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UNC Baseball: 2020 MLB Draft primer

Despite a shortened MLB Draft this year, several Tar Heels could still hear their names called on Thursday.

High Point v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

When the coronavirus shut down sports, baseball, in particular, had one of the toughest road maps ahead. The teams were coming towards the end of spring training, but not having any regular season games under its belt made things tough when it comes time to resume, unlike the NHL and NBA.

But even throughout the pandemic, the MLB Draft will go on, following in the footsteps of the NFL Draft. However, the MLB Draft has been shortened to only five rounds, which really hurts a lot of fringe, middle round players who were hoping to get drafted and go professional instead of playing in college.

But even with the shortened season for college, the North Carolina Tar Heels will have multiple players who could have the honor of hearing their name called on June 11th.

Aaron Sabato had the potential of jumping into the early part of the first round of the draft going into the 2020 season, but the shortened season hurt those chances. But that didn’t stop Sabato from having a great season. He was so good, in fact, that he was named a second-team All-American by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He hit .292 with a 1.186 OPS while leading the team in home runs, RBIs, doubles, and walks.

Sabato’s range in the draft is anywhere from the late teens all the way into the middle of the second round. But most believe Sabato is likely to go in the 20’s, which is where MLB Draft expert Keith Law has him going, 26th overall to the Oakland Athletics.

Finding a good landing spot for a prospect is very different in the MLB than it is in other leagues, but an intriguing spot for Sabato is 25th overall to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have Freddie Freeman at first base, but he is now 30 and it will likely be two to three years before Sabato is ready. Plus, the likelihood of a universal designated hitter being implemented in the National League is ever-growing. That would be a good spot for Sabato to blossom over the next few years.

The players the shortened season hurt the most were the rest of the draft-eligible Tar Heels, who didn’t get a chance to improve their draft stock enough to get into the top-five rounds. One thing that could impact that even more is the fact that teams will likely take fliers on high schoolers in the last couple of rounds that normally wouldn’t go as high due to signability concerns. With the uncertainty going forward with getting athletes on campus, some high schoolers could be coaxed into taking the signing bonus instead of going through the rocky path that could exist for student-athletes. This could lead to fewer college players being selected in later rounds.

But there are some other players to keep an eye on during the draft, Joey Lancellotti being one of them. Lancellotti, while playing on both sides of the field this year, really blossomed as a pitcher this year. He lowered his season ERA to 2.22 through 24.1 innings of work, down almost a full run from the previous year. His chances of improving his stock over the entire year were high, but not having a large enough sample really hurt that.

As for prep players that have committed to North Carolina that could be part of that late-round run on high schoolers, the Tar Heels highest-ranked commit, Maxwell Carlson, a right-handed pitcher from Minnesota, could hear his name called if teams follow this strategy. Perfect Game has Carlson listed as their 162nd prospect, which is right in the range of the end of the fifth round.

Another two names to keep an eye on are Harold Coll, a shortstop commit for the class of 2020 who could be selected in the late rounds, as well as Liam Norris, a left-handed pitcher from North Carolina. Both prospects are highly regarded in the class, which could be attractive for teams at the end of the draft looking to take a flier.

The 2020 MLB Draft is scheduled for June 11th. Stay with Tar Heel Blog for more updates on Tar Heels in the draft!