While one UM athletic program is searching for its identity, another is quietly preparing for another successful run.
The University of Miami baseball program concluded fall ball last month. Though the team has lost co-captains pitcher Chris Hernandez and catcher Yasmani Grandal to the MLB, head coach Jim Morris and crew still have expectations of reaching the College World Series for the 12th time in the last 18 years.
“As a team we’ve all improved this fall,” said sophomore pitcher E.J. Encinosa who is making the transition from reliever to starter. “Physically we are stronger, and the chemistry is there. There aren’t as many mental errors.”
The biggest adjustment that has been all the talk of college baseball are the new bats that the NCAA mandated in Division I. The exit speed off the bats is different and the sweet spot is smaller which should definitely favor pitchers across the country.
“You will see a lot less home runs,” Morris said. “We played our first 23 intrasquad games, and we hit four home runs. If you multiply that times two which is 56 which is the normal number of games in the season, that would mean we would have eight home runs next spring. We’ll have more than that but it’s going to be a huge difference. It’s a more wood-like game.”
Miami will have to utilize its speed on the bases and play fundamental baseball.
“[Coach] has been preaching to us that we have to adjust to the new bats,” freshman outfielder Dale Carey said. “They don’t have as much pop as they did last year. We have to get on top of balls more. Try to make the defense work. We got to use gap to gap and hit line drives.”
Junior third baseman Harold Martinez isn’t worried about the new aluminum.
“You can’t play based on the bats, you have to play with your swing,” he said.
The most surprising player this fall has been junior first baseman Rony Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a bench player last year but is vying for a starting spot.
There are still position battles at first base, second base and the corner outfield spots.
The biggest concern for the Hurricanes will be the weekend rotation. They need to fill all three roles with the departures of Hernandez, Eric Erickson and Jason Santana.
“Our pitching is still a question mark,” Morris said. “We don’t know who is going to be our No. 1 because [Eric] Whaley didn’t pitch and we expected him to be the No. 1 guy. [Steven] Ewing has pitched good. E.J. [Encinosa] has pitched good. Other than one inning, E.J. hasn’t given up any runs. [Bryan] Radziewski has thrown good. Those are the guys that have thrown the best.”
Whaley, who came on strong in last year’s postseason run, has missed the entire fall with a strain in his throwing elbow, but will begin a throwing program this week.
“We have a month once they get back from winter break to decide what we have,” Morris said. “We’ll get some guys healthy and get the best nine players in the lineup.”
Despite some injuries and position battles, the vibe with the team is stronger than ever.
“The team chemistry is a huge thing,” fifth-year senior pitcher Michael Rudman said. “Everyone on the team is friends. We know we are going to be good.”
Justin Antweil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.