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Wednesday December 8th

Preview: UNC baseball will look to rely on young talent in 2020 season

<p>UNC baseball first-year and first basemen, Aaron Sabato (19), runs to first base after hitting the ball during the final game in the regional championships versus Tennessee on Sunday June 2, 2019. UNC won 5-2.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC baseball first-year and first basemen, Aaron Sabato (19), runs to first base after hitting the ball during the final game in the regional championships versus Tennessee on Sunday June 2, 2019. UNC won 5-2. 

Coming off a season in which it hosted an NCAA Super Regional, the North Carolina baseball team will rely on an abundance of young talent in 2020.

The Tar Heels had a successful campaign in 2019, but didn’t reach the heights they wanted. UNC won the ACC Tournament, earned a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and had nine players selected in the MLB Draft. But North Carolina wanted more: it wanted to reach the College World Series.

Omaha will be the main goal once again as the Tar Heels enter the season ranked No. 18 by Baseball America. A young lineup and an unproven pitching rotation could struggle early in the season, but will need to find their footing if Mike Fox’s team wants to reach the big stage.

Here’s what to expect from the Tar Heels on offense and defense this season.

Hitting

With just two seniors returning that saw significant playing time last season, the North Carolina lineup is going to be young, and it’s going to rely on its sophomores in the middle of the lineup to carry the weight.

The hitter everyone is talking about is sophomore Aaron Sabato. He led UNC in batting average (.343), home runs (18) and RBI (63) in his first season and was named the Co-National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. Naturally, the preseason accolades and hype are pouring in for Sabato.

But he’s not the only sophomore stud in the North Carolina lineup. Danny Serretti is also coming off an impressive first season, and should be a solid option in the middle of the lineup. He was second on the team with a .299 batting average and was named a First-Team Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Serretti should help out Sabato by being another threat hitting around him.

Aside from the two sophomores, the only other returning player that saw consistent playing time last season is senior Dylan Harris. The center fielder proved to be a reliable lead-off hitter last season with a .397 OBP and showed a bit of power, blasting seven home runs.

Elsewhere in the lineup, the Tar Heels will need players that got limited playing time last season to step up. The additions of junior college transfer Mikey Madej and first-year Kyle Smith should help out the depth issues in the batting order.

Pitching

The North Carolina pitching staff took a big hit with the departure of its Friday and Saturday starters in Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner to the MLB Draft. However, the Tar Heels return the majority of its bullpen, which should be the deepest part of the roster.

Fox announced that UNC’s opening day starter against Middle Tennessee on Friday is going to be Joey Lancellotti, which is a bit of a surprise. Lancellotti was the closer for the Tar Heels the majority of last season and posted a 3.12 ERA in that position. The junior has started just three games in his career.

Sophomore Will Sandy and senior Gianluca Dalatri could round out the starting rotation. Sandy went 2-2 with a 5.37 ERA as UNC’s typical Sunday starter last season. Dalatri has been hampered by injuries the last few seasons, but posted an impressive 2.25 ERA in the 32 innings he pitched last year.

The bullpen will once again be anchored by Austin Love. He appeared 36 times out of the bullpen last season, pitched 67 innings and had a 3.09 ERA. The redshirt sophomore should lead the bullpen this season and perhaps work his way into a closing role.

As UNC works toward Omaha this season, it will be crucial for the team to grow up quickly. Look for a big year from the Tar Heels if key pieces can step up in the lineup and the starting pitchers can perform to their abilities.

@matt_chilson

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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