After fall baseball practices concluded, it appears the FIU Panthers are in the outfield, brimming with vocal leaders all over the diamond and hoping for a closer to emerge out of the bullpen.
Four team leaders emerged this fall: Javier Valdes at catcher, third baseman Austin Shelton in the infield, Lorenzo Hampton in the outfield and Nick McDonald on the pitching staff.
“This was the first fall that we started to see our players hold each other accountable,” FIU recruiting coordinator/assistant coach Jered Goodwin said.
With the regular season set to start in mid-February, here are three more takeaways regarding FIU baseball:
▪ Deep outfield: FIU coach Mervyl Melendez will have some decisions to make with five legitimate candidates to cover three spots.
Sophomore Adan Fernandez (10 homers, .858 OPS) is the front-runner in right field.
Junior center fielder Juan Teixeira (.952 OPS) started 30 games last season and led FIU with a .345 batting average and four triples before a hip injury cut his season short.
Hampton, a senior left fielder, had an .835 OPS last season.
That could be the starting outfield trio … except that two freshmen from Georgia injected speed and talent into the equation this fall. Jarrett Ford was FIU’s best defensive outfielder and fastest player. And Chris Williams might be FIU’s most talented outfielder by virtue of his draft status — he turned down the Reds after he was their 15th-round pick this year.
Don’t be surprised if Ford wins the job in center and Williams takes a corner spot.
▪ Pitching problem: Tyler Myrick, who made 11 starts last season (3.86 ERA), underwent elbow surgery and will miss the 2019 season.
His absence will hurt the depth of the rotation, which could impact the bullpen.
The top of the rotation is in good shape with McDonald, Logan Allen and Christian Sanchez. The midweek starter could be freshman Franco Aleman or sophomore Greyson Fletcher. Aleman had incredible numbers at Tampa Alonso — which was Jose Fernandez’s alma mater.
Melendez will probably use one of those would-be starters in a bullpen that needs help. Last season, FIU had no pitcher with more than two saves.
FIU’s bullpen possibilities for 2019 are either injured (Steven Casey, who had a 2.92 ERA last season but is out until at least March), freshmen or returners with ERAs of 4.00 or higher.
Freshmen candidates include outfielder/pitcher Chris Williams; first baseman/pitcher Angel Tiburcio and Aleman, if he doesn’t win a starting job.
Returners include hard-throwing Gio Soto (8.56 ERA); lefty Will Saxton (4.00 ERA); Jose Machado (8.44 ERA) and Fletcher (7.64), if he isn’t in the rotation.
Junior college transfer Jose Varela, a converted infielder, is another option.
▪ Improved defense: Ford should be an upgrade in center, and the same can be said for freshman John Rodriguez at shortstop and sure-handed junior Derek Cartaya at second base.
Logan Allen, who doubles as a pitcher, is a good defender at first base, and third baseman Shenton has devoted himself to improving with the glove.
But the biggest step up could be at catcher where Jose Garcia is now healthy and should be better. Valdes, a converted infielder, has also improved with more reps, and junior college transfer Luis Chavez might be the best of the bunch with the glove.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s men’s basketball team (7-2) is taking final exams and doesn’t play again until Dec. 13 against visiting North Florida. FIU split two road games last week, beating Florida Gulf Coast and losing to Arkansas.