Tar Heels Set for 2021 MLB Draft
UNC could see multiple players, commits selected in the first three rounds
With the 2021 MLB Draft set to begin Sunday in Denver, a handful of North Carolina players and commits are on the brink of achieving their lifelong goals of being selected by a professional franchise.
Here’s a closer look at the five players who are currently on the Tar Heels’ roster or are committed to the program and are gaining significant draft interest. Players are listed in order of their rank in Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospect rankings.
MLB Draft schedule
Sunday, July 11
Round 1: 7 p.m., ESPN and MLB Network
Monday, July 12
Rounds 2-10: 1 p.m., MLB.com
Tuesday, July 13
Rounds 11-20: 12 p.m., MLB.com
Baseball America rank: 28
MLB Pipeline rank: 17
Buoyed by his performance last summer at events such as the Area Code Games and the Future Stars Series at Fenway Park, Solometo has established himself as arguably the best high school left-handed pitcher in the class. In fact, both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline rank the Bishop Eustace Prep (New Jersey) standout as the second-best lefty overall, behind Kansas State’s Jordan Wicks.
Solometo’s fastball sits around 89-93 mph and tops out at 96, according to Baseball America. He complements it with a 60-grade slider that he can consistently spot down in the zone and an average changeup that induces lots of grounders and weak contact. Combine that arsenal with Solometo’s 6-foot-2 frame and his left-handedness, and it’s no surprise that he’s generating first-round buzz.
“If he doesn’t go in the first round and he decides he is a first-round talent and wants to get to that point … he would represent one of the better pitching talents that Chapel Hill has gotten in a long time,” Collazo said. “He’s got a legit three-pitch mix. He’s got a longer arm action, but that hasn’t really affected him. He’s shown good command of all three pitches. He’s got a really good slider and a fastball that gets to the mid-90s from the left side. So, in terms of pure stuff, he’s got everything that you need.
“If he does make it to campus, I could see him easily moving into that Friday night role and dominating ACC lineups. That’s really why we see him going off the board in the first round. He’s got that kind of pure stuff.”
Baseball America rank: 59
MLB Pipeline rank: 78
Originally a member of the 2022 high school class, Triantos wasn’t scouted heavily last summer. But after reclassifying for 2021 in the fall, scouts started flocking to Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia, and the shortstop’s draft stock took off.
Featured in MLB Pipeline’s “5 Draft prospects with helium” piece last month, Triantos batted .712 with 44 runs scored, 27 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 10 doubles and 11 home runs this spring en route to MaxPreps first-team All-America honors. While Collazo said scouts are split on whether Triantos is better at shortstop or second or third base, many believe he could develop into a plus hitter with solid power potential.
Although Triantos’ bat is his calling card and could lead to him being selected in the first two rounds, he’s also impressed on the mound.
“I would be really intrigued if he made it to Chapel Hill because I do think he’s got the ability to be a two-way guy,” Collazo said. “He can get on the mound and throw a low-90s fastball. He’s got a changeup and a cutter. I think his upside is probably better as a hitter, but I would be very intrigued to see if the UNC coaching staff would let him do the two-way experiment, whether that’s as a shortstop who kind of comes in in relief some games or whether that’s a more expanded pitching role. I’m not sure what it would be, but I think he does have the talent to do both.
“But if he does get to campus, then you should be very excited about the potential offense he’s going to bring to the team because he’s a very talented hitter.”
Baseball America rank: 97
MLB Pipeline rank: 119
Thompson garnered some scouting interest coming out of Northwest Florida State College last year. In his first season with the Tar Heels, though, he needed little time to cement himself as one of the most intriguing college hitters in the 2021 class, going 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, a bunt single, a steal and two spectacular catches in his ACC debut against Virginia. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound center fielder ultimately finished the season slashing .304/.386/.444 with seven homers and 15 stolen bases in 17 tries.
Aaron Fitt @aaronfittFINAL: @DiamondHeels wins a fun game 3-2. Justice Thompson might have had the best ACC debut in history - his most electrifying moment yet was a leaping catch at the wall in dead CF to rob Zack Gelof of a game-tying homer in the 9th. Scouts literally jumped out of their seats. https://t.co/SikL2hrNYQ
A 70-grade runner and 60-grade fielder according to Baseball America, Thompson has exciting upside that should be enough to compel a team to draft him in the first three rounds. There are, however, questions about his hit tool after he struck out at a 27.8% rate in 54 games.
“He’s a guy who does have longer arms, and I do think that can lead to some inconsistencies in his swing,” Collazo said. “There have been some holes that he’s shown. He has shown some tendencies to chase, and picking up spin has been a question that area scouts have had with him. So all of those are questions about the pure hit tool. If he is able to maybe clean some things up or shorten some things up at the plate and improve his discipline a little bit, there are a lot of things he does well. …
“Teams getting a better feel for what the pure hit tool is going to be is really going to tell us what his future role is, because all the supplemental tools, he has them.”
Baseball America rank: 100
MLB Pipeline rank: 137
After redshirting as a true freshman in 2018, Love emerged as one of UNC’s best arms in 2019, appearing in a team-best 36 games out of the bullpen and posting a 3.18 ERA in 68 innings. The righty wasn’t quite as sharp during the shortened 2020 season, and he subsequently didn’t hear his name called during the draft. That ultimately turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he returned to Chapel Hill and made a successful transition to starting this spring.
As the Tar Heels’ unquestioned ace, Love logged a 3.71 ERA over 17 games (16 starts) and 102 innings. His 129 strikeouts were the ninth most among Power 5 pitchers and only four shy of the UNC single-season record, set by Andrew Miller in 20 games (18 starts) and 123 1/3 innings in 2006. As good as Love was all season, he was sensational over the final month, moving up about 100 spots in Baseball America’s draft rankings thanks in large part to his back-to-back complete games against Louisville and Georgia Tech.
Over the course of the season, Love showed a fastball that sat in the 91-94 mph range and touched 97-98. He also made considerable strides with his slider – which might have replaced his mid-to-upper-80s changeup as his best secondary offering.
“I think once you kind of grade everything out, he doesn’t have maybe the fastball metrics that you would love to see in terms of the quality of the spin and getting whiffs at the top of the zone,” Collazo said. “But if you put him in a bullpen role, the fastball is going to play up just in terms of velocity. And when you look at those secondary pitches and the strikes he’s thrown, there’s really a lot to like. There are players with more upside, but he’s got a pretty safe package of stuff and performance at the end of the day, and he did a really good job proving that this entire year.
“I think probably at some point in the second or third I could see him (selected). I’d say the first might be a little bit too rich, but I know there are some teams that are really interested in him in the second and third round.”
Baseball America rank: 349
MLB Pipeline rank: N/A
A true freshman in 2019, Serretti popped up on scouts’ radars by slashing .299/.373/.424 from both sides of the plate and playing a stellar shortstop and second base. In the two years since then, he’s continued to impress with his hands and glove work, but hasn’t made the sort of offensive strides that scouts hoped to see, according to Collazo.
Serretti hit .250/.356/.276 during the shortened 2020 season, then slashed .249/.332/.488 this spring. To his credit, he upped his home run total from three across his first two seasons to nine in 2021. But he also saw his strikeout rate climb to about 20%.
While Collazo thinks Serretti has the tools to stick at shortstop, some scouts wonder if he’s better suited for second or third base due to his questionable speed, footwork and angles he takes defensively. Bigger questions, however, revolve around his bat.
“I think it really just comes down to offensive questions for him,” Collazo said. “How much is he going to hit? How much power does he get to? Is he going to profile as more of a utility type or is he going to hit enough as a switch-hitter to carve out an everyday role? That’s probably the question with him. I think if he’d had a strong year offensively, we could be talking about him in a top-five round range. But for now, I think he’s probably going to be a later pick than that if some team decides to pop him this year, which I imagine someone does at some point.”
Other players with UNC ties who could be drafted
Joe Charles, RHP (No. 30 prospect in North Carolina, per Baseball America)*
Max Alba, RHP (No. 38)**
Joey Lancellotti, RHP (No. 41)
Caleb Roberts, OF/C (No. 45)**
Angel Zarate, OF (N/A)
Alberto Osuna, 1B (No. 29 prospect in Tennessee, per Baseball America)***
*Transferred to Florida State
**In the transfer portal
***Incoming Walters State transfer