The North Carolina baseball team will have to adjust to some major departures, as Dylan Harris, Aaron Sabato and Gianluca Dalatri have signed MLB contracts within the past week.
Harris, Sabato and Dalatri signed contracts with the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. These decisions came a few months after student-athletes in spring sports were granted an extra year of eligibility after the NCAA canceled all remaining competition in March.
This trio of Tar Heels chose to forgo the extra season and begin competing at the next level.
Harris was an undrafted acquisition by the Orioles, signing as a free agent after the shortened five-round MLB Draft. Harris had an impressive start to the 2020 season prior to its shutdown. In 19 games for the Tar Heels, Harris was batting .274 with five home runs and was second on the team with three stolen bases. The senior outfielder, who arrived to UNC in 2019 after attending Walters State, will look to further develop his abilities on a professional level.
Sabato is arriving with the Twins organization after being selected as the 27th overall pick in the first round. In his career at UNC, the first baseman had a batting average of .332 and was a key member of the Tar Heels batting order. He recorded 98 hits, 81 RBIs, 67 runs and 25 home runs in 83 games as a Tar Heel, including seven home runs in the 19 games North Carolina played this season. Sabato was selected as an All-American in both of his seasons at UNC, once on the first team and once on the second team.
Dalatri began his UNC pitching career in 2017. In that season, the right-hander was named to the first-year All-ACC and first-year All-American teams. He also made third-team All-ACC in the same season. Following his early success, he was plagued with injuries for much of his remaining tenure in Chapel Hill. In the 28 games Dalatri pitched for the Tar Heels, he threw 151 strikeouts and recorded a 10-6 record.
With plans for the MLB to return in July, these three will have to accommodate to rule changes and a shifted organizational structure in the minor leagues. Changes for the upcoming MLB season will include a universal designated hitter, as well as an automatic runner on second base during extra innings. The latter has been implemented in the minor leagues since 2018. The season will also be shortened to 60 regular season games, with pitchers now given a three batter minimum per appearance, which could lead to longer outings for relievers.
Though going through minors is the expected next step before getting meaningful action in the MLB, these adjustments may be in place beyond this season. For the 2020 season, minor league baseball has been canceled, meaning these three Tar Heels likely won't see action this year.
North Carolina will look to fill a void without Harris and Sabato in the batting order. While the team has reliable assets on its roster, the loss of two of its top hitters will certainly prove to be challenging. The pitching staff will likely continue to be deep for the Tar Heels, as the team demonstrated in the shortened 2020 season.
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