The North Carolina Tar Heels head into the 2009 season as the clear favorite to win the ACC title and return to Omaha for the fourth straight season. The College World Series and Tar Heel baseball have become synonymous with Carolina having played in the championship game two of the past three years.
Coming off of a 54 win season in 2008, the Heels will have to rely on their weekend rotation to bring them back to that lofty level. The Tar Heels must replace six position starters from last years team. Gone are Tim Fedroff, Tim Federowicz, Kyle Shelton, Seth Williams and Chad Flack.
Fedroff was expected to return to school but decided to sign a pro contract. He was second on the team with a .404 average, 12 home runs and 71 RBI. Federowicz hit .303 and knocked in 48 runs. He was the mainstay behind home plate during his career at North Carolina. Williams started in center for the Heels last season and hit .315 with 45 RBI. Flack did not hit for average but was one of the clutch hitters in the Carolina lineup contributing 49 RBI.
The one loss that North Carolina suffered in their pitching staff is a big one. Rob Wooten made 44 appearances out of the bullpen for the Tar Heels last season. Wooten compiled a 1.87 ERA with six wins against only two losses.
1B - First base is one of several positions in the Tar Heel lineup that may not be clearly defined. All-American Dustin Ackley returns for his junior year after hitting .417 last season. Ackley had 51 RBI and a ..597 slugging percentage. Before the season is over Ackley may end up as one of the starters in the outfield. If that occurs, Tarron Robinson might be his replacement at first.
2B - Coach Mike Fox has several options at second to open the season. Veteran Garrett Gore returns after hitting .275 last season. Gore could also be moved to right field if Fox decides to go with freshman Levi Mitchell at second. Mitchell enrolled early and has impressed in preseason scrimmages. Mitchell is also one of the options for right field.
3B - Preseason All-American Kyle Seager returns at third for the Heels. Seager hit .347 last season and led the team with 75 RBI.
SS - Ryan Graepel returns at short after hitting .253 last season. Graepel finished the season on a strong note.
LF - The outfield poses some question marks for the Tar Heels. Ben Bunting is expected to start in left field. Bunting hit .227 in limited action last season.
CF - Mike Cavasini looks to be the starter in center if he's fully recovered from his torn ACL which kept him out last season. Ackley is another possibility if Cavisini is not ready.
RF - The right field position could be a revolving door for Carolina this season. As previously mentioned, Gore or Mitchell could start in right depending on which is the starting second baseman. Transfer Ryan Norton is another possibility in right.
C - Mark Fleury will be counted on to replace the departed Tim Federowicz. Fleury hit .275 as Federowicz's backup when Tim was given a day off or was in the lineup as their DH.
DH - Greg Holt and Brett Thomas are two of the options Coach Mike Fox has for the DH spot in the order. Holt hit .357 in limited action last season.
North Carolina returns what could arguably be the top weekend rotation in college baseball. Preseason All-American Alex White led the Tar Heel staff with 13 wins last season. He had a 2.83 ERA in 15 appearances. Adam Warren returns for his senior season after going 9-2 last year and compiling a 4.23 ERA. The final member of the rotation will be sophomore Matt Harvey. Harvey closed the season on a strong note with a 7-2 record and a 2.79 ERA. Look for freshman Jimmy Messner and Brian Gaines to be midweek starter possibilities. Messner was drafted by the Oakland A's in last years draft.
The Tar Heels will rely on a group of four players to replace the void left by Rob Wooten. Brian Moran, Colin Bates, Nate Striz, and Logan Munson will be the players coming out of the bullpen. Moran had a 2.76 ERA in 40 appearances last season. Bates and Striz both had ERA's under 3.00 in 20 plus appearances last year.
North Carolina will rely on their pitching staff to carry them this season. There will be holes to fill at the plate and they will look to Ackley and Seager to lead the way. Players like Gore, Fleury, and Graepel will be counted on to improve their hitting this season. Freshman Levi Mitchell may be the spark that they need in this years lineup. As had been the case in recent ACC baseball history, look for the Tar Heels to be the team to beat in the Coastal as well as the overall ACC picture.