Future Diamond Heel: Zach Rice

Inside Carolina profiles UNC's 2013 baseball recruiting class. Today the spotlight is on Zach Rice.

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Bio: Rice is a 6-foot-4, 185-pound pitcher at Suffolk (Va.) Nansemond River High School. The senior is ranked among top-1000 high school prospects in the class of 2013 by Perfect Game. Rice plays for the Evoshield Canes travel squad during the summer and fall.

Recruitment: North Carolina's pitching staff is loaded with right-handers. However, with lefty R.C. Orlan recently drafted by the Washington Nationals and the potential departure of junior starters Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson following the coming season, North Carolina needed to bulk up its left-handed pitching in the class of 2013.

Enter Rice, a lefty, who was initially contacted by North Carolina in January following the East Coast Baseball Camp in Richmond, Va. The Tar Heels joined a long list of programs vying for the services of the pitcher. In addition to North Carolina, Rice was heavily recruited by ACC foes Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Local schools Radford and Liberty were also interested as was East Carolina.

Less than sixth months after formally being introduced to North Carolina, Rice committed to Mike Fox's program in May.

Why Carolina? Rice placed an emphasis on the education aspect of North Carolina because he recognizes baseball might not always be there.

"I feel like an education is important because if you get hurt out there and you don't know if you can come back and get your education, especially at a school like North Carolina where the education is one of the best in the country," Rice said. "That's just a good opportunity."

In addition to the chance to earn a degree from North Carolina, Rice said the Tar Heel coaching staff stood out to him.

"Obviously the history of the program [stands out]," Rice said. "The academics were great, the campus was amazing, the coaching staff – the stability having been there and I know they're not going to leave ... Just the atmosphere of the place in general, I liked it a lot."

Scouting Report: Rice is a lanky left-hander whose hard work has revealed a high ceiling. Perfect Game clocked Rice's fastball at 89 mph in late July, but Nansemond River head coach Mark Stuffel says he can throw faster.

"He's a hard worker," Stuffel said. "He's gone from being a soft lefty three years to touching 91 right now with good movement and that's all through hard work."

Rice has three reliable pitches he can turn to. His primary pitch is his fastball, and he then turns to the off-speed pitches in order to get the hitter to chase or hit into a harmless put-out.

"I usually try and get ahead with the fastball," Rice explained. "A first pitch strike and then after that it's going to be breaking stuff. I like to go to my slider and curveball."

Rice is currently working on a changeup as well. He said he does not like to go to it as much, but is not afraid to break it out whenever the curveball or slider is not on.

This past spring, his junior season at Nansemond River, Rice went 7-2 with a 2.05 ERA. He had 71 strikeouts and opponents hit .179 against him.

It is unknown whether Rice will be developed as a starter or a bullpen pitcher when he arrives at North Carolina. Ideally, the coaching staff would like to develop him into a starter. Tall left-handed pitchers with great velocity and a handful of pitches to choose from can be valuable weapons on the college level. Rice certainly has all the tools and potential to develop into a starter, but, for now, he is willing to be patient and work hard until the opportunity presents itself.

"I'm sure they're going to want to keep me in a starting role, but I'm going to put in good solid work and we're going to see what happens."

Coach Quotes: "I think work ethic is a strong trait," Stuffel said. "It's good to have God-given ability, but what you're not given you can gain through hard work so I believe that is very important."

"The arm alone separates him from everybody else," Stuffel continued. "Most of the time if you got lefties sitting in the mid-80s you're pretty happy with that, but he's a little harder." "I think the (Tar Heels) are expecting to lose one of their big left-handers and I think they got a lot of good right-handed arms and they needed a lefty," Stuffel explained. "I think they expect him to come in and make a difference right away. I don't know if that's in the bullpen or that's starting, but that's the way it sounds."

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