UM baseball

Improved rotation should be foundation of Hurricanes baseball in 2014

University of Miami left hand pitcher Chris Diaz throws during the team's game against  during the University of Miami baseball game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables on Feb. 22, 2013.
University of Miami left hand pitcher Chris Diaz throws during the team's game against during the University of Miami baseball game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables on Feb. 22, 2013.
Al Diaz / Miami Herald Staff

Special to the Miami Herald

The rotation is formidable.

Now all University of Miami coach Jim Morris has to do this fall is find a closer and a much more potent offense.

Baseball season is still four months away, but fall practice begins Oct. 21, and the Hurricanes appear set with a rotation of senior Bryan Radziewski and juniors Chris Diaz and Andrew Suarez, all left-handers with quality experience as UM starters.

Closer Eric Nedeljkovic graduated — perhaps the team’s biggest loss from last season — and Morris mentioned the possibility of switching senior Javi Salas from midweek starter to bullpen finisher. Salas had a 3.18 ERA last season in 17 appearances, including11 starts.

Sophomore left-hander Thomas Woodrey (4-0, 3.12) is a leading candidate for the job as the Canes’ midweek starter.

The Canes lost a potential bullpen arm when recruit J.D. Underwood signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after getting drafted in the fifth round.

Outfielder Matt MacPhearson (Arizona Diamondbacks, fourth round) is the only other recruit that UM lost to the pros.

Among the recruits who chose the Canes over the pros were outfielder Willie Abreu (14th round); right-hander Derik Beauprez (25th); catcher Zach Collins (27th); and outfielder Jacob Heyward (38th).

Radziewski (29th) and Salas (38th) also turned down the pros.

Beauprez, who consistently throws in the 93-mph range, is a bullpen candidate along with senior left-hander A.J. Salcines, senior right-hander Adam Sargent, freshman left-hander Danny Garcia and freshman right-hander Bryan Garcia.

Sargent sustained an ACL injury in the offseason while playing basketball but is hoping to return in February.

An interesting bullpen prospect is freshman right-hander Cooper Hammond, who doesn’t throw very hard (82 to 83 mph) but is effective with his sidearm delivery.

At Venice High last season, he was named a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American after leading his team to a second consecutive Class 7A state title and allowing just one run in 56 innings. Hammond was 9-0 with a 0.13 ERA and 53 strikeouts.

Offensively, four positions seem to be set: junior Garrett Kennedy at catcher, senior Alex Hernandez at second base, sophomore Brandon Lopez at shortstop and sophomore David Thompson at third.

Morris raves about Kennedy.

“He’s one of the top catchers in the country and really improved as a hitter,” Morris said. “Nobody outworks him.”

Thompson, who led UM in RBI last season, is a top talent if he can stay healthy. He is coming off a second shoulder surgery.

Senior Brad Fieger probably has the edge at first base going into fall ball, but he doesn’t hit for much power and could be vulnerable to a challenge from the talented Collins as well as sophomore Chris Barr, who is well-regarded defensively.

A wild card at first is 6-6, 250-pound freshman Brad Zunica, who graduated high school early, skipped his senior season and will get a chance to play right away.

“We’ll see which freshmen adjust to college pitching,” Morris said. “If they can hit, we will find a place for them to play.”

That’s true in the infield with freshmen Laz Rivera and John Ruiz, and it’s especially the case in the outfield, where seniors Dale Carey and Tyler Palmer and sophomore Ricky Eusebio all had slugging percentages lower than .300.

Among the hitters who transferred after last season were lightly used Esteban Tresgallo, Roger Gonzalez and Grant Heyman.

Carey, whose batting average dipped by 80 points last season to .192, could lose his spot in center field to the 6-3, 205-pound Abreu. In right, Heyward has a big arm and some power. Collins, possibly in left, could also figure in the wide-open outfield battle.

“Heyward’s a horse,” Morris said. “He’s probably 6-3, 220 pounds, can grow a beard in a day. Willie’s a stud, too.

“I’m excited.”

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