Seven Miami Hurricanes were drafted last June by Major League Baseball teams.
One returned — the one whose decision was so unexpected, and frankly, shocking, to baseball types that even University of Miami coach Jim Morris didn’t quite believe it until the 5 p.m. signing deadline passed on July 18.
On Friday night, left-handed ace and second-round draft pick Andy Suarez, the nation’s highest draft pick to return to college, will be on the mound to open the 2015 season against Rutgers.
Suarez gave up the $987,800 slot value for his place as the 57th overall pick by the Washington Nationals for a chance to be drafted higher this June and earn his degree in criminology.
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“I’ve been hearing I’m crazy ever since I didn’t sign,’’ Suarez, 22, a redshirt junior said Tuesday during media day at Mark Light Field. “Everyone tells me, ‘What if you get hurt? What if you regret it?’ But that’s the chance you take. I think I made a good decision. I get to graduate and hopefully have an even better year and negotiate for more.’’
The Hurricanes finished 44-19 last season and have neither been to the College World Series since 2008 nor advanced past the NCAA regionals since 2010. But Suarez’s return has helped fuel the already-high national expectations for UM.
The four-time national champion Canes are ranked as high as ninth in the preseason by Baseball America, which named Hurricanes’ All-American catcher Zack Collins of Pembroke Pines (.298, 11 HR, 54 RBI) the 2014 National Freshman of the Year.
Last season’s UM squad, at one point the hottest team in the nation, had an outstanding pitching staff but lost three of its four starters in the first 10 rounds of the draft. That leaves the 6-2, 205-pound Suarez, a Miami Christopher Columbus grad, to lead a rotation that includes No. 2 left-handed junior Thomas Woodrey (8-0, 2.80 career ERA); No. 3 right-handed junior Enrique Sosa (0-1, 6.85); and No. 4 left-handed sophomore Danny Garcia (0-1, 6.30).
And though the back end of UM’s starting rotation is unproven, the bullpen is one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and possibly the nation. Right-handed sophomore closer Bryan Garcia set a UM record with 15 saves as a freshman All-American; and right-handed sophomore Cooper Hammond was 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in relief last season.
Offensively, besides hard-hitting Collins, the Canes are led by junior third baseman/first baseman David Thompson (.278); sophomore right-fielder Willie Abreu (.277); and Indian River Community College transfer George Iskenderian (.373), who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 34th round this past June.
Iskenderian will start at shortstop while usual starter Brandon Lopez is suspended for at least four games for violating team policy.
“Last year we had the starting rotation back together,’’ Jim Morris said. “This year we have more position players back. I expect to score more runs.”
It all begins at 7 p.m. Friday with the return of Suarez, who finished 2014 with a 6-3 record, 2.95 ERA in 1092/3 innings and 87 strikeouts to only 15 walks.
“Andy returning was huge,’’ UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said. “He told me all along if he didn’t get what he was asking for he was coming back. I didn’t believe him, but he held to his word.’’
Suarez, who was named along with Collins on Tuesday to the Golden Spikes watch list, has mastered four pitches: a fastball in the low- to mid-90s, curve, slider and changeup. “He’s a very tough pitcher to get comfortable against,’’ Arteaga said. “He can throw any pitch at any time to any location.’’
Besides Suarez, only three players drafted in the top 10 rounds returned to their college teams.
“These days teams are so careful to make sure they can sign their top-10 round picks, because if they don’t they lose the ability to spend the money allocated for those picks,’’ said D1Baseball.com editor Aaron Fitt.
“Suarez turned down a lot of money,’’ Fitt said. “I was stunned.’’
Now, Suarez has other goals.
“I’m disappointed in how we finished last season,’’ he said. “It’s time we returned to Omaha.’’
Putting the professional life on hold
Top-five players from 2014 MLB Draft who returned to college:
1. Andy Suarez, LHP (Miami)
2. Trevor Megill, RHP (Loyola Marymount)
St. Louis Cardinals
3. Zach Zehner, OF (Cal Poly)
Toronto Blue Jays
4. Austin Byler, 1B (Nevada)
5. Dean Deetz, RHP (NE Oklahoma A&M JC)
Source: Aaron Fitt, D1Baseball.com
UM at a glance
Coach: Jim Morris.
Last season: 44-19 overall, 24-6 Atlantic Coast Conference.
Top five players: Andy Suarez (Jr., LHP); Zack Collins (Soph., C); Bryan Garcia (Soph., RH closer); David Thompson (Jr., 3B/1B); Willie Abreu (Soph., OF).
Noteworthy: The Hurricanes, winners of national titles in 1982, ’85, ’99 and ’01, look to return to the College World Series for the first time since 2008. Last season they had the second lowest ERA in the ACC, but this year their bats should be stronger.