There were plenty of overthrows by the infielders on the first day of fall practice last Thursday for the University of Miami baseball team. It’s a good thing the squad has 45 days to iron out the kinks and begin its pursuit of the program’s fifth national championship.
The team (43-20) lost to Florida in the Super Regionals last June. There are 13 newcomers on the team but the core of the hitters return; it’s the pitching that has huge question marks.
“We return most of our lineup back but to me our biggest question mark is we don’t have experienced starting pitchers,” 18th-year head coach Jim Morris said. “We have to decide who those guys are and find roles for them.”
Miami lost three valuable pieces from last year’s team. All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal was drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds and All-ACC pitcher Chris Hernandez was picked by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round.
Sophomore right-hander Eric Whaley will have to fill the void ace Hernandez left behind and he knows throwing to a new catcher will be a different experience.
“We are going to have a good catcher behind the plate no matter. Yasmani was Yasmani,” Whaley said. “That was the best player I have ever played with. He is in a league of his own. If you are here, then you are a great catcher I think we’ll be fine.”
Miami also cut starting second baseman Frankie Ratcliff after he was arrested and charged with trying to sell marijuana and was also found with 19 vials of HGH in his apartment.
“He made a bad decision but you move on and hopefully he’ll come back from it as well,” pitching coach and recruiting coordinator JD Arteaga said.
Morris was extremely distraught as well.
“It’s very disappointing,” Morris said. “Of course for him for every reason. [Ratcliff] was a guy that was probably our best freshman last year, a guy you expected to start. All of the issues and of course he is not longer on the team, no longer in school, and I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to him. But it puts a big blemish on his life. It’s a reflection on everybody, him, his family, me, our coaches, our team. Past players are not happy about it either.”
Sophomores Zeke DeVoss and Michael Broad are competing against each other to fill the void Ratcliff left behind.
The team leaders will be juniors Harold Martinez and Nathan Melendres. Martinez is recovering from off-season left shin surgery. He led the team with 21 home runs last year. Melendres had a sensational postseason last year and played in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer.
“Team unity is the first thing you have to do especially with a lot of new guys,” centerfielder Melendres said. “A lot of guys have to come together and understand what it means to play like a team. Other than that we want to become consistent and understand the fundamentals of the game.”
For the first time since Yonder Alonso in 2008, Miami may have a legit first baseman. The best newcomer in the class isn’t even a freshman. It’s sophomore transfer Cade Kreuter. The 6-foot-5-inch Kreuter left the University of Southern California to come play on the east coast.
“I’ve always liked Miami,” Kreuter said with a smile. “It had been a favorite growing up. USC growing up was always number one though. Things changed the last few years starting with my grandpa and then my dad getting fired. The experience was just a little bit different that I thought. When my dad got fired it just pushed it over a little bit. I asked for my release, I asked to talk to LSU and Miami and Miami really pushed to get me here.”
NCAA rules state an athlete must sit out one full year if he or she transfers from one division one school to another. There is a loophole in the NCAA rules, however, that will most likely allow Kreuter to play this year. If your father is the coach of your team and gets fired, another school can apply for a waiver and the player may be eligible immediately.
UM has filled out all the necessary paperwork and is waiting on a response from the NCAA, but Arteaga and Morris are very optimistic.
The annual Orange and Green World Series, made up of intrasquad games will be a best of five series and take place in November.
Justin Antweil may be contacted at email@example.com.