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UNC Baseball: A Tar Heel-centric MLB preview

With the MLB season set to start tomorrow, let’s look in at the Tar Heels that will be taking part.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The early spring is generally time for two things in the sports world: March Madness and the start of baseball season. Unfortunately, we here at Tar Heel Blog haven’t had a ton of good stuff to write as pertaining to March Madness and the North Carolina Tar Heels men missed the NCAA Tournament entirely and the women were knocked out in the second round. UNC baseball have gotten off to a solid start to the season, but there’s some other baseball about to kick off.

Tomorrow will be Opening Day for the Major League Baseball season, as teams will kick of their 162-game journey. With UNC’s status as a good baseball school over the past couple decades, there are Tar Heels set to play a part for their pro teams in 2023.

The most high profile Tar Heel set to star for their team this season is probably pitcher Zac Gallen. He is set to get the start for the Diamondbacks on Opening Day, coming off a career season. In the second half of the 2022 season, Gallen put up a 1.49 ERA in 90.1 innings, which vaulted him to a fifth place finish in voting for the NL Cy Young Award. That included a stretch from early August to early September where he did not allow a run in over 40 innings across six starts.

While Gallen should be exciting to watch, his Diamondbacks team is projected to finish below .500 and fourth in the NL West according to FanGraphs. However, Gallen is not expected to be part of the team’s issues. Projections have him set to have another good season, and perhaps could maybe make his first All-Star team.

One for that Gallen and Arizona will face off against in 2023 is their NL West opponent, the Colorado Rockies, who feature another Tar Heel in Daniel Bard.

Bard has been one of the more remarkable stories in MLB in recent years. He didn’t play any game in the majors from 2013 to 2019 after coming down with the dreaded “yips,” and even officially retired after 2017. However, he announced a comeback in 2020, and the Rockies took a chance on him. He’s been very good for them since, taking over the closer role for them in 2021 and getting a two-year/$19 million extension for this season and next.

On the other hand, the Rockies are also expected to be near the bottom of what’s likely to be a tough NL West division in 2023.

As of right now, the only other Tar Heel that seems like a guarantee to make their team’s Opening Day roster is Jacob Stallings. The catcher has been with the Marlins ever since a November 2021 trade sent him to Miami. He was the Marlins’ regular catcher last season and is expected to split time with Nick Fortes this year.

Stallings isn’t exactly a slugger at the plate, but his defense has rated well over the years, including a Gold Glove win in 2021 when he was on the Pirates.

There are plenty of other Tar Heels who have major league experience and may make their team’s Opening Day roster or play in the majors at some point this season, but with still a day to go, not everything has been finalized. Among those names is Colin Moran, Skye Bolt, J.B. Bukauskas, and Trent Thornton.

Among the notable UNC prospects making their way through the minors is Michael Busch. He is considered a top 100 prospect in all of baseball, and reached as high as Triple-A last year. The Dodgers’ major league roster is good and will be tough to crack, but he will be one to watch this season.

There’s also still Matt Harvey who recently played for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Who knows, maybe someone gives him a shot.