Miami looks forward to returning to College World Series

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Junior catcher Zack Collins (0) hits during his at-bat during the Alumni game hosted at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park Saturday night. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

Junior catcher Zack Collins (0) hits during his at-bat during the Alumni game hosted at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park Saturday night. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

Jim Morris knows how to get the most out of his players. The two-time champion entering his 23rd season as head coach of the Hurricanes has had more than 150 players go on to play professionally. But Morris might be reaching a bit too far when it comes to junior catcher Zack Collins.

“I need him to hit about .800,” Morris said of his star hitter at Tuesday’s media day.

“He’s obviously joking. He knows that. At least I hope he knows that,” Collins said.

Morris laughed after his ludicrous demand but was serious about needing Collins to perform at the plate this season. The Canes no longer have several crucial members of last year’s team, arguably the best offensive group in the country in 2015. Collins is the main contributor returning from the 2015 team that reached the College World Series for the first time since 2008.

“He’s our best hitter on the team. The ball really jumps off the bat, there’s no question about that,” Morris said. “He has a lot of ability and we need him to have his normal year, which for him means he could hit .400.”

Collins has received Preseason All-America recognitions from every major publication following his impressive performance last season. The 6-foot-3 South Florida native hit .302 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI in 66 games for the Canes in 2015. Collins knows that he alone can’t carry the Canes back to Omaha, though. Top hitters from last year’s group such as David Thompson, George Iskenderian and Ricky Eusebio are now playing for pro teams, but Collins likes what he’s seen so far from his current teammates.

“From what I’ve seen of the team in the fall and spring, everybody can really hit. I think we do a really good job of getting on base,” Collins said. “We may not hit as many homeruns as last year, but you never know. Guys stepped it up last year and the same thing could happen this year.”

Junior left fielder Jacob Heyward is one of the players who stepped up last year and he is expected to be one of the team’s top power hitters along with Collins. Heyward, whose brother Jason plays for the Chicago Cubs, was Miami’s best hitter last NCAA postseason with a .355 batting average over nine games. Heyward leads a talented trio of outfielders that, along with Collins, will provide most of the power for the Canes.

“Zack Collins is one of the best power hitters in the country and the whole outfield (Heyward, Willie Abreu and Carl Chester) has significant potential,” Baseball America national writer Teddy Cahill said in an email. “The key will just be getting those guys to do it consistently.”

If all goes well, Cahill believes that a 25th trip to the College World Series could be in store for Miami.

“We do think this team is good enough to get back to the College World Series. We have them ranked sixth entering the year because they bring a lot of talent back from a team that won 50 games last year,” he said. “So we’re expecting them to be one of the best teams in the ACC and in position to get back to Omaha.”

The Canes start the season with a three-game series against Rutgers at 7 p.m. on Friday at Mark Light Field.

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