and sophomore Wood Myers batted .298 last season. Tyler Ramirez also needs to be a factor offensively for the Tar Heels to do well. If the Heels can live up to their pitching potential, their offense picks up and Bolt returns to his freshman form, there's no reason to think the Heels can't end the season in Omaha.