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UNC Baseball: The Road to Omaha

Analysts are high on the Tar Heels heading into the season.

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 01 Div 1 Championship Chapel Hill Regional - North Carolina v Liberty Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

January is always a month of transition. New Year’s resolutions come hand in hand with a new school semester. Crowds shift from Kenan Stadium over to the Dean Dome. By mid-January we’re essentially done with the cold and emotionally ready to move on to spring.

Looking ahead to spring also means looking ahead to baseball season. Opening day for college baseball is on Valentine’s Day this season, and it’s crazy to think we’re only about a month away from baseball being back. Last year, Carolina won the ACC Championship, and was one game away from a trip back to the College World Series. This season, the Tar Heels may have an even better shot at making it to Omaha than last year.

Freshman All-American Aaron Sabato returns after batting .343 with eighteen home runs last season. Sabato was named a preseason All-American by both College Baseball Newspaper as well as Perfect Game USA as a designated hitter.

Aaron Sabato had a huge freshman year and seemed to gain momentum during the second half of the season. He played a crucial role in helping North Carolina advance to Super Regional play, falling one game short of advancing to Omaha for the second straight season. Sabato will take another shot at powering his club to the College World Series, and with a few key departures he’ll be more of the focal point in the offense. It’s hard to miss his hulking, 6-foot-2, 230-pound presence when he takes the field with the raw strength to power balls to any part of any ballpark. He’s far from a one-dimensional slugger, hitting the ball consistently hard while showing the ability to take a free pass when teams are pitching around him. Sabato slashed .343/.453/.696 during his freshman year for a program that values – and knows how to maximize that value – statistical productivity, and his hard-hit ball data and exit velocities match that production.

Sabato is joined by fellow Freshman All-American infielder Danny Serretti. Seretti batted .299 and had a fielding percentage of .949 last season. Pitcher Gianluca Dalatri was hurt for mostof last season, but he’ll return healthy to lead a deep starting pitching rotation. Joey Lancellotti is expected to be the guy coming out of the bull pen for the Tar Heels. Coach Fox not only has a deep and talented roster, but possibly the most Italian-American team in the country.

Projections

Analysts around the country are all saying that the Tar Heels are primed for a big year in 2020, and a trip to the College World Series is more than realistic.

Wayne Cavadi of Turner Sports has the Tar Heels at 11th in his preseason top 25 rankings. Cavadi had the Tar Heels ranked behind Florida State and Louisville as the 3rd highest ranked ACC team. Seven ACC teams overall made Cavadi’s top 25 ranking, tied with the SEC for the most in any conference.

(I’ve) been big on the Aaron Sabato and Danny Serretti freshmen duo before they stepped on the field, and after leading the Tar Heels in hitting, there’s no reason to back off. Besides, when does Mike Fox not field a contender?

Anthony Chiusano, also from Turner Sports, had the Tar Heels making the College World Series in his 2020 projections. He has the Tar Heels 5th in the country, second in the ACC behind 3rd-ranked Louisville. Chiusano only projected his top sixteen teams, but they included four ACC teams.

The Tar Heels lost first-rounder Michael Busch in last year’s MLB Draft but return two 2019 freshmen All-Americans in Aaron Sabato and Danny Serretti. They’ll be the centerpieces in a new-look but still dangerous lineup. On the mound, talented righty Gianluca Dalatri returns after an injury-shortened 2019 season to lead a deep, veteran staff.

College Baseball Newspaper had the Tar Heels coming in at 13th in their preseason top 40. The Tar Heels were the third highest ranked team out of six ACC teams to appear in their top 25.

Patrick Ebert and Mike Rooney of Perfect Game USA have the Tar Heels at 17th in their preseason rankings. Carolina was the fifth highest ranked ACC team out of seven ranked teams in their projections.

A lot can change in college baseball between mid-January and May. Carolina is going to have to go through a lot of talented teams to defend their ACC championship and get back to Omaha, including many analysts’ number one team, Louisville. That being said though, Carolina has a great pitching staff and the ability to score a lot of runs in a hurry. It’s going to be a fun season.

Hopefully, it’s one that ends in Omaha.