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UNC Baseball: A look at the Diamond Heels on MLB Opening Day rosters

Nine Tar Heels will take the field as MLB returns to action.

Colorado Rockies v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After a months long delay due mostly to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Major League Baseball season finally kicked off last night. They’ve gone to a 60-game season with no fans in the wake of the virus, so things have potential to get weird.

One thing that is the same as past years is that UNC will be represented. Nine Tar Heels alumns will be on Opening Day rosters, so let’s take a look at what to expect from major league Diamond Heels in 2020.

Before we get to the best players or the ones on contending teams, let’s start with the best story of the nine. Daniel Bard was named on the Opening Day roster of the Rockies, marking the first time in seven years that he’s been in the major leagues.

After a promising career start with the Red Sox, a sudden loss of form that he put down to the yips and a failed transition from the bullpen to the rotation saw Bard’s career completely fall off a cliff. He attempted to catch on with minor league deals with several different teams, but he couldn’t seem to regain form. The lowest point came in 2014 when, with the Rangers’ single-A minor league affiliate, he recorded just two outs across four games, allowing 13 runs while walking nine batters and hitting seven others.

He retired after 2017 but announced a come back earlier this year. After throwing in front of scouts, he caught the eye of the Rockies, who offered him a minor league deal. Now the team has opted to include him on the roster in one of the more remarkable comeback stories in recent memory.

One of the biggest contenders in baseball this year is expected to be the Yankees and, at least for now, they have one Tar Heel. Catcher Chris Iannetta will begin the season in New York. He’s a pretty distant third on their depth chart at catcher, so it remains to be seen how much playing time he’ll get and how long he even stays on their roster.

One player on a contending team who will have a bit of a bigger role will be Andrew Miller. Bard’s former teammate at UNC, Miller is going into his 15th year in the majors and his second with the Cardinals. He struggled a bit last year, but should be an important bullpen piece for a team expected to contend in a tight NL Central.

Heels on teams that could find there way onto the playoff picture include Brian Goodwin.

Goodwin’s Angels potentially could work their way into the playoff race, especially if he takes another step forward after a really solid 2019 from him. The Tar Heel had the best season of his young career in 2019 after getting waived by the Royals. He’s got the best player in the sport in Mike Trout in his lineup, so if Goodwin can replicate his season at all, the Angels could be interesting.

FiveThirtyEight projects the Diamdonbacks to finish exactly .500, but if they do better than that, it could be because of UNC’s Zac Gallen.

A 2016 third round pick, Gallen made his debut last year and was very good. In 15 starts with the Marlins and Diamonbacks, Gallen had an ERA under three and struck out over 10 batters per nine innings.

If everything goes right in the shortened season, a young Blue Jays team could be dangerous. If that does happen, it might mean they got a good performance out of Trent Thornton.

Thornton was a fifth round draft pick in 2015 and made his debut for Toronto last year. He was the Jays’ most used starting pitcher last year, but on the whole his numbers were below average.

Now let’s take a look at the Tar Heels on some not so good teams.

Poor Kyle Seager is going into his 10th year of a very nice career with the Mariners. Unfortunately for him, that’s led to zero playoff appearances. He missed some time with injury last year, but history says that if he plays, he’ll be solid at the very least. His best is an All-Star caliber player, as he was in 2014.

The last two are on another below average team: the Pirates.

Colin Moran is entering his third season in Pittsburgh, where he’s generally been about league average so far. He’s expected to be the starting third baseman, so he should get plenty of chances on an otherwise rebuilding team.

Another Tar Heel in Pittsburgh expected to start is catcher Jacob Stallings. He was mostly the backup last year behind Elias Diaz, however Diaz is now in Colorado and his main competitor, Luke Maile, just underwent season-ending surgery. Therefore like Moran, he should get plenty of chances in 2020.

Those are just the Heels on the Opening Day rosters. There are others on the 60-man rosters that we may see at other points in the season. This year may be weird, but at least we’ll get to see some Tar Heels play some baseball.