Midseason look at UM, FIU baseball

04/05/2014 12:00 AM

04/05/2014 12:33 AM

It’s just past the halfway point of the regular season for Miami’s two Division I baseball teams, and here’s a quick look at how they have done and what to expect the rest of the way:

UM

The Hurricanes (18-12, 8-4) started the season in Baseball America’s Top 25 but fell out, due in large part to several losses to unranked teams such as Bethune-Cookman, Maine, Florida Atlantic, Stetson and UCF.

Miami has played fairly well against ranked teams, taking one out of three at No. 1 Florida State, one of three against No. 3 Virginia and two of three against No. 13 Florida.

In addition, North Carolina State was No. 25 last weekend when the Canes swept three games on their home field.

•  MVP: Chris Diaz, who was 5-0 with a 2.27 ERA entering Friday night, has been outstanding not only against a tough schedule but also against the aces of those teams, including Carlos Rodon of North Carolina State who is regarded as the probable No. 1 pick in this year’s MLB draft.
•  Top freshman hitter: With David Thompson injured and out for the year, right fielder Willie Abreu has emerged as the team’s top hitter (.337). He has a big arm in right field and has shown impressive patience at the plate for a rookie, drawing a team-high 18 walks. He is big and strong, so expect the power to come soon.
•  Top freshman pitcher: With a fastball consistently clocked at 94 mph, Bryan Garcia flashed his ability right away. He entered Friday 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA and seven saves.
•  Most improved: Senior center fielder Dale Carey batted just .192 with one homer last season. He entered this season with a combined total of just four homers in three years. But this year, he is batting .282 with five homers. He leads the team with 10 doubles and a .513 slugging percentage.
•  Most underrated: Freshman DH Zach Collins is hitting .227, so he might be easy for some to overlook. But he has overcome a brutal start and now leads the team in homers (six) and RBI (22). A wild card in this category is first baseman Brad Zunica. He has been given just four starts, but scouts love his size (6-6, 255 pounds), strength and lefty swing.
•  More is expected (second half): Junior No. 3 starter Bryan Radziewski should be better than his current numbers: 1-2 with a 4.28 ERA. He entered this season with a 20-5 career record and a 2.63 ERA.

FIU

The Panthers (23-7, 7-6 Conference USA) have a stellar record, especially outside of league play.

A knock on the Panthers would be that their schedule is light. The only Top 25 team they have faced was No. 12 Rice, which swept host FIU in three games.

•  MVP: Catcher Aramis Garcia is hitting .393 with a team-high five homers and a team-best 1.110 OPS.
•  Top freshman hitter: Right fielder Brandon Gomez of Monsignor Pace leads the team with a .397 batting average and has used the entire field to spray line drives. FIU coach Turtle Thomas said Gomez needs to avoid trying to pull too many pitches.
•  Top freshman pitcher: Southwest High’s Chris Mourelle was supposed to be a middle reliever this season, but he has already made five starts and is 5-0 with a 0.73 ERA. A finesse pitcher with a four-pitch mix, Mourelle has overshadowed another top freshman, Cody Crouse, who has more of a power arm. Crouse has made four starts and is 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA.
•  Most improved: Junior Mike Franco (4-1, 1.00 ERA entering Friday) has gone from Sunday starter to Friday starter, an important move up.
•  Most underrated: Second baseman Edwin Rios is hitting .323 with a team-high 27 RBI. But his defense is overlooked. FIU struggled to turn double plays last season, but, with Rios’ strong and accurate arm, that is no longer a problem. Center fielder Tyler Hibbert is also underrated because of his pedestrian .287 batting average. But he leads the team in walks (23) and steals (12) while compiling a .418 on-base percentage.
•  More is expected (second half): Junior Michael Ellis, who missed most of last season and all of this past fall because of back surgery, is no longer in the rotation. But Thomas expects Ellis (5-2, 2.32) will be valuable in the second half out of the bullpen.

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