The work never stops for Vance Honeycutt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt, the 2024 season has been a dichotomy. He leads the ACC with 50 strikeouts. He is the first player in ACC history to record 50 career home runs and 60 stolen bases, a mark he reached Tuesday night.

How’s it going ?

Well, it’s just Vance Honeycutt.

“It’s unreal,” head coach Scott Forbes said after Honeycutt’s 50th and 51st home runs Tuesday. “I mean, I think he’s the best player in the country, but he’s also an incredible man, person and leader.”

Who could blame the Salisbury junior for the turmoil? Imagine the pressure of leading a team, sitting at the top of the scouting report every game, and being projected as a first-round pick in the next Major League Draft. The ups and downs are therefore completely natural: it’s baseball.

Take a look at his career so far and it’s easy to see that it hasn’t been an easy journey for the player who Forbes can’t help but beam whenever his name is brought up.

In Honeycutt’s first year, he crushed it, slashing .296/.409/.672 with 25 homers, 57 RBIs and 29 sacks en route to a consensus Freshman All-America selection. He moved to the top of the 2024 draft, when he was still two years ahead of Honeycutt.

The sophomore’s highly anticipated campaign ended prematurely with a back injury that sidelined him in May for the remainder of the ’23 season. Despite the setback, he hit .257 with an on-base percentage of .418 and 12 home runs in 50 games. The average and homers were lower, but the slugger’s focus on his hitting tool — reducing his strikeout percentage from 36% in 2022 to 26% last year — was evident.

“I guess it kind of speaks to the gifts that have been given to me,” Honeycutt said. “And just keep trying to perfect those (skills) and keep working.”

This season, the home runs and strikeouts have come one after the other. Six times he recorded more than three strikeouts in a single game, with a season-high 0 for 5 and five Ks in the series opener at Wake Forest.

The stretch of Miami, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest was problematic for the junior center, as he went 7-for-41 in 11 games. Something had to change, so Honeycutt got back to work, focusing on the finer details of the plate.

“Just stretch out a little bit,” Honeycutt said of his midseason adjustments. “I tried to find some movement and see (the ball) a little better after Miami and a little bit at GT and then those first few games at Wake.”

Honeycutt worked with hitting coach Jesse Wierzbicki to rewire his swing, orient his lower body and work on his approach. But for the center, it’s not the power he’s tweaked with, it’s the alignment of his body.

“I think it’s more the way my body moves, not really my swing,” he said. “I think throughout my swing I felt good. It was more about putting my body in a better position to hit.

Vance Honeycutt (Photo: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

The results are showing as Honeycutt has moved closer to his freshman year, hitting four home runs in the last three games while going 7 for 15 at the plate.

While hitting remains a work in progress, two aspects of the game remain elite year after year – defense and speed – and both are the calling card of the number 7. Despite his injury last year, Honeycutt has been named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and offers an “it” that goes beyond the numbers on the stat sheet.

Defensively, he is exceptional. Not only does he make the work of the corner outfielders easier, but instead of being extremely vocal, he leads by example.

“Vance is an incredible player, crazy athlete,” right fielder Anthony Donofrio said. “Again, I talk to Vance and say, ‘Okay, can I make this adjustment, how can I improve.'”

Throughout the accolades, with the scouts sitting in the stands at the Bosh, and even during 0-iron matches, Honeycutt keeps his head down and keeps working. That work ethic helped him put his name in the UNC record books.

With his two-homer performance Tuesday against Coastal Carolina, Honeycutt passed Charlie Cox for the second-most home runs in program history. He needs six more to tie Devy Bell’s record of 57 and he has the rest of the season to do it.

Forbes loved coaching his starting center fielder.

“I’m just going to enjoy it and soak it up every day,” Forbes said. “I don’t know if I can convince him to come back for his senior year. But I’ll try.”

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