ACC baseball tournament 2022: UNC freshman Vance Honeycutt

North Carolina's Vance Honeycutt (7) pulls in the fly ball during the UNC vs. NC State game at Doak Field in Raleigh, NC, Friday May 6, 2022.  North Carolina's Danny Serretti (1) is at left.

North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt (7) pulls in the fly ball during the UNC vs. NC State game at Doak Field in Raleigh, NC, Friday May 6, 2022. North Carolina’s Danny Serretti (1) is at left.

ehyman@newsobserver.com

Outfielder Vance Honeycutt, a freshman from North Carolina, discovered his UNC baseball ancestry in high school when his father Bob finally rummaged through the closet and pulled out a ring from the Tar Heels’ 1989 College World Series appearance where he was involved.

His father has never messed with his Carolina legacy, which is ironic given that Honeycutt is well on his way to establishing his own. He is second on the team with 17 homers and second in the ACC with 28 stolen bases. He is one of only three players in the nation to have hit at least 15 homers and stole 20 bases or more.

“Obviously I knew he played here and they made it to the College World Series,” Honeycutt said. “He just always talks about it, whenever your opportunity, your name is called, always be ready. If that comes early, then awesome. If not, then keep working. It’s pretty cool just knowing he was there. He was in my shoes.”

Honeycutt’s full name is Robert Vance Honetycutt IV, but he chose not to become another Bobby Honeycutt at UNC. It’s a name in itself.

The 6-foot-3 Salisbury native will be looking to help the No. 8 heels get out of the pool game when Tuesday’s ACC baseball tournament gets underway in Charlotte at Truist Field. UNC takes on No. 12 Clemson and would also need to get past No. 1 Virginia Tech to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.

“You don’t see a lot of freshmen playing on an elite midfield like him, stealing that many bases and hitting that many homers,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes. “So I’d be lying to you if I thought he was going to be this good so soon.”

Honeycutt received All-ACC Freshman Team honors and All-ACC Third Team honors Monday, becoming only the third player in UNC history to be named to the All-Freshman Team and receive All-ACC honors.

The awards may seem like he made them all along, but Honeycutt had to earn them the hard way. He batted leadoff to a loss to North Carolina A&T and then watched his batting average drop to a season-low .243 after facing Georgia Tech on April 15.

“The game sped up a bit when I was in that stretch — I was swinging at balls that weren’t really in the hitting zone,” Honeycutt said. “I think everyone goes through times like this and you just have to trust in your hard work and just keep working just to try and make it on the other side. I’m lucky to have turned the tide a bit.”

Forbes and assistant coach Jesse Wierzbicki suggested changing Honeycutt’s hitting approach. They didn’t know if it would really help this season but the thought was if he could adapt he would be better in the long run.

Honeycutt had gotten away with hitting the way he did in high school earlier in the season. But Forbes said once the ACC game started and the pitching got better and the scouting got more detailed, Honeycutt was struggling and “it was clear we had to make a change.”

Wierzbicki tricked Honeycutt into moving the bat from behind his right ear to now off his right shoulder.

“We did a lot of work on the bat trail,” Honeycutt said. “I was in and out of the (strike) zone for a very short time and didn’t have much room for error. Working on being able to get my racquet into the zone earlier just gives me more room for error and being able to use all the squares.”

It’s safe to say that Honeycutt is doing better now. In Carolina’s 19 games since then, he’s hit .343 with nine homers and 19 RBIs.

“It’s hard to mechanically change your swing mid-season,” Forbes said. “…Now he can reach more pitches. He hit pitches we thought he was meant to hit, which were about 93-94 (mph), right at the belt. He’s more direct now.”

According to Forbes, Honeycutt may be the fastest player he has ever coached. (He’s only been kicked out on three of his stolen base attempts this season.) That trait may come from his mother, Leah Ann, who ran the track at UNC.

It’s one of the reasons Honeycutt was able to transition from recruiting at shortstop to moving to midfield. That’s also why Forbes doesn’t put a cap on what Honeycutt can do.

“Its trajectory,” Forbes said. “Just keep going up.”

This story was originally published May 23, 2022 6:07 p.m.

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CL Brown reports on the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he received an APSE award, he had stints at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even attempted to run his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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