UNC baseball in?eld adjusts to changes
When the Minnesota Twins signed first-round draft pick Levi Michael on Aug. 15, they opened up a $1.2 million hole on the left side of North Carolina’s infield.
The shortstop had been a key factor in UNC’s success in each of the past three seasons, saving pitchers with his slick glove work and creating runs on the offensive end with an impressive .429 career on-base percentage.
But with the Major Leagues knocking, Michael decided to forgo his senior season and sign with the Twins, leaving coach Mike Fox searching for a replacement.
As it turns out, Fox didn’t have to look very far.
Junior second baseman Tommy Coyle will slide over to shortstop this season — a move he’s been eagerly anticipating for some time.
“It’s actually more natural for me,” Coyle said.“I played there my whole life through Little League and high school, so it was kind of different coming in here and playing second. I’ve had that on the backburner, so I’m excited to play there.”
The absence of both Michael and senior first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki, who was drafted and signed by the Houston Astros, will drastically morph the Tar Heels’ infield alignment.
At first base, Fox will give the nod to junior transfer Cody Stubbs, who has already made a strong impression on his new team during the spring and will likely hit near the middle of the order.
At second base, it’s a little less clear.
With Coyle vacating the position, Fox said he’ll turn to either Mike Zolk or Shell McCain —both of whom have yet to play an inning at the collegiate level.
Still, the freshmen have both turned heads in the spring.
“It’ll be between those two guys,” Fox said.“One of them hits left, the other one right, so we could end up platooning there.”
Amid all the commotion in the infield, both third baseman Colin Moran and catcher Jacob Stallings will be staying put in the roles they played a season ago.
As a freshman, Moran was the team’s strongest statistical hitter last season, leading the Tar Heels in batting average, home runs and RBI and posting a whopping .984 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Moran has already been named a pre-season All-American by Baseball America, and the standards he set last season may be nearly impossible to top.
But for Fox, that’s more than OK.
“We’ll take the exact same year he had last year,” Fox said. “That was a pretty good one. But just knowing Colin, I feel like Colin’s always gonna feel like he can do better.”
Moran will once again be supported in the middle of the order by Stallings, and despite the loss of Michael, the lineup should maintain a similar balance.
The speedy Coyle will likely take Michael’s customary No. 2 spot in the batting order behind outfielder Chaz Frank, and the duo should be able to set up the offense.
“Hopefully we can get those little fast guys on base,” Stallings said.
“And hopefully I can hit some of them in — if Colin doesn’t hit them all in.”
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