With just two weeks left before the end of fall baseball, there are a couple of different ways to look at what type of team the Miami Hurricanes are developing for spring 2013.
The pessimistic view is that the Canes haven’t been to the College World Series since 2008, haven’t won a national title since 2001 and have been eclipsed in the state by FSU and Florida, both of which finished in the top six of the final ESPN poll.
In addition, the Canes lost some key players from last season’s team, including catcher Peter O’Brien, who won the team’s triple crown, and pitchers Eric Erickson, Steven Ewing and E.J. Encinosa, who combined to produce17 wins and eight saves.
The optimistic view is that a solid nucleus returns, and the Canes added a 13-player recruiting class that Baseball America ranks 10th in the nation. It’s the first time since 2006 that the magazine has ranked the Canes in the top 10.
Among other state schools, only Florida, at No. 22, made Baseball America’s top 25. Miami’s class was second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, behind No. 5 North Carolina.
Jim Morris, the Canes’ coach since 1994 and winner of two of Miami’s four national titles, talked about his team earlier this week and mentioned three pitchers who could potentially be his ace this spring: senior right-hander Eric Whaley, junior left-hander Bryan Radziewski and sophomore lefty Andrew Suarez.
The latter two are overcoming arm surgeries and won’t pitch this fall. Morris hopes they’ll be ready by opening day in February.
Whaley, who has a 16-10 record in three years at Miami, and Radziewski (11-2) are the most experienced starter options.
Junior right-hander Javi Salas, who went 6-3 with a 3.21 ERA last season, could again be the fourth starter.
“Before [Monday, when he had a bad outing], Javi threw better than anyone on our staff this fall,” Morris said.
Junior lefty A.J. Salcines (1.40 ERA, seven saves) and senior right-hander Eric Nedeljkovic (1.78, four saves) are the top closer candidates.
Sidewinder Adam Sargent (2.81 ERA) is looking to earn a spot in the bullpen along with Alexander Fernandez (2.84 ERA in just nine appearances) and Christian Diaz (4.18 ERA).
Two pitchers are expected to arrive in January, and Morris said freshman left-hander Thomas Woodrey has been the biggest surprise of camp.
The offensive lineup is still in flux — junior third baseman Brad Fieger is the only returning starter who seems to have his same position locked up.
Sophomore Garrett Kennedy, who played a lot last season when O’Brien was hurt, is a strong defender who struggled as a hitter last season. This fall, he’s leading the team with a .429 average.
Middle infielders Jarred Mederos and Stephen Perez are gone, but junior Tyler Palmer has been playing second, and junior Alexander Hernandez has been the surprise of camp at shortstop, hitting .350. Still, don’t be surprised if freshman Brandon Lopez ends up at shortstop once he gets over nagging injuries.
“Brandon is probably our most talented infielder,” Morris said.
Morris expects Michael Broad, who played second base last season, to hit in the middle of the lineup and play right or left field.
Chantz Mack figures to be in right or center field and has been the Canes’ best outfielder this fall.
Center fielder Dale Carey, who started 58 games last season, played in the elite Cape Cod league this summer. But Morris said he has been striking out too much this fall.
That could leave an opening for freshmen David Thompson, Grant Heyman and Ricky Eusebio. The latter is excellent defensively. Thompson, coming off shoulder surgery, hit live pitching for the first time Monday. He can play the corner infield and outfield spots.
“He’s such a good hitter,” Morris said. “I have a feeling he will sneak into the lineup somewhere.”