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Sunday December 5th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Two players finish impressive seasons in MLB

Starting pitcher Zac Gallen (23) of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager pictured in 2021. Photos courtesy of  Ralph Freso/Getty Images/TNS and Brian Cassella/TNS.
Buy Photos Starting pitcher Zac Gallen (23) of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager pictured in 2021. Photos courtesy of Ralph Freso/Getty Images/TNS and Brian Cassella/TNS.

Although the North Carolina baseball team faced some adversity in the last two seasons in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, several former players have found success at the next level.

The number of Tar Heels in the MLB is abundant, but two players in particular stand above the rest. Here is a look at how they helped their respective ball clubs this year.

Kyle Seager 

Seager spent two seasons with the Tar Heels from 2008 to 2009 and quickly gained recognition for his hitting ability, as he set the single-season school record for doubles in his sophomore season. These skills led to him being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 2009 MLB Draft, where he has been a staple at third base ever since. 

Since making his MLB debut with the Mariners in 2011, Seager has played in 1,480 games, hitting 242 home runs and 807 RBIs. His best season came in 2016, when he registered an impressive .859 OPS, hit 30 home runs and finished 12th in the AL MVP voting.

This season, Seager led the upstart Mariners with 101 RBIs and finished second on the team with 35 home runs. His contributions helped the team conclude the season with a 90-72 record, marking Seattle’s best campaign since 2003.

Seager and the Mariners were playing meaningful baseball all year, and the team was vying for one of the two AL wild card spots on the final day of the season. The grit of the Mariners captured the attention of many, as the team hadn’t made the postseason since 2001, which is the longest active drought for any North American professional sports team.

Once it was clear the Mariners would fall short of their postseason aspirations, Seager was removed from the game in the ninth inning, allowing the crowd to give him an emotional two-minute standing ovation.

As a pending free agent this offseason, Seager’s future as a Mariner is in question, but the impact he made during his 11-year stint is undeniable.

Zac Gallen 

Gallen, a right-handed pitcher, played for North Carolina from 2014-2016. In his final two seasons in Chapel Hill, his ERA was below 3.00, and he registered a total of 169 strikeouts.

His success with the Tar Heels helped him get selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. After spending time in the minor leagues, he was sent to the Miami Marlins via trade in 2017, where he made his major league debut in June 2019. He faced the Cardinals in his first career start and struck out six batters while allowing only one run over five innings.

Later that summer, Gallen was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he has earned his shot to be a mainstay in the MLB. In eight starts with the team in 2019, he registered a 2.89 ERA.

Gallen was even better in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, as his ERA dropped to 2.75 and he struck out 82 batters in 72 innings. His dominance on the mound allowed him to finish ninth in National League Cy Young voting.

Gallen has continued to impress this year, his first full season with the Diamondbacks. He racked up 139 strikeouts over the course of 121.1 innings. Although his earned runs average did regress from previous seasons — jumping to 4.30 — it is still a solid mark, and Gallen has shown he can still strike out batters at a rapid pace.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com  

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