Holberton's versatility key for UNC baseball

Junior Brian Holberton of the top-seeded North Carolina baseball team has been a utility man for the Tar Heels all year long. While he’s started in left field most of the season, he’s no stranger to playing behind home plate as the Tar Heel’s catcher.

In recent weeks the Tar Heels have made a habit of starting Holberton in left field and moving him to catcher late in the games to give junior Parks Jordan at-bats late in games.

By taking out the usual starting catcher Matt Roberts, who is batting .196 on the year, and replacing him with Jordan, who has a .267 average, the Tar Heels drastically improve their team batting average.

But since Roberts is better defensively behind the plate, the Tar Heels are constantly trying to find the perfect mix of offense and defense depending on the team they’re facing.

In UNC’s NCAA regional matchup with Towson, that meant starting Holberton at catcher and giving Jordan the start in left field.

“(Towson’s pitcher) has not had a lot of success statistically against left-handed hitters,” coach Mike Fox said as his reasoning for the move. “We were just trying to get another left-handed bat in there.”

But there’s even more depth to the strategy than that.

Since the Tar Heels were starting their left-handed ace Kent Emanuel, who has made an art out of picking off runners at first, Fox knew that, if Holberton were put at catcher, it wouldn’t hurt the Tar Heels defensively.

“(Having Emanuel on the mound) does allow us to think about who we’re going to (put in to) catch,” Fox said. “Because we don’t have to worry about the running game.”

Fox said that the key factor in being able to implement these nuanced strategies though was the versatility of the team’s utility man – Holberton.

Almost every game in the past month, Holberton has spent time in both leftfield and behind home plate, but he doesn’t mind. He just wants to help the team and thinks each position has it’s own exciting elements.

“Left’s a lot of fun. You get to run around and make catches,” Holberton said. “But catcher’s also fun because you get to make some big plays every pitch.

“They both have their fun spots, and I like both of them.”

Though Holberton said he feels comfortable catching, he admitted that he’s still trying to get used to moving around all the time.

And with increased competition ahead in the NCAA tournament, Holberton’s comfort with movement will play a key role in the Tar Heels’ success going forward.

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