Day 1 of the MLB Draft obviously gets the most press, and there was some big news for UNC Baseball on that front, as star player Mac Horvath and high schooler Walker Jenkins were selected in the first couple of rounds; Jenkins was taken in the top 5 overall. But even though it’s not the 40-round affair it once was, the rest of the draft still casts an enormous net and changes a lot of players’ lives, particularly compared to the other American sports. Nobody of note for UNC fans was selected on Day 2 of the draft, which covers rounds 3-10, but four were taken on Day 3, in rounds 11-20. Possibly just as important are the draft-eligible players who weren’t selected, so let’s run all that down.
- Zyhir Hope, a high school outfielder/pitcher, was selected in the 11th round (326th overall) by the Chicago Cubs. Hope was a big-time riser in the pre-draft process, with plus lefty power and an arm that impressed both from the outfield and on the mound. The Cubs took a lot of college players in this draft, so they might give Hope above-slot money in an effort to entice him into the pros. Lately, it does seem like more and more players taken in this range are near-locks to sign with their professional teams — last year, 83% of players picked on Day 3 decided to sign, according to UNC baseball expert Pat James.
- Pitcher Max Carlson was picked in the 12th round (358th overall) by the Boston Red Sox. Carlson began and ended the year as a key starter for the Diamond Heels, but spent some time in the bullpen in the middle of the year after some mid-season struggles. His numbers were good-not-great; his ERA of 5.45 isn’t great but a record of 5-2 and 76 strikeouts in 76 innings weren’t bad. The right-hander clearly has decent stuff, with a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball that maxes at 97 with some armside run, a slider that’s very good at inducing weak contact when it’s located right, and a swing-and-miss changeup. His command came and went in his junior season, but it was pretty great his sophomore year (when he recorded a 3.71 ERA in 17 starts), and his pro team will hope that this year was a hiccup and he can get back to who he was a year ago. With just one year of draft eligibility remaining, it’ll be quite a surprise if Carlson doesn’t sign with the Sox.
- Stalwart catcher Tomas Frick was taken with the Yankees’ 15th round pick at 462 overall. Frick was a three-year starter at catcher who was always defensively solid and improved his hit tool every year as a Tar Heel, concluding with a breakout junior season where he led the team in batting average (.322), total hits (75), and total doubles (22), and set career highs in just about every offensive category as possibly UNC’s most consistent hitter while rarely if ever letting a ball get past him. His power is pretty pull-side exclusive and he doesn’t have the best plate discipline (36 strikeouts to 25 walks as a junior) so I’m not sure how projectable he is to consistently get on base as a pro, but I wouldn’t bet against him continuing to improve with age, either. Additionally, Frick was the heartbeat of his team behind the plate, with his passion and gusto fueling his team in tight situations all throughout the year. He’ll be an asset to any locker room he joins. Similarly to Carlson, it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t sign.
- Lefty pitcher Luke Russo, who was a junior college commit to Scott Forbes out of Eastern Michigan, was drafted in the 16th round (493rd overall) by the Philadelphia Phillies. The 6’4, 200-pounder seemed set to help a bullpen that struggled in 2023 and maybe even be a weekend starter, with his big-time strikeout rate (107 strikeouts in 78 innings) and command (25 walks), but he’s likely headed for the pros now.
Also worth noting is that Shotgun Spratling of D1Baseball identified Christian Oppor, another lefty JuCo pitcher, as a Tar Heel commit in his Tweet about Oppor being drafted in the 5th round by the Chicago White Sox. I haven’t seen anything else about Oppor committing to the Tar Heels, and it’s a moot point regardless because nearly all fifth-round picks are going to sign.
Current Tar Heels who notably went undrafted include second baseman Jackson Van de Brake, the team leader in on-base percentage who flashed real power early in the season, starting pitcher Connor Bovair, and big relief pitcher Ben Peterson, who should give a boost to next year’s squad as seniors. And although Hope and Jenkins were drafted, the UNC recruiting class was much less affected by the draft than it could have been: any combination of pitcher Jason Decaro (208th-ranked high school prospect by Perfect Game), pitcher Boston Flannery (256th), pitcher Francesco Capocci (133rd), catcher Luke Stevenson (127th), infielder Gavin Gallagher (149th), and outfielder/football recruit Kaleb Cost (233rd) could have been drafted, and none were, which probably means most-to-all of them informed teams it wasn’t worth taking them beyond a certain point because they want to come to UNC. Perfect Game ranks the Heels’ class 10th in the country and 2nd in the ACC, the best they’ve been since the #1-ranked 2016 class that yielded Michael Busch, Austin Bergner, Luca Dalatri, Brandon Martorano, and a whole bunch of other standout players who helped the Heels to their latest College World Series appearance, in 2018. We can only hope this class has a similar impact.