Baseball’s 2020 Recruiting Class Ranked No. 1

by David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college athletic program and the blood is vigorously pumping at the corner of Ponce and San Amaro in Coral Gables.

The University of Miami baseball program’s incoming recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country by Baseball America, giving the Hurricanes’ the top-rated class for the first time in the publication’s 20-year rankings history.

“This class is strong in all areas. We brought in athletic guys that can really defend, we brought in big time arms that can really pitch and we brought in some guys that can be middle of the order bats that can be impact hitters,” recruiting coordinator Norberto Lopez said. “We are very fortunate and very happy that these guys are here. We gave them good information and developed strong relationships with them where they wanted to be here and play for the Canes.”

The Hurricanes landed three top-100 recruits and five top-200 players among Baseball America’s individual player rankings, leading the nation in both categories. But the major influx of top talent does not guarantee success and head coach Gino DiMare will make sure the newest Canes know this ranking just means they have bigger expectations to live up to.

“When someone ranks your class high like this, it means that basically, on paper, we should be a very, very good program for now and moving forward in the future, but that’s just on paper and you don’t play on paper,” DiMare said. “The proof will always be in how they develop as players, how they are willing to develop as a person, and how hard they’re willing to work and be coached. The true ranking will be three years from now, when you look at where these guys are at. Where are these incoming freshmen compared to when they got here?”

While DiMare is excited about bringing in the top recruiting class in the country, he is quick to mention that the goal at Miami is to win national championships and not recruiting national titles. But the Canes’ head coach knows a class like this one will help the Canes in their quest for a fifth championship ring.

“It starts with recruiting, there’s no doubt about it. You’ve got to have players,” DiMare said. “If you don’t, then you really don’t have a chance, and this means we have a chance to be great. But that’s all that means. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be great. We have the potential to be great and now we have to back it up and live up to that potential. I’ll tell the players it would be a disappointment if we don’t have very successful seasons moving forward with this class. It’s a very good class and a very talented class.”

Right-handed pitcher Victor Mederos is Miami’s top-rated recruit according to Baseball America, coming in at No. 59 overall. Fellow right-hander Alejandro Rosario (60) and shortstop Yohandy Morales (77) give the Canes a trio of top-100 prospects that DiMare expects to be among the top selections in the 2023 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“We got some guys on campus that are very, very high prospects; I mean extremely high prospects that in a few years should be top-10 picks in the draft or top half of the first round or first rounders,” DiMare said. “That’s saying something about the kind of players you’ve got coming in and we do have a few of those guys. And then along with those elite prospects, we got a lot of other good very good players that we think can be impact guys for us.”

Catcher Carlos Perez (137) and right-handed pitcher Jake Smith (146) round out the top-200 prospects, while outfielder/first baseman CJ Kayfus (344) gives Miami six of the top 350 prospects in the 2020 MLB Draft class, according to Baseball America.

“To have guys like Alejandro Rosario, Victor Mederos, Yohandy Morales, Jake Smith, Carlos Perez and CJ Kayfus come to school is huge for this class and for our program,” Lopez said. “Those are guys that could have gone pro but wanted to come here and get better and develop and improve as players, as well as get an education. It was only a five-round draft, but everybody had to deal with the five-round draft. We were very fortunate to get so many talented guys to come to school this year.”

In addition to the freshmen, the Canes added some impressive graduate transfers in two-way standout Ben Wanger and outfielder Christian Del Castillo. Miami also brought in six junior college transfers that bring experience to the talented class.

“Lopes and J.D. [Arteaga] and Jonathan [Anderson] did a great job of identifying guys late that we think are excellent additions to our class,” DiMare said. “We got some players late, transfer players that I think put our class over the top. Our class was already very good but getting those guys might have knocked it over the others. If it was maybe two or three, maybe getting those guys put us in the number one spot in Baseball America‘s eyes because we did bring in some very good players late and some great transfers. We have a good mix of obviously great high school guys, along with some very, very good transfers.”

The class, which features 14 true freshmen, six JUCO transfers and two graduate transfers, has a South Florida feel to it. Fifteen of the 22 newcomers hail from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach County, while 17 of the 22 are Florida natives.

“To have the top talent in such a talent-rich area want to come play here makes you proud to be part of this program,” DiMare said. “People like Alejandro and Yohandy and Victor and all the other guys from South Florida wanted to be Hurricanes. We’ve got a lot of great talent in Miami that their dream school is the University of Miami and it makes you feel proud of the program and the people you work with that helped build it.”

Putting together a recruiting class is no easy task. The job of a recruiter involves 18-hour days throughout the summer watching games and evaluating talent.

“That’s a tough job and there are no days off; you go Monday through Sunday,” said DiMare, who was Miami’s long-time recruiting coordinator before his promotion to head coach ahead of the 2019 season. “They don’t take a day off and you do that all summer. You’ve got to be locked in. It’s tough. It’s very tough, but our coaches love doing it. Coach Lopes loves what he does, and I always did when I did the recruiting and still do, but it’s not easy, I can tell you that.”

While all of Miami’s coaches are involved in the recruiting process, DiMare gives the lions’ share of the praise associated with this class to Lopez and he is not surprised to see him succeed as a recruiter.

“Everybody’s involved; it’s not a one-man show, but the guy who does deserve the most credit is Lopes, there’s no doubt about it,” DiMare said. “Nobody outworks him, nobody. When I first met Lopes and he was our volunteer at the time, you knew he had the right characteristics to be a great recruiter because his work ethic was as good as anybody and I think it’s better than anybody. This is a true testament to him with the class being number one.”

In an odd year where the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the MLB Draft from 40 rounds to just five, Miami was able to get a lot of top talent to come to Coral Gables instead of turning pro.

“We are benefitting from the draft being five rounds. There’s no doubt that we’ve benefited from that, but so did other programs and we’re all in the same boat,” DiMare said. “I think we’ve been doing a better job over the last few years of landing players. We’ve always signed good players; we just haven’t been able to always land them on campus. I think we’re doing a much better job of getting guys on campus and a class like this gives us a chance to be very, very successful.”

With the Hurricanes’ 2020 season canceled due to the pandemic, Miami’s coaching staff was able to focus more on its recruiting class in the spring and summer.

“We probably took advantage of communicating with these guys more than we ever had in the past, just because we weren’t playing,” DiMare said. “Not that we didn’t communicate in the past, but when our season was canceled, we made sure that we did a lot of meetings and communicated to the players. We were giving them as much information as we could about ourselves and the program, the great education we offer and all the things that are involved in the recruiting process.”

The Hurricanes’ class is led by a trio of players who ranked in the top 100 of the BA500 top prospects for the 2020 draft (which includes all draft-eligible players). They brought in seven BA500 prospects overall.

Teddy Cahill, Baseball America

Part of the reason Miami’s class is so highly regarded is the coaching staff’s relentless effort to educate recruits on the advantages of becoming a Hurricane. The process lasts longer than other sports because a player can still opt to sign a professional contract after signing with Miami.

“You can get all these great players, but you have to get them to show up on campus and that takes a lot of work,” DiMare said. “After you sign them, the recruiting does not end, that’s half the battle. The other half is continuing to recruit, so that you don’t lose them to pro ball, so that you make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to academically so they can get in school. It does not end like it might in other sports; we have to continue to recruit right up until school starts.

In 2020, all undrafted players had the ability to sign free agent contracts following the conclusion of the five-round MLB Draft – meaning pro teams were trying to convince recruits to forego their collegiate eligibility and begin their professional careers.

“After the draft, you have to continue to recruit them because they can still sign,” DiMare added. “You’ve got to recruit these guys at least through the deadline when they have to sign; that it’s imperative because the pro guys are working hard to sign guys and they’re doing everything they can to get them.”

One thing Miami has focused on throughout the recruiting process is an emphasis on informing recruits and their families about how attending Miami can provide the best path for their success in baseball and in life.

“We happen to feel like this is the right route and hopefully these kids that come will show other players in the future that this is the right route to go; go to Miami, get an education so you will have your degree, and come out of it better off in terms of increasing your draft status and signing for a lot more money,” DiMare said. “I feel very confident these kids in this class, if they do the right things and I think they will, will have a lot of guys being drafted extremely high in the next few years, which is what we want and that’s what they want and they’re going to get an education out of it, too. That’s something that’s very, very important to us.”

Miami had just one signee drafted and opt to sign a professional contract in 2020. But just because a player went undrafted did not guarantee he would enroll at The U. DiMare, Lopez and pitching coach J.D. Arteaga made sure to remind recruits that attending Miami was almost certainly going to help them improve significantly.

“Something that Gino did when he took over was emphasize educating our recruits on how we can develop them and improve their draft stock and chances of making it to the big leagues,” Lopez said. “We have the data and we have the proof to show that we have helped our players improve and develop from their draft projections coming out of high school to coming out of Miami.”

Victor Mederos, Alejandro Rosario and Yohandy Morales gives the Canes a trio of top 100 prospects who all hail from Miami.

Players want to win and Miami has earned a reputation as an elite program in college baseball, winning four national championships while its 25 trips to the College World Series rank second all-time. But the Hurricanes also provide proven player development and opportunities to play against the best competition in the country.

“Beyond the quality of education and the success as a baseball program here at Miami, there are two things that I think are very attractive to a recruit,” Lopez said. “Number one, we have a proven track record of developing players at Miami and helping them raise their stock in the draft. Number two, we play in the ACC and that is a proven elite conference that produces a lot of MLB players. Since 2010, if you play in the ACC and are drafted in the top 10 rounds, you have a 54 percent chance of making it to the big leagues.”

While Miami has produced nearly 300 MLB Draft picks, including 29 first-round selections, the program offers a lot more than just development on the baseball diamond and that is something Lopez believes resonates with recruits.

“We are fortunate to offer a lot to our players in terms of education, baseball player development, great facilities, life skills development and so much more,” Lopez said. “Then you add the fact that we play in the ACC, which is one of the best conferences every year, and the fact that the University of Miami is located in South Florida, which is one of the hottest areas with scouts, and you are going to get a lot of opportunities to showcase your talents against top competition in front of a lot of scouts on a daily basis. The exposure our players get is second to none and we make sure we do everything we can to develop them, so they are successful for us to help us win games, as well as to succeed for themselves and help them rise in the MLB Draft.”

Recruiting took a unique turn once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as in-person contact and evaluation was halted and teams were scrambling to figure out the best way to continue their recruiting efforts. At Miami, the coaching staff turned to Zoom meetings as the preferred way to connect with signees and recruits.

“The Zoom calls have allowed us to really engage with the player and their family a lot more” DiMare said. “There’s a lot more communication face-to-face that we wouldn’t be able to do. Certain kids can’t even come on campus and now with COVID, we’ve got dead periods and they’re not allowed to come on campus, so the Zoom is an interesting aspect that I think has allowed us to get to know the kids and the family a lot more. You’re seeing their faces when you’re talking to them and you’re seeing their body language. You’re seeing how they’re behaving around their parents and you’re seeing the parents and how they’re behaving. So, you get to see a lot more things and learn a lot more that we have in the past when it was done on the phone.”

Now that the 2020 recruiting class is on campus and the expectations have been set, the next step is to get to work and prove this class is worthy of its distinction.

“I’d describe this class as talented, it’s very talented in all areas and at each position. From the catching standpoint, to the infield standpoint and outfield standpoint to the hitting standpoint and the pitching standpoint, we’ve got some very talented kids in all positions in this class,” DiMare said. “We only lost one guy from the recruiting class to the draft, so it makes for very deep group. Deep is good, but now we have to find out if they can play. I think we got a very talented group and we’re excited to work with them.”