When the Miami Hurricanes begin fall baseball practice Monday, coach Jim Morris already has his ace starter (Andrew Suarez) and his closer (Bryan Garcia), and he has a pretty good idea about his 3-4-5 hitters (Zack Collins, David Thompson and Willie Abreu).
But there is a lot Morris has yet to discover.
“Whatever our lineup is in February [for the start of the season], it might be very different in June,” Morris said.
The standout rotation that was together for two years has been broken up by professional ball as Chris Diaz (9-1), Bryan Radziewski (8-2) and midweek starter Javi Salas (4-3), all with sub 3.00 ERAs, signed contracts.
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But Morris got great news when Suarez, who had been drafted in the second round by the Washington Nationals, called three days before the signing deadline to say he was staying in school.
“Do me a favor,” Morris told Suarez, “call me one minute after the deadline passes.”
Suarez (6-3, 2.95 ERA) was true to his word, and his return gives the Canes an ace. He threw a 10-strikeout shutout in last season’s NCAA regional round.
The next three spots are up for grabs, but the early front-runners are junior Thomas Woodrey (2.54 ERA in relief) and sophomores Derik Beauprez and Danny Garcia. Of those four pitchers, only the 6-5, 233-pound Beauprez is right-handed, and he had an 0.83 ERA in six appearances last season.
Morris said Beauprez, who was drafted by the Red Sox in the 25th round out of high school, is a “prototype guy who throws in the low 90s, straight over the top, with a hard breaking ball.”
The back end of the bullpen is in great shape with second-team All-ACC closer Garcia (1.75 ERA, 15 saves) and fellow sophomore Cooper Hammond (2.29 ERA, 2 saves). Another pitcher to watch is freshman Kevin Pimentel – Morris said he hits 97 mph on the radar gun.
Offensively, the Canes are set with Collins – the national Freshman of the Year – at catcher. He led the team in homers (11), RBI (54) and slugging percentage (.556).
Thompson, who made the all-star game in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, seems to finally be healthy and will likely remain at first base.
Brandon Lopez, a starter since his freshman year, returns at shortstop. Morris said the junior took the summer off after minor knee surgery and has used that time to get much stronger.
Junior George Iskenderian, who started nine games as a freshman at South Carolina before transferring to a junior college, is a big (6-0, 190 pounds) and fast shortstop who could factor in at third base. And Morris said sophomore Johnny Ruiz and junior Edgar Michelangeli are in the infield mix as well.
If the season started today, Abreu, a sophomore, would be in right field, junior Ricky Eusebio in center and sophomore Jacob Heyward in left.
But Chris Barr, who missed last year due to injury, could factor in at first base or the outfield. And freshmen outfielders Carl Chester and Justin Smith will get their chances, too.
“Chester is the fastest guy on our team,” Morris said, “but, in the outfield, whoever hits the most will play.”
The biggest help to the offense may be the new baseball the NCAA will use this season. These balls are supposed to add 20 feet to a player’s drive.
“I’m sick of so many 1-0 and 2-1 games,” Morris said. “Balls that were hit on the warning track are now going to be home runs.”