By R.L. Bynum
Three former Carolina players are on Opening Day major-league rosters, with Matt Harvey hoping for another chance. Seven others who have made their big-league debuts are starting the season in Triple-A and another is in Double-A.
Easily topping the list of former Tar Heels in pro baseball is Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen, who comes off the best of his four major-league seasons and is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Gallen, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting, went 12–4 with a 2.54 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 31 starts. He’ll start Thursday night at 10 p.m. on Opening Night when the Diamondbacks open on the road against the reigning NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Gallen, who struck out 26.9% of batters and walked only 6.6%, went on an amazing 44⅓-inning scoreless streak that started in mid-August.
After some shaky spring-training outings, he pitched better Friday, allowing seven hits, including two home runs, and a walk in 5⅔ innings against Cincinnati.
“It was the first time I felt pretty good for all pitches,” Gallen, who threw 82 pitches and averaged 94.1 mph on his fastball, told the Arizona Republic. “That last [sixth] inning, it started to click.”
It will be the first time in four years that Madison Bumgarner, who committed to UNC before turning pro right out of high school, hasn’t started Arizona’s opener.
“[Gallen] was one of the top pitchers in the National League last year,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told the Republic, explaining his decision. “He anchored our star staff all year last year. And I just think he deserves it. It’s an exciting moment for him. It’ll be his first Opening Day start. And I know that’s an honor. It only happens to 30 pitchers in the big leagues and he’s one of them. He deserves it.”
Daniel Bard, at age 37, is firmly entrenched as the Colorado Rockies’ closer after racking up 34 saves last season. He went 6–4 with a 1.79 ERA and struck out 69 batters in 60⅓ innings.
Bard struggled while pitching for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, though, allowing eight runs and four walks in 1⅔ innings. His control issues resulted in him hitting Houston’s Jose Altuve in the game against Venezuela. Altuve suffered a fractured thumb, and is out eight to 10 weeks.
“I was going sinker in for a swing. I missed up and in. You just hate to see it. You saw my reaction,” Bard told USA Today. “It’s never easy. You want to make some guys maybe uncomfortable in the box, but not to the point of getting them hurt, ever. The intent of that pitch was to get a ground ball, and I just missed in.”
Colorado manager Bud Black, unconcerned about Bard’s WBC performance, said Bard will be his closer.
The third Tar Heel on an Opening Day MLB roster is catcher Jacob Stallings, who begins his second season with the Miami Marlins after playing his first six MLB seasons with Pittsburgh.
Stallings’ defense has always been his strength, and he has good skills helping pitchers manage games. Stallings caught every start last season for NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara and will be Miami’s primary starting catcher.
“It was fun,” Stallings, who got a Cartier watch from Alcantara after the season, told WRUF. “It was quite a ride that he took us all on. He had quite a few special performances, so it’s fun to be a part of, and it was a special year for him.”
Stallings hit .223, the second-lowest average of his first seven MLB seasons, with four home runs and 34 RBI last season. His best MLB season was 2019 as a Pirate when he hit .262 with six home runs and 13 RBI.
Harvey won two games for Italy in the World Baseball Classic and hopes to sign with a major-league team.
He allowed one run and two hits in four innings of a 7–1 victory over the Netherlands and threw three shutout innings in a 6–3 10-inning win over Cuba. Harvey has part-Italian and part-Irish roots, which is why he played for Italy.
MLB suspended Harvey 60 games last season after he testified that he used cocaine and provided oxycodone pills to former Angels teammate Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs died in July 2019 of a fatal mix of oxycodone, fentanyl and alcohol.
Harvey last pitched in the major leagues in 2021, posting a 6.27 ERA in 24 starts for Baltimore. Last season, he went 8–1 with a 3.71 ERA in 13 starts pitching for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides in the Orioles organization. He became a free agent in November.
Players who have made their major-league debuts but will start the season in Triple-A included two right-handed pitchers with the Durham Bulls, the top affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays — Connor Criswell and Trevor Kelly.
Criswell strained his right shoulder early last season with Anaheim, and the Rays claimed him in July. He was 2–2 with 57 strikeouts in 54⅔ innings with Durham last season.
After making a career-high 18 MLB appearances last season with Milwaukee, he starts his season in Durham despite giving up only one run over 7⅔ spring-training innings for Tampa Bay.
Others starting the season in Triple-A are Skye Bolt, J.B. Bukauskas, Colin Moran, Brian Moran and Trent Thornton. Kent Emmanuel will begin the season with Altoona, Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate.
Of those in Triple-A, the Tar Heel most likely to see plenty of time in the major leagues is right-handed reliever Trent Thornton, who will start the season with Buffalo, Toronto’s International League affiliate.
Where Tar Heels stand on Opening Day
Here is where former UNC players who have made their major-league debuts will start the season:
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies closer innings
6–4, 215 pounds | UNC 2004–06 | 9th MLB season | MLB debut May 13, 2009
After a sensational 34-save season, the Rockies signed him to a two-year extension, and he’ll start the season as the team’s main closer. In 4⅓ spring-training innings, he struck out four and had a 4.15 ERA but struggled in the World Baseball Classic.
Career statistics — 27–33, 3.64 ERA, 65 saves, 408 innings, 428 strikeouts, 1.25 WHIP
2022 statistics — 6–4, 1.79 ERA, 34 saves, 60⅓ innings, 69 strikeouts, 0.99 WHIP
Opening series — Thursday through Sunday at San Diego
Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher
6–2, 189 pounds | Age 27 | UNC 2014–16 | 5th MLB season | MLB debut June 20, 2019
He had a career-best season with a strikeout rate of 26.9%, walking only 6.6%. He threw 44⅓ consecutive scoreless innings from early August to September. One of the best MLB pitchers, he’ll start opening night Thursday at Dodger Stadium. In 16⅓ spring-training innings, he was 1–2 with 10 strikeouts and an 8.27 ERA.
Career statistics — 22–22, 3.09 ERA, 457⅓ innings, 509 strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP
2022 statistics — 12–4, 2.54 ERA, 184 innings, 192 strikeouts, 0.91 WHIP
Opening series — Thursday through Sunday at Los Angeles Dodgers
Jacob Stallings, Miami Marlins catcher
6–5, 225 pounds | Age 33| UNC 2009–12| 8 MLB seasons | MLB debut June 9, 2016
Stallings’ strength is his defense. He caught every start for NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara. Stallings will be the primary starter but likely will share time with Nick Fortles.
Career statistics — 1,102 AB, 107 R, 269 H, 21 HRs, 128 RBI, 1 steal, .244
2022 statistics — 346 AB, 25 R, 77 H, 4 HRs, 34 RBI, .223
Opening series — Thursday through Sunday vs. New York Mets
Skye Bolt, Nashville Sounds (Brewers affiliate) outfielder
6–2, 194 pounds | Age 29 | UNC 2013–15 | 42 MLB games | MLB debut May 2, 2019
Bolt became a free agent in November after a second stint with Oakland and signed a minor-league deal with Milwaukee in January. He hit .231 with one homer, four RBI and a steal in 26 spring training at-bats.
Career MLB statistics — 173 AB, 16 R, 27 H, 5 HRs, 17 RBI, 7 steals, .156
2022 MLB statistics — 106 AB, 10 R, 21 H, 4 HRs, 14 RBI, .198
Career minor-league statistics — 1,972 AB, 318 R, 521 H, 67 HRs, 304 RBI, 53 steals, .264
2022 minor-league statistics — 95 AB, 15 R, 31 H, 4 HRs, 23 RBI, 1 steal, .326
Opening series — Friday through Sunday vs. Louisville
J.B. Bukauskas, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners affiliate) pitcher
6–0, 205 pounds| Age 26 | UNC 2015–17 | 1 MLB season | MLB debut April 20, 2021
Arizona designated Bukauskas for assignment, and Seattle claimed him off waivers, both in January. He cleared waivers in February and the Mariners assigned him to Tacoma. He pitched in five spring-training games, going 0–1 with an 8.31 ERA and seven strikeouts in 4⅓ innings.
Career MLB statistics (2021 season) — 2–2, 7.79 ERA, 17⅓ innings, 14 strikeouts, 1.79 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 6–10, 3.89 ERA, 196⅔ innings, 227 strikeouts, 1.36 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 0–1, 2.42 ERA, 22⅓ innings, 22 strikeouts, 1.16 WHIP
Opening series — Friday through Sunday at Oklahoma City
Connor Criswell, Durham Bulls (Rays affiliate) pitcher
6–6, 200 pounds | Age 26 | UNC 2018 | 2 MLB games| MLB debut Aug. 27, 2021
Criswell suffered a right shoulder strain early last season while with Anaheim. Tampa Bay claimed him off waivers last July and he spent most of the season with the Durham Bulls, pitching one September game for Tampa Bay.
Career MLB statistics — 0–1, 7.71 ERA, 4⅔ innings, 4 strikeouts, 1.93 WHIP
2022 MLB statistics — 0–0, 2.70 ERA, 3⅓ innings, 4 strikeouts, 0.90 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 15–19, 4.57 ERA, 289⅓ innings, 296 strikeouts, 1.28 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 2–2, 3.95 ERA, 54⅔ innings, 57 strikeouts, 1.06 WHIP
Opening series — Friday through Sunday vs. Norfolk
Trevor Kelly, Durham Bulls (Rays affiliate) pitcher
6–2, 210 pounds | Age 30 | UNC 2012–15 | 3 MLB seasons | MLB debut June 2, 2019
Kelly made a career-high 18 MLB appearances last season for Milwaukee, including his first big-league win. He rejected a January assignment to Triple-A Nashville and signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay. The Rays optioned him Monday to Durham after he gave up only one run in 7⅔ innings over nine spring-training games, but he’s on the 40-man roster.
Career MLB statistics — 1–3, 7.13 ERA, 35⅓ innings, 34 strikeouts, 1.61 WHIP
2022 MLB statistics — 1–0, 6.08 ERA, 23⅔ innings, 23 strikeouts, 1.44 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 17–22, 2.26 ERA, 242 innings, 316 strikeouts, 1.15 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 3–3, 2.36 ERA, 34⅓ innings, 42 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP
Opening series — Friday through Sunday vs. Norfolk
Colin Moran, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners affiliate) first baseman
6–4, 225 pounds | Age 30 | UNC 2011–13 | 7 MLB seasons | MLB debut May 18, 2016
Moran only got 109 big-league at-bats last season for Cincinnati, which designated him for assignment in September. He signed a minor-league deal in January with Seattle, which assigned him to Tacoma last weekend.
Career MLB statistics — 1,520 AB, 167 R, 400 H, 50 HRs, 239 RBI, 1 steal, .263
2022 MLB statistics — 109 AB, 11 R, 23 H, 5 HRs, 23 RBI, .211
Career minor-league statistics — 1,982 AB, 240 R, 564 H, 57 HRs, 316 RBI, 6 steals, .285
2022 minor-league statistics — 193 AB, 21 R, 48 H, 7 HRs, 26 RBI, .249
Opening series — Friday through Sunday at Oklahoma City
Brian Moran, Gwinnett Stripers (Braves affiliate) pitcher
6–4, 225 pounds | Age 34 | UNC 2007–09 | 18 MLB games | MLB debut Sept. 5, 2019
Moran played briefly with Seattle in April, then spent the rest of his season with Triple-A Salt Lake. He signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in January. He pitched in six spring-training games for Atlanta, striking out eight in 6⅓ innings with a 2.84 ERA before being reassigned to minor-league camp on March 14.
Career MLB statistics — 2–0, 7.94 ERA, 11⅓ innings, 17 strikeouts, 2.12 WHIP
2022 MLB statistics — 0–0, 54.00 ERA, ⅓ of an inning, 0 strikeouts, 12.00 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 30–27, 3.14 ERA, 442 innings, 666 strikeouts, 1.18 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 5–2, 4.07 ERA, 48⅔ innings, 52 strikeouts, 1.29 WHIP
Opening series — Friday through Sunday vs. Jacksonville
Trent Thornton, Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays affiliate) pitcher
6–0, 190 pounds | Age 29 | UNC 2013–15| 4 MLB seasons | MLB debut March 31, 2019
Thornton, who boasts a fastball that reaches speeds of 100 mph and has six pitches in his arsenal, will likely pitch both at Triple-A and with Toronto.
Career MLB statistics — 7–14, 4.84 ERA, 255 innings, 244 strikeouts, 1.42 WHIP
2022 MLB statistics — 0–2, 4.11 ERA, 46 innings, 37 strikeouts, 1.24 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 35–21, 4.07 ERA, 484⅔ innings, 433 strikeouts, 1.25 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 2–2, 2.89 ERA, 28 innings, 30 strikeouts, 1.36 WHIP
Opening series — Friday through Sunday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
Kent Emanuel, Altoona Curve (Pirates affiliate) pitcher
6–4, 225 pounds | Age 30 | UNC 2011–13 | 10 MLB games | MLB debut April 24, 2021
Emanual dealt with a left elbow impingement during spring training last season with Philadelphia but avoided Tommy John surgery. Pittsburgh signed him to a minor-league deal in February.
Career MLB statistics (2021) — 1–0, 2.55 ERA, 17⅔ innings, 13 strikeouts, 0.91 WHIP
Career minor-league statistics — 37–28, 4.56 ERA, 590 innings, 474 strikeouts, 1.41 WHIP
2022 minor-league statistics — 2–3, 2.64 ERA, 58 innings, 52 strikeouts, 1.16 WHIP
Opening series — April 6–9 vs. New Hampshire
Photo via @Dbacks