Extra Bases: Canes Look Ahead to Spring
The annual Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft has hardly been kind to the Miami Hurricanes in recent years. In 2012 alone, three of the first 14 selections were Hurricane commits – including the No. 1 overall draftee. Another three players signed contracts after being selected in the top three rounds, leaving Miami without its top six signees.
Now in his 21st season at the helm in Coral Gables, head coach Jim Morris and his staff caught a well-earned break this summer.
Four of Miami’s freshmen decided to bypass the chance at professional baseball in favor of the Orange & Green after being selected in the 2013 MLB Draft: outfielder Willie Abreu, catcher Zack Collins, right-hander Derik Beauprez and outfielder Jacob Heyward.
Aided by those decisions, the Hurricanes landed the highest-rated recruiting class in recent memory, hauling in the No. 2 ranking from Perfect Game, No. 4 from Collegiate Baseball and No. 6 from Baseball America.
“The fact is Gino [DiMare] and J.D. [Arteaga] worked very hard on this class,” Morris said. “Gino coming back as our recruiting coordinator has had a big impact. Having such a high ranking correlates to having a good team in the spring, and I’m excited about this group of guys.”
Collins Impresses in Fall
No newcomer had a better fall than Pembroke Pines, Fla., native Zack Collins, who was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 27th round this past June. Collins, who was ranked the No. 31 senior nationwide by Perfect Game last season, led all hitters with a .389 average in the fall.
“Collins came right in and played well from the start,” Morris said. “He hit the ball hard the entire fall. He hit a hard .389, and for a rookie, I was very impressed with that.”
Collins, who took reps at first base during fall practice, played catcher in high school and will learn the ropes behind veteran Garrett Kennedy, who enjoyed a breakout 2013 season. Other freshmen competing for a starting spot are Abreu in rightfield, as well as a battle between Laz Rivera and Johnny Ruiz for a shortstop nod that last year featured Brandon Lopez, who missed part of the fall while recovering from injury.
Morris said all of his highly-touted rookies will benefit from a lineup that could feature six returning starters.
“There’s no question it’s important to have some veteran leadership,” he said. “Guys like Kennedy and David Thompson, who are the first guys out there every day and work as hard as anyone on the team, are key. That’ll be big for us, especially from a hitting standpoint.”
Bullpen Roles in Question
Other freshmen – including pitchers Cooper Hammond, Bryan Garcia, Danny Garcia and Derik Beauprez – are all competing for spots on a pitching staff that Morris says features as much depth as he has seen in his time in Coral Gables.
“Our question mark is who is going to fill what role, but we have some good rookies in the bullpen,” Morris said. “We just have to nail down the bullpen and find out exactly what everyone’s role is going to be. There are some quality guys in there.”
As impressive as Miami’s incoming class should prove to be in coming years, the Hurricanes will rely on workhorse starters and veteran poise throughout the roster to shoulder load.
Miami’s entire starting rotation – including All-American lefthander Bryan Radziewski and Chris Diaz, who ranked second in the conference with a 1.64 ERA in 2013 – return for the coming season. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Suarez topped out at 96 MPH on the radar gun during fall practice, while senior Javi Salas also enjoyed a strong campaign.
Both Radziewski and Salas were selected in the 2013 MLB Draft, but decided to return to Coral Gables for another chance to lead the Hurricanes back to Omaha.
Carey Earns “Comeback Player” Label
Among other veterans that will play big roles in 2014 is a quartet of seniors: centerfielder Dale Carey, whom Morris called the “comeback player” of the fall after hitting .302, designated hitter Brad Fieger, second baseman Alex Hernandez and leftfielder Tyler Palmer.
With fall practice in the books, all four have been penciled in by Morris as starters for the spring. But with a roster featuring a plethora of talent and experience, plenty of changes can be made in advance of Feb. 14 – Opening Day against Maine.
“We haven’t been to Omaha in a while, and I think this club has a chance to do that, with the pitching and returning players we have,” Morris said. “Our team worked really hard this fall – both in the weight room and out on the field. Not one time the entire fall did I have to call guys and say, ‘Hey, let’s get it going now.’ They showed up every day for fall practice and worked hard, and gave it a good effort.”