The University of Miami baseball team will embark on its road to Omaha beginning this weekend when they host the Cincinnati Bearcats.
The Hurricanes are coming off a disappointing 2007 season (37-24, 17-13 Atlantic Coast Conference), which included losing an NCAA regional for the first time under head coach Jim Morris.
With the core of its team back, the Hurricanes are ranked second in the ACC preseason poll and as high as number two in the rivals.com national preseason rankings.
“The expectations are always high,” Morris said. “I feel really good about the club. We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience, particularly our position players.”
The Hurricanes have speed at the top of the order with centerfielder Blake Tekotte and second baseman Jemile Weeks. The middle of the order remains formidable, highlighted by power-hitting first baseman Yonder Alonso, right fielder Dennis Raben and third baseman Mark Sobolewski.
“The lineup is going to be unbelievable,” said Alonso, who hit 18 home runs and drove in 74 runs last season. “We have speed, power and guys that are going to get things done. I can’t wait for this year.”
Weeks recovered this past summer from a lingering groin injury and enters the season fully healthy.
Raben is coming off a summer in which he was one of the top hitters in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. He said his goal is to have a higher batting average.
Sobolewski was one of the most consistent hitters on the team last season. He led the team with 88 hits and finished second on the team in batting average (.345) and RBIs (54).
Morris said shortstop Ryan Jackson is one of the most improved hitters on the team going into the season.
Miami retains two weekend starters and must rely on a deeper rotation because of new rule changes which mean they will typically play five games a week.
Sophomore LHP Eric Erickson (10-4, 2.50 ERA) was the most consistent starter and one of the most valuable players on the team last season.
“It’s good to open up as the Friday night starter,” Erickson said. “We’re going to miss Scott Maine this year, but I am looking forward to filling that gap.”
Senior RHP Enrique Garcia (8-4, 3.82 ERA) began last season as the closer and later emerged as a reliable starter. Garcia chose to remain at Miami and not sign with a team in the MLB draft.
Freshman LHP Chris Hernandez will open the season as the Sunday starter and should help in solidifying the rotation.
The Hurricanes will count on production from the backend of the rotation. Sophomores J.J. Housey and Michael Rudman as well as junior Jason Santana all need to provide consistency during mid-week games.
Miami struggled to hold on to leads and had trouble finding reliable pitchers in the middle innings last season.
Redshirt junior Carlos Gutierrez will begin the season as the closer after coming off Tommy John surgery. Morris said his ability to throw strikes and utilize the sinker will be a key to his success.
Sophomores Kyle Bellmay and David Gutierrez are expected to improve from last season and provide stability in the set-up role.
Left Field: Juniors Dave Dinatale and Adan Severino
Catcher: Freshman Yasmani Grandal and sophomore Jason Hagerty
Fifth Starter: Rudman and Santana
Non-Conference: Miami needs to get over the hump against the Florida Gators.
ACC: The true test will come in April with back-to-back road series against Georgia Tech and Florida State. Favorably, Clemson, Virginia and North Carolina all visit Mark Light Field.
Miami must get consistency from its starters and have a reliable bullpen. If they stay healthy, the Hurricanes are capable of hosting a regional and heading back to the College World Series.
Alex Kushel may be contacted at email@example.com.