UNC Baseball Brings in Nation’s Second-Ranked Recruiting Class

The UNC baseball team has been down on its luck over the past two seasons–missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time since head coach Mike Fox took over in 1999.

Last season’s Tar Heels had the highest RPI ranking in history (19) to not be selected for the big dance.

Fans should feel a little better, though, after it was announced Wednesday by Baseball America that UNC ranked second in the publication’s annual recruiting class rankings.

Although the team has often been plagued by classes that include many players who end up going pro and never stepping foot on campus, this year’s ranking is the highest the Tar Heels have had since placing No. 1 in 2003.

Only Ole Miss, which was No. 1 in the rankings this year, has more incoming players ranked among the Baseball America Top 500.

UNC has six new players that are all listed among the top 208. Five of those players, however, are right-handed pitchers.

Tyler Baum (No. 91) is the star of the Tar Heel class, but he will likely compete for limited playing time along with: Austin Bergner (No. 165), Luca Dalatri (No. 174), Robbie Peto (No. 179) and Bo Weiss (No. 183).

Catcher Brandon Martorano (No. 208)–who teamed with Dalatri at New Jersey’s Christian Brothers Academy–rounds out UNC’s top six players.

Five of the six Carolina freshmen in the rankings were drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft: Weiss (Yankees, 29th round), Peto (Angels, 30th round), Martorano (Diamondbacks, 30th round), Bergner (Red Sox, 38th round) and Dalatri (Rockies, 40th round).

The Diamond Heels are set to begin play in their Fall World Series at Boshamer Stadium this weekend. Admission is free. The games are set for Friday at 6 p.m, Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.


Two Assistant Coaches Join UNC Baseball Staff

Following the departure of former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Scott Jackson in July, the UNC baseball team announced a pair of new hires for its staff on Thursday.

Robert Woodard and Jesse Wierzbicki–who each helped lead the Tar Heels to the College World Series during their careers–will rejoin their former head coach, Mike Fox, in the dugout this season.

A key cog in both the 2006 and 2007 runs to Omaha, Woodard is also the winningest pitcher in school history at 34-5. He also never lost a home start during his time in Chapel Hill.

Jesse Wierzbicki--a part of the Tar Heels' 2011 College World Series team--was an undergraduate assistant at UNC in 2015. (UNC Athletics)

Jesse Wierzbicki–a part of the Tar Heels’ 2011 College World Series team–was an undergraduate assistant at UNC in 2015. (UNC Athletics)

After a short professional career in the San Diego Padres organization, Woodard spent 2011 and 2012 as an assistant at UNC–before later becoming the pitching coach for UNCW and Virginia Tech.

“To say today is a special day for my family and me would be an understatement,” Woodard said in a statement issued by the university. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about the University of North Carolina, its programs, its tradition and the amazing people I have met who make this university so great.

“It is hard to put into words what it means for me to rejoin this coaching staff with Coach Fox and Coach Forbes, two of my closest friends and mentors for almost twenty years.”

His former coach was just as excited to have him back.

“No player in my tenure at North Carolina has had more of an impact on the program than Robert Woodard,” Fox said. “His career numbers speak for themselves.”

Wierzbicki spent two years at UNC after transferring from Walters State.  He was part of the Tar Heels 2011 College World Series team before later spending three years with the Houston Astros organization.

A return to UNC in 2015 saw Wierzbicki earn his bachelor’s degree while serving as an undergraduate assistant with the baseball team. After spending 2016 as an assistant at Elon, he’ll be coming back home for 2017.

“It’s a honor and blessing to be back in Chapel Hill working with the Carolina baseball program,” Wierzbicki said. “To receive an opportunity to coach at my alma mater is a very proud moment. I’m very appreciative of Coach Fox and the rest of the coaching staff for bringing me on board.

“I’m looking forward to the beginning of the school year and meeting the team.”​


Andrew Miller and Adam Warren Moved at the MLB Trade Deadline

This year’s MLB trade deadline has brought about an unfamiliar sight.

The New York Yankees are selling, rather than buying.

Sitting in fourth place in the AL East division, the Yankees made a pair of huge rebuilding moves over the last week that involved former UNC pitchers Andrew Miller and Adam Warren.

Miller–the 2006 Baseball America Player of the Year as a Tar Heel–was sent from the Bronx to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday in exchange for a package of four prospects.

Warren, meanwhile, was traded back to New York last week after spending the first half of this season with the Chicago Cubs.

Adam Warren is heading back to New York after struggling during his time in Chicago. (Getty Images)

Adam Warren is heading back to New York after struggling during his time in Chicago. (Getty Images)

The Indians, who currently lead the AL Central, included two of their top three minor league players in the deal for Miller. Outfielder Clint Frazier, the No. 5 pick of the 2013 MLB Draft, and pitcher Justus Sheffield–also a former first-rounder–will aim to be part of the Yankees’ future core.

It may have been a steep price to pay for a reliever, but there aren’t many out there as good as the 6-foot-7-inch lefty.

Miller’s ERA has been under 3.00 in each of the last three full seasons–including last year, when he struck out 100 batters in just 61.2 innings.

This season, the 31-year-old is on pace for the best year of his career. His ERA is at 1.39, while his strikeout rate continues to have him on pace to strike out 100 batters yet again.

His departure from the Big Apple, however, comes just days after Warren made his return.

A Yankee for the first four years of his career, Warren was traded to the Cubs this past offseason.

New York then reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Reds for Aroldis Chapman–arguably the best closer in baseball.

As the Yankees began making moves last week to shore up their farm system, Chapman was the first domino to fall.

After much speculation, the Cuban with the 105-mph fastball was finally traded to the Cubs–with Warren and elite shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres headlining the deal.

Although Warren’s posted a sky-high ERA of 5.91 in 29 appearances this season, a return to New York could be just what the doctor ordered.

In 146 appearances during his first stint with the Yankees, Warren’s ERA never finished the year above 3.39.


UNC Baseball Receives Commits From Six of Top 500 High Schoolers

With a draft that lasts for 40 rounds and numerous minor league franchises, it’s common for the MLB to have hundreds of high school baseball players who decide to bypass college and go straight into their professional careers.

Following this year’s draft, only 127 of Baseball America’s top 500 high school prospects chose to attend school–where they will be forced to spend at least three years before their next shot at the pros.

Of that group of 127, UNC will have six of them arriving in Chapel Hill next season. Only Mississippi, with seven, had more commitments.

It’s unclear how much the young players–five of whom are right-handed pitchers–will fit in with the current roster.

JB Bukauskas is expected to lead a UNC pitching staff heavy on right-handers in 2017. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas is expected to lead a UNC pitching staff heavy on right-handers in 2017. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

As it stands, the Tar Heels’ current strength lies in its pitching–especially its right-handers–with power hitting being the team’s biggest need.

The highest-ranked player in the UNC haul is Tyler Baum, a slender 6-foot-2-inch righty out of West Orange High School in Ocoee, Florida.

Baum is joined by fellow pitchers Austin Bergner (No. 165), Luca Dalatri (No. 174), Robbie Peto (No. 179) and Bo Weiss (No. 189).

Weiss is the son of former Tar Heel great and major league shortstop Walt Weiss, the current manager of the Colorado Rockies.

The five hurlers will be accompanied to campus by No. 208 on the list–catcher Brandon Martorano.

When they arrive at Boshamer Stadium, they’ll represent the final recruiting class under former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Scott Jackson.

Jackson accepted the head coaching job at Liberty earlier this week.


UNC Baseball Assistant Scott Jackson Named Head Coach at Liberty

The home dugout at Boshamer Stadium is set to undergo the biggest facelift it’s had since 2008.

For nearly a decade, the Diamond Heels’ coaching staff led by Mike Fox, Scott Jackson and Scott Forbes has been a constant while the UNC baseball program reached heights it had never previously seen.

Now, after the Tar Heels have missed out on two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, a new era is set to begin–as Liberty University reached an agreement this past weekend to hire Jackson as its new head coach.

Jackson has also been the recruiting coordinator for UNC, on top of all his coaching duties. (LibertyFlamesNation.com)

Jackson has also been the recruiting coordinator for UNC, on top of all his coaching duties. (LibertyFlamesNation.com)

After helping the Tar Heels reach six NCAA Tournaments and three College World Series appearances, Jackson was recognized by Baseball America as one of the nation’s top assistants prior to the 2013 season in which UNC won a school-record 59 games.

Jackson also had the duty of being the recruiting coordinator on Fox’s staff–helping to bring in future major league talent like Kyle Seager (Seattle Mariners) and Colin Moran (Houston Astros).

“I am thrilled for Scott to take this next step in his coaching career,” Fox said, in a statement released by UNC. “He is a tireless worker who will do a fantastic job at Liberty. He has helped lift our program to another level since joining the staff in 2008, and we will miss him in Chapel Hill.

“I wish Scott, his wife Sara, and their boys Ryan and Tyler nothing but the best moving forward. Liberty is getting a coach and a family that will represent the university with total class.”

The news comes after Liberty’s former head coach, Jim Toman, stepped down after his ninth season at the helm.

One year prior to joining the staff at UNC, Jackson was the pitching coach under Toman at Liberty.

He has also had coaching stints at his alma mater, Campbell, as well as UNC-Wilmington, Wofford and Barton.


Former UNC Pitcher Andrew Miller Named to All-Star Roster

Former UNC pitcher Andrew Miller has been named to the American League All-Star team, which was announced Wednesday.

The tall left-hander is 5-1 on the season for the New York Yankees. Miller has a 1.47 ERA and seven saves in 2016. Miller has recorded 66 strikeouts in just 36.2 innings of work.

Miller was one of three Yankees chosen for the game.

Miller led UNC to the College World Series in 2006 and was named the National Pitcher of the Year.

Miller spoke with MLB.com following the All-Star announcement:

“It’s one of those things you dream about getting an opportunity to do. You try to make the All-Star team, starting in Little League all the way up. To do it at this level is something special. Fortunately, I’ve been able to put together a couple of good months here to start the season, and I’m just looking forward to it.”

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is slated for July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego.


Pittsburgh Pirates Call Jacob Stallings Up to the Majors

The Pittsburgh Pirates gave the UNC baseball program yet another major leaguer this past weekend, when they called up former Tar Heel catcher Jacob Stallings to start behind the plate on Sunday.

He became the second UNC player to make a big league debut in 2016, after Colin Moran was brought up by the Houston Astros back in May.

Ten different former UNC players–including Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss–have made appearances in the majors this season.

Although Stallings went 0-for-4 against the NL Central division-leading Chicago Cubs in his first game, his collegiate head coach, Mike Fox, has long praised the 26-year-old’s superior work ethic.

The son of Pittsburgh head men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings, he was drafted by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.

His selection came after helping the Tar Heels reach the College World Series twice during his four-year college career–while being named Second Team All-ACC, and leading the team with 42 RBIs in his senior year as UNC finished 46-16 and hosted the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional.

In his four years as a Tar Heel, Stallings’ teams posted an incredible record of 183-72.

List of Tar Heels in the MLB in 2016:

SP Matt Harvey – New York Mets

3B Kyle Seager- Seattle Mariners

LF Dustin Ackley- New York Yankees

C Tim Federowicz-Chicago Cubs

C Chris Iannetta- Seattle Mariners

SP Adam Warren- Chicago Cubs

3B Colin Moran- Houston Astros

RP Mike Morin- Los Angeles Angels

RP Andrew Miller- New York Yankees



UNC Pitcher Named First-Team All-Region

UNC right handed pitcher JB Bukauskas has been named to the ABCA/Rawlings Atlantic All-Region First Team, the organization announced this week.

The sophomore is the first Tar Heel to earn first-team all-region honors since Kent Emanuel and Colin Moran were first-team selections in 2013.

Bukauskas struck out an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 111 batters over his 13 regular season starts and a 3.10 ERA in 78.1 innings of work. During ACC play, Bukauskas went 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 66 innings.

Bukauskas also struck out eight in an opening night start for Chatham in the Cape Cod League and will join the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team later this summer.


MLB Draft Closes with Six Tar Heels Chosen

The three-day, 40-round marathon that is the MLB Draft finally came to an end Saturday evening–with three more Tar Heels finding out their next destinations.

Junior relievers Zach Rice and Spencer Trayner–as well as sophomore infielder Ryder Ryan–joined teammates Zac Gallen, Tyler Ramirez and AJ Bogucki in receiving the opportunity to enter the professional ranks.

A 6-foot-2 lefty with a deceptive delivery, Rice was selected in the 18th round (529th overall) by the Atlanta Braves.

Spencer Trayner has been a go-to reliever for UNC head coach Mike Fox for each of the last three seasons. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Spencer Trayner has been a go-to reliever for UNC head coach Mike Fox for each of the last three seasons. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Suffolk, Virginia native made 64 career appearances in relief–including 34 in his freshman season–but saw his playing time decrease each year as he struggled to find consistency with his pitch command.

In 2016, he pitched a total of just 3.2 innings and allowed 11 of the 22 batters he faced to reach base. By the end of the season, though, he was no longer on the team’s roster–which is likely the reason why UNC has not recognized Rice’s selection.

Next to be chosen was Trayner, a 6-foot righty out of Tampa, Florida.

The St. Louis Cardinals took him in the 25th round (766th overall), making him their second Tar Heel pitcher selected this year after choosing Gallen in the third round.

A bullpen workhorse for each of his three seasons in Chapel Hill, Trayner has a total of 85 relief appearances with a career ERA of 2.67.

The MLB rulebook currently holds that a player may sign with a pro team straight out of high school, but must attend college for at least three years before becoming draft-eligible again.

Ryder Ryan was drafted by the Cleveland Indians for the second time in his career after struggling his first two years in Chapel Hill. (UNC Athletics)

Ryder Ryan was drafted by the Cleveland Indians for the second time in his career after struggling his first two years in Chapel Hill. (UNC Athletics)

Despite being a sophomore, Ryder Ryan was eligible by virtue of being 21-years-old before the start of the draft–one of the handful of different exceptions to the rule.

When the Cleveland Indians drafted Ryan in the 30th round (902nd overall), it marked the second time the organization has picked him.

A once highly-touted recruit, Ryan was a 40th-round choice by the Indians in 2014 coming out of North Mecklenburg High School–where he hit .536 with six home runs in his senior year.

Since arriving at UNC, however, he’s seen the field in just 33 games–making only six starts as a fill-in at catcher and first base. In that time, he tallied just eight hits across 40 at-bats.

Each of the six Tar Heel draftees can now negotiate a contract with the club that drafted them–or make the decision to return to school and play out their remaining eligibility.


Wilson, Trio of Tar Heels Selected on MLB Draft’s Second Day

After years of tireless work and practice, lifelong dreams became reality for four local baseball stars Friday during the second day of the MLB Draft.

The first to hear his name called was UNC junior right-handed pitcher Zac Gallen–the Tar Heels unquestioned ace since becoming the Friday starter at the beginning of 2015.

Bryse Wilson of Orange High School was chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves, and now must decide whether to go pro or attend UNC for at least the next three years. (Photo via Twitter/@BryseWilson)

Bryse Wilson of Orange High School was chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves–and now must decide whether to go pro, or attend UNC for at least the next three years. (Photo via Twitter/@BryseWilson)

He’ll be joining the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization after the team chose him with the final pick of the third round (106th overall).

Despite a fastball that typically tops out around 91 mph, Gallen used his pinpoint accuracy to help post a 2.73 ERA with 169 strikeouts across 174.2 innings over the last two seasons.

Orange High School’s Bryse Wilson–a 6-foot-1-inch, 224 pound righty–was selected shortly after by the Atlanta Braves in the fourth round (109th overall).

Just last month, the UNC commit–who was named Big 8 Pitcher of the Year for his standout season–tossed a perfect game against Eastern Wayne in the first round of the NCHSAA 3A playoffs.

Tyler Ramirez, who played center field last season for the Tar Heels, will join UNC’s previous center fielder–Skye Bolt–in the Oakland Athletics farm system after being taken in the seventh round (202nd overall).

Although scouts are wary of his 5-foot-9 frame, Ramirez has provided the Tar Heels a steadying force in the outfield throughout his career–moving over to center in 2016 after starting in right field the year before.

Tyler Ramirez made a number of spectacular plays for UNC throughout the year, his best in a Tar Heel uniform. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez made a number of spectacular plays for UNC throughout the year, his best in a Tar Heel uniform. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

He has also been UNC’s most consistent hitter in recent years, hitting .299 for his career as a three-year starter. On top of that, Ramirez was at the top of the team leaderboards in home runs and slugging percentage in 2015 and 2016

Rounding out the day was UNC relief pitcher AJ Bogucki.

The Washington Nationals chose the 6-foot-3 Pennsylvania native in the eighth round (244th overall) after he posted a 2.86 ERA in 28 appearances out of the bullpen last year.

It was easily Bogucki’s most consistent collegiate season after spending each of his first two seasons alternating between mid-week starts and the occasional relief stint here and there.

Rounds 11-40 of the draft will take place on Saturday, with a few more draft-eligible Tar Heels still waiting patiently to find out what the future has in store for them.