Five fast forecasts

Senior Michael Rudman pitches at practice on Tuesday, February 15. Steven Levy//The Miami Hurricane

Head Coach Jim Morris and the University of Miami baseball team will begin their journey to a fifth College World Series title on Friday night against Rutgers University. The outlook is bright for the team, but like any year, there are a few questions heading into the first game of the season. Here are five things to look out for as the season progresses.

  1. The effect the new bats will have. Hurricanes baseball has traditionally been about defense and speed over power ball. Don’t expect that to change. However, both will take on a whole new importance with the new bats that will be used throughout the NCAA. With new bats that are supposed to act similarly to wooden bats, power numbers are expected to drop for hitters such as Harold Martinez, who hit an ACC-best 21 homeruns last season. Good defense and smart base running will be especially important now.
  2. Transition from the bullpen to the starting role. Last year, Miami led the ACC with a 3.68 team ERA, but the Hurricanes will have all new weekend starters looking to make up for the loss of last year’s studs Chris Hernandez and Eric Erickson. They also lost a lot of experience in David Gutierrez and Jason Santana. Relievers-turned-starters E.J. Encinosa and Eric Whaley were reliable out of the bullpen last season, but they will have to transition to consistent starters out of the gates and help the new pitchers, like Friday night’s freshman starter Bryan Radziewski, settle as well.
  3. Losing out on the Yasmani Effect. Former All-American Yasmani Grandal’s presence in the lineup is one that, according to Coach Morris, “you just don’t replace.” With Grandal in the lineup last year, opposing pitchers were forced to respect the hitters batting around Grandal, simply because he could turn a game around with one swing of the bat. Because the team doesn’t have the one player who could replicate that production right off the bat, everyone in the lineup is going to have to step up to make up for his loss.
  4. Hitters to watch. The Hurricanes still have a good number of reliable hitters that are looking to pick up on last season’s success. Third baseman Harold Martinez is looking to be a big part of the offense; he is returning from offseason surgery after a Super Regionals injury. During Saturday’s Baseball FanFest, alumnus and current Cincinnati Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso mentioned that outfielder Nathan Melendres is a hitter to watch as well.
  5. Rebuilding team chemistry. This offseason has been a lot busier than those in recent years for the Hurricanes. The loss of veterans to the MLB and Frankie Ratcliff after his drug-related arrest, combined with all of the incoming freshmen means this is a team that hasn’t been together very long. Still, Coach Morris has always emphasized team chemistry, making it a focal point all of last year, and you can bet that it won’t be too long before this team begins to mesh together.