If the Miami Hurricanes are to return to the College World Series for the second year in a row, it will probably be based on the principle of three.
After the recently concluded fall practices, coach Jim Morris still has time to finalize plans before the season opener at home on Feb. 19 against Rutgers. But for now at least, the Canes are relying on three key trios:
▪ That’s 1-2-3 as in their probable weekend starting rotation of senior left-hander Thomas Woodrey, sophomore right-hander Jesse Lepore and freshman right-hander Andrew Cabezas. Woodrey was 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA last season, but Lepore and Cabezas are newcomers to the rotation.
▪ That’s 3-4-5 as in their middle of their batting order in junior catcher Zack Collins, junior left fielder Jacob Heyward and junior right fielder Willie Abreu. Morris likes them in that order because they would bat left-right-left, and all three players are major pro prospects in their first draft-eligible years as collegians.
▪ And that’s 7-8-9 as in set-up relievers Cooper Hammond and Mike Mediavilla and closer Bryan Garcia. Once the Canes get a lead into the seventh inning, Morris will often go to those three to close out games.
Hammond, a junior right-hander, had a 2.25 ERA last season. Mediavilla, a sophomore left-hander, had a 1.94 ERA and allowed hitters a .182 batting average. And Garcia, a junior right-hander, has 25 saves in two years and a 2.08 career ERA.
If those three trios perform at a high level, the Canes, who finished sixth in the nation last season, compiling a 50-17 record overall, including 36-5 at home and 23-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, could return to Omaha for the CWS.
“I feel good about this team,” Morris said. “As a head coach, you always worry. But we will probably be ranked in the top 10 [nationally] or for sure in the top 20.”
(Baseball America’s rankings are not yet out, but Collegiate Baseball has Miami ranked fourth in its preseason poll.)
Woodrey figures to replace Andrew Suarez (9-2, 3.48 ERA, Giants second-round pick) as the ace of the staff.
Miami returns three other pitchers with starting experience — junior left-hander Danny Garcia, senior right-hander Enrique Sosa and junior right-hander Derik Beauprez.
Garcia, who went 7-1 with a 3.69 ERA last season, is the front-runner to be the midweek starter. Sosa (7-5, 4.35) was injured most of the fall and will have to battle back if he plans on being in the rotation. And Beauprez (5.62 ERA) has yet to live up to his potential as a 25th-round pick by Boston in 2013.
Into that void has stepped Lepore, a 6-4, 205-pounder who had a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings of relief last season, and 5-10, 180-pound Cabezas, a highly touted pitcher out of Coral Gables High who was Cleveland’s 34th-round pick this year.
As for the lineup, the Canes suffered four major losses to the pro ranks — infielders David Thompson and George Iskenderian, center fielder Ricky Eusebio and catcher/DH Garrett Kennedy.
In addition, the Canes lost two talented outfielders in Kep Brown, their top recruit who signed a pro contract, and Malik Rosier, a backup who decided to stick with football as a Miami quarterback.
Among the remaining positions on the 2016 Canes: Sophomore Carl Chester moves from left to center field; senior Brandon Lopez returns for his fourth year as the shortstop; junior Johnny Ruiz will battle switch-hitting JUCO transfer Randy Batista at second base; junior Christopher Barr returns at first base; and freshman Romy Gonzalez takes over at third base.
DH candidates include sophomore Justin Smith, who could find a spot in the outfield; junior Edgar Michelangeli, who is challenging Gonzalez at third; and Peter Crocitto, who can also play first base and catcher. In addition, Batista can also play shortstop.
“It depends on who hits,” Morris said of his lineup. “That’s what it always depends on.”