Baseball, Sports

Position preview: Miami returns most of starting lineup from last year

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Sophomore pitcher Slade Cecconi throws a pitch during Miami's annual Alumni Game on Feb. 8. Cecconi will be one of Miami's weekend starting pitchers. Photo credit: Josh Halper

The Miami Hurricanes enter the 2020 season with a consensus Top 10 ranking, in large part due to the depth they possess at each position. Head coach Gino DiMare will have some tough choices to make each time he fills out the lineup card. So, how will each position shake out?

Catchers

Despite the loss of catcher Michael Amditis, who signed with the Cleveland Indians organization after being selected in the 21st round of last year’s MLB Draft, Miami is deeper at catcher than perhaps any other position.

After starting all 61 games last season, including 12 at catcher, sophomore Adrian Del Castillo is ready to take over catching full-time. Del Castillo led all Hurricanes with a .331 batting average and his 12 home runs was third among teammates. The Miami native has been showered with accolades last season and picked up preseason All-American honors from Perfect Game, D1 Baseball and Collegiate Baseball this season.

On nights when Del Castillo will get a defensive rest, freshman Jared Thomas will suit up behind the plate. The freshman from California has impressed in offseason camp and will likely get game reps.

Isaac Quiñones, a freshman All-American in 2018, will have to claw for a shot to make the starting lineup at catcher. The junior batted .291 as a primary starter two years ago, but made just one start over 20 appearances last season with a .200 batting average.

Freshman Daniel Labrador, a Miami native, will provide yet another option for the Canes.

Infield

The Hurricanes return their entire infield from last season, starting with Alex Toral, who owns the first base job. The junior has a breakout season last year, hitting .293 with a team-high 24 home runs and 1.056 OPS.

Raymond Gil will likely start at third base. The junior hit .318 with 13 home runs last season as the team’s primary third-baseman. Gil also filled in at first a few times in 2019 is a second, capable option at the first base position.

Del Castillo could also see starts at third base when DiMare wants to give him nights off from catching. Sophomore utility man JP Gates also has the capability to step in at first.

Anthony Vilar appears to have a good grip on the starting job at second base. The sophomore made 50 starts at second in 2019 and batting .291. Vilar also made 11 appearances at shortstop.

Miami’s primary shortstop, junior Freddy Zamora, will look to add to his already glittering resume at Mark Light Field. Logging 50 starts at shortstop last year, he is a potential first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft. His .300 career batting average reflects how dangerous he is with the bat, but his glove remains a question. Zamora recorded 22 errors at shortstop last season.

The Hurricanes will have multiple new and returning pieces of depth in the infield. Redshirt-freshman Luis Tuero hit .333 and made 11 starts early in 2019, but was forced to take a medical redshirt after a knee injury ended his season. He has recorded reps at third base in practice this offseason.

Josh Lauck comes to Coral Gables after hitting .318 at California Juco Mission College. The junior will be available at either of the middle infield positions.

Mykanthony Valdez was the top infield prospect to enroll at Miami from the class of 2019. The freshman recorded a .350 batting average at Calvary Christian Academy in Broward County and will look to be a part of DiMare’s defense.

Returning players Austin Pollack and Tyler Paige will be reserves in the infield.

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Utility player and sophomore JP Gates bats during Miami's annual Alumni Game on Feb. 8. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Outfield

Jordan Lala was the regular leadoff hitter for the Hurricanes a season ago and is expected to be a consistent part of the starting lineup with both his glove and bat. The sophomore from Tampa played at both left and center field and lead Miami with a .446 on-base percentage and a whopping 61 walks drawn.

Gabe Rivera had a breakout campaign in 2019, where he started 29 games and batted .290 with seven home runs. Fellow junior Tony Jenkins will continue to make his presence known as one of the team’s top defensive outfielders and situational baserunners. Jenkins made 26 starts in center field last season.

Sophomores Chad Crosbie and Chet Moore combined for 20 outfield starts last spring in both right and left field.

Starting pitching rotation

To put it simply, the Canes are loaded at starting pitcher. Despite losing last year’s primary Friday starter Evan McKendry to the MLB, DiMare lauded this year’s rotation, and said he thinks all three pitchers, Slade Cecconi, Chris McMahon and Brian Van Belle, are capable of starting Friday nights.

Cecconi comes into the season with preseason third team All-American honors from Baseball America. A freshman All-American in 2019, Cecconi was Miami’s primary midweek starter. He made 13 starts across 17 total appearances and finished with a 4.16 ERA, allowed opposing hitters to register a .249 AVG and struck out a team-high 89 batters.

McMahon spent last summer playing on the USA national collegiate team. McMahon led Miami’s starters last year, having allowed opposing batters to hit just .229 while striking out 67. His ERA stood at 3.73 at the end of the season. But the junior has yet to play an injury-free season as a Hurricane, with a torn meniscus keeping him out for the start of the 2018 season and an arm issue taking away multiple starts from the Pennsylvania native.

Van Belle led the Hurricanes with a 3.30 ERA and made a team-high 16 starts in 2019. The redshirt senior comes into his final season having allowed just a .247 average against opposing batters, while striking out 84 hitters and earning All-ACC second team honors.

The midweek starter will be either senior Tyler Keysor or freshman Alex McFarlane. Keysor had a 3.78 ERA and 38 strikeout performance in with the Hurricanes in 2019, while McFarlane chose to come to Miami despite being drafted in the 25th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. McFarlane put up a 0.74 ERA at Georgia’s Habersham High School. Whichever of the two is not named the midweek started will likely slide into a key bullpen role.

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Redshirt junior pitcher Albert Maury throws a pitch during Miami's annual Alumni Game on Feb. 8. Maury will be one of Miami's relievers this season. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Bullpen

If there is one concern regarding this team, it lies in the bullpen, with a mix of proven relievers and younger arms set to earn key roles. Miami lost Greg Veliz, last year’s primary closer, who elected to forgo his senior year to sign with the Los Angeles Angels, and Mark Mixon, now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

Junior Daniel Federman will be Miami’s go-to closer. The Pembroke Pines native had a 3.51 ERA last year and seven saves, good for second most among relievers.

Utility man Gates, who will also bat in the lineup, looks to bounce back after a struggling year on the mound. With 18 walks and a 5.82 ERA last season, Gates will look to become a staples in the middle reliever role.

Other returning relievers include redshirt sophomore Alex Ruiz, who came on late in 2019 after being hurt for much of the year, but recorded a 1.04 ERA over eight appearances, and redshirt junior Albert Maury Jr, who logged a 5.87 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 20 games last year.`

Probably the biggest asset in the bullpen for the Hurricanes this year is the abundance of left-handed arms. Gates is the only returning lefty from a season ago, but will have plenty of company in 2020 with the arrival of freshmen Carson Palmquist, Alex Munroe and Yordani Carmona as well as Hillsborough Community College transfer Spencer Bodanza. All should play key roles in relief.

February 11, 2020

Reporters

Austin Pert


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