Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Tar Heel Baseball Preview

Friday marks the start of the 2021 baseball season for the North Carolina Tar Heels, the first under new manager Scott Forbes who has some big shoes to fill that were left behind by longtime manager Mike Fox when he retired back in August. They will hope to bounce back from a rough finish to the shortened 2020 season and will have the mix of some young talent and veteran back to help them do that. We give you a look at everything you need to know about this team before opening day, starting with position group previews.


Rebecca Lawson- UNC Athletics

Infield

This was a relatively young group a year ago so they are set up to have more success here in 2021 as a unit, but there's one big loss they have to navigate. Losing Aaron Sabato to the majors means the Tar Heels will be without one of their best power hitters in program history and finding his replacement will not be easy. Shortstop Danny Serretti (.287, 3 HR, 52 RBI, .368 OB%, .954 FLD% in his career) returns as the leader of the group in his third year with the team and they may have one of the up and coming stars at catcher in Eric Grintz (.321, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .345 OB%, .986 FLD% in 2020), who will look to build off an impressive freshman campaign in 2020 that was cut short. Mikey Madej (.183, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .261 OB%, .944 FLD% in 2020) will likely retain his role as the team’s starting second baseman, but the team will need him to be better at the plate, as will be the case with the man that will likely patrol the hot corner, Patrick Alvarez (.213, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .319 OB%, .882 FLD% in 2020), who will also have to improve in the field. If Alvarez continues his struggles, juniors Jake Holtzapple (.167, 1 HR, 3 RBI, .286 OB%, .750 FLD% in 2020) and Clemente Incan (.240, 0 HR, 16 RBI, .293 OB%, .929 FLD% in his career), or the young gun, Tyler Causey (.294, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .368 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in 2020) may get their chance to shine here. At first base, Davidson transfer Brett Centracchio (.268, 27 HR, 111 RBI, .822 OPS, .353 OB% in his career) will look to continue the success he had at the plate at Davidson and help to ease the pain of losing Sabato in the process. The depth in the infield is bolstered by a big freshman class that is led by highly rated shortstop Mac Horvath.


@zarateeangel- Instagram

Outfield

The Tar Heels will boast an extremely veteran unit in the outfield thanks to the return of all but one member of the group from a year ago. Angel Zarate (.408, 0 HR, 18 RBI, .477 OB%, .955 FLD% in 2020) leads the unit after a tremendous 2020 season prior to the suspension of play and he'll have plenty of talent and experience around him. Senior Dallas Tessar (.310, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .400 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in 2020) is back after a good start to his 2020 season both at the plate and in the field despite only starting six of the 16 games that he played in. Converted catchers Caleb Roberts (.222, 0 HR, 17 RBI, .367 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in his career), who returns from injury, and Will Stewart (.222, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .404 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in 2020) are both back after starting games a year ago, as is Earl Semper (.182, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .333 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in 2020), who recorded a perfect fielding percentage in his seven starts last year. Transfer Max Troiani (.320, 14 HR, 64 RBI, .395 OB%, .888 OPS) was added to the picture this offseason, as he comes to Carolina from Division II Bentley University where was one of the top players in the division at the plate and he will hope to carry that over in one season with the Tar Heels. He will be joined by fellow transfer Justice Thompson (.337, 5 HR, 24 RBI in 2019), who joins come to Chapel Hill after a nice start to his college career at Northwest Florida, and a returning Tar Heel, Will Schroder (.182, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .286 OB%, 1.000 FLD% in 2020), to round out a load outfield unit for the 2021 Diamond Heels.


Aaron Fitt- D1Baseball.com

Pitching

The Tar Heels pitching staff had a rough go of it in 2020, but the good news is that the group that one loses just one pitcher who saw action last season. The rotation remains a bit of a question mark behind Joey Lancellotti (2-1, 2.22 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 21 K, 8 BB in 24.1 IP, .233, 2 HR, 10 RBI, .299 OB% in 2020), who had a nice season both on the mound and at the plate as the team’s designated hitter a year ago. Caden O’Brien (0-1, 2.08 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 20 K, 13 BB in 13.0 IP in 2020) had a couple of solid starts last season, but regardless of if he starts or comes out of the bullpen, he has to limit the walks that caused his so many issues a year ago. Will Sandy (0-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 20 K, 8 BB in 20.0 IP in 2020) pitched the most innings outside of Lancellotti last season, but was inconsistent outside of his first start of the season against Middle Tennessee State. Connor Ollio (1-1, 4.61 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8 K, 2 BB in 13.2 IP in 2020) joined Lancellotti and Sandy as those to start four games in 2020, but it was an up-and-down season for him with two strong starts and two tough outings. Max Alba (1-0, 6.97 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 9 K, 5 BB in 10.1 IP in 2020) had a rough first season last year while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, but the team will be hoping that the former Los Angeles Angels draft pick can live up to his high school recruiting rankings and bounce back this season. Michael Oh (0-0, 5.68 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 5 K, 2 BB in 6.1 IP in 2020) is also back after making two starts of his own, shining in his four innings against High Point, before struggling against Gardner-Webb. First-year freshmen Caleb Cozart and Max Carlson really impressed in their scrimmage starts last week and are the names amongst the newcomers that seem to have the best chance of latching on to the rotation. Davis Palermo (1-0, 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 10 K, 6 BB in 9.2 IP in 2020) even made a start, but the Tar Heels are hoping he can be in position to be one of the headliners out of the bullpen again. Him and Kyle Mott (3-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 20 K, 6 BB in 16.2 IP in 2020) will anchor the bullpen that will look to build on a solid start to last season. The Tar Heels hope guys like Austin Love (1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 14 K, 8 BB in 14.2 IP in 2020) and Nik Pry (3-2, 4.66 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7 K, 3 BB in 9.2 IP in 2020), but there are a lot of arms that had solid years returning behind Mott and Palermo. Josh Dotson (3-0, 4.50 ERA, 27 K, 18 BB in 34.0 IP in 2019) returns after not pitching in 2020 and he looked good in the offseason scrimmages and can help as a starter if needed. Chris Joyner (0-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8 K, 2 BB in 10.1 IP in 2020) and Shawn Rapp (0-0, 1 SV, 1.23 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 6 K, 3 BB in 7.1 IP in 2020) proved to be reliable lefties out of the bullpen a year ago, while Gage Gillian (0-0, 1 SV, 2.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11 K, 3 BB in 7.1 IP in 2020) showed some nice promise as a righty out of the pen in some solid action. Guys like Joe Charles (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 2 K, 4 BB in 1.1 IP in 2020) and Nick James (0-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4 K, 1 BB in 2.1 IP in 2020) will provide some nice depth options once again for the team this year and Cannon Pickell looks like the first-year freshman that might have the biggest impact out of the pen.



-- 2021 SCHEDULE --

Feb. 19 James Madison 3:00 PM

Feb. 20 James Madison 2:00 PM

Feb. 21 James Madison 1:00 PM

Feb. 26 14 Virginia 3:00 PM

Feb. 27 14 Virginia 2:00 PM

Feb. 28 14 Virginia 1:00 PM

Mar. 5 @Virginia Tech 4:00 PM

Mar. 6 @Virginia Tech 1:00 PM

Mar. 7 @Virginia Tech 1:00 PM

Mar. 9 Liberty 3:00 PM

Mar. 12 Clemson 6:00 PM

Mar. 13 Clemson 2:00 PM

Mar. 14 Clemson 1:00 PM

Mar. 16 @Liberty 4:00 PM

Mar. 19 @Boston College 4:00 PM

Mar. 20 @Boston College 3:00 PM

Mar. 21 @Boston College 1:00 PM

Mar. 23 23 East Carolina 6:00 PM

Mar. 26 12 NC State 6:00 PM

Mar. 27 12 NC State 2:00 PM

Mar. 28 12 NC State 1:00 PM

Mar. 30 @23 East Carolina 6:30 PM

Apr. 2 @21 Florida State 6:00 PM

Apr. 3 @21 Florida State 2:00 PM

Apr. 4 @21 Florida State 1:00 PM

Apr. 6 vs. 20 South Carolina 7:00 PM

Apr. 9 Duke 6:00 PM

Apr. 10 Duke 2:00 PM

Apr. 11 Duke 1:00 PM

Apr. 13 Charlotte 6:00 PM

Apr. 16 @Pittsburgh 6:00 PM

Apr. 17 @Pittsburgh 3:00 PM

Apr. 18 @Pittsburgh 1:00 PM

Apr. 20 Coastal Carolina 6:00 PM

Apr. 23 15 Miami 6:00 PM

Apr. 24 15 Miami 2:00 PM

Apr. 25 15 Miami 12:00 PM

Apr. 27 Gardner-Webb 6:00 PM

Apr. 30 @Notre Dame 5:00 PM

May 1 @Notre Dame 2:00 PM

May 2 @Notre Dame 1:00 PM

May 4 Campbell 6:00 PM

May 11 UNC-Greensboro 7:00 PM

May 14 6 Louisville 6:00 PM

May 15 6 Louisville 2:00 PM

May 16 6 Louisville 12:00 PM

May 18 UNC-Wilmington 6:00 PM

May 20 @17 Georgia Tech 7:00 PM

May 21 @17 Georgia Tech 6:00 PM

May 22 @17 Georgia Tech 1:00 PM


There's no other way to put this: this is a brutal schedule that Tar Heels are faced with in 2021. All but thirteen of the teams games this season will involve an opponent that received at least one vote in the preseason USA Today Sports Coaches Poll, but the good news is that they will only play seven games against preseason ranked opponents on the road.

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