Miami baseball 2021 lineup preview

Third baseman Raymond Gil (16) and second baseman Anthony Vilar are two Hurricanes who will be a key part of the starting lineup this season.
Third baseman Raymond Gil (16) and second baseman Anthony Vilar are two Hurricanes who will be a key part of the starting lineup this season. Photo credit: Josh Halper

While there are many familiar faces returning to the lineup this season, an entire new pitching rotation is in place, with two freshmen slated to be starting pitchers for the Miami Hurricanes. Catcher Adrian Del Castillo and first baseman Alex Toral will Miami offensively, while Tony Jenkins will be the defensive anchor in the outfield. Before the Hurricanes take on the No. 1 Florida Gators in the first series of the season, here is a breakdown of Miami’s projected starting lineup:

First Base: Alex Toral

Toral batted .293 with an Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 24 home runs in 2019, while logging a .296 average and five homers during the shortened 2020 season. He earned consensus All-American accolades after last spring, and has received preseason All-American honors from Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, Perfect Game and D1 Baseball ahead of 2021.

Second Base: Anthony Vilar

In the middle infield, Miami will also have plenty of experience to work with. Gone is shortstop Freddy Zamora to the Milwaukee Brewers organization though last year’s draft, as is second baseman Luis Tuero through the transfer portal.

But the Hurricanes welcome back third-year SS/2B Anthony Vilar, who hit 291 in 2019 and .297 in 2020. Pitcher and available first baseman JP Gates is back, having batted .340 in 2019.

Shortstop: Yohandy Morales

With Freddy Zamora on an MLB roster, the position will likely fall to Yohandy Morales, a 6’3 freshman from Miami, Florida. Morales was selected to 2019 18U USA National Team and hit .359 with 19 doubles, three triples, eight homers and 50 RBI in his four-year varsity career at Braddock High School.

“Yohany is a very special talent,” said Miami hitting coach Norberto Lopez on Morales. “That talent doesn’t make it to campus is it wasn’t for a five round draft.”

Third Base: Raymond Gil

Gil hit .318 in 2019 to go along with 13 home runs. His average dipped to .234 in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but not before Gil hit three home runs including a walk-off against South Florida on Feb. 26. Gil underwent leg surgery in the offseason and may not be 100 percent ready for the first series of the season against Florida.

Catcher: Adrian Del Castillo

Junior catcher Adrian Del Castillo is one of the top college prospects heading into the 2021 season. The Miami-native has received personalized advice and plenty of accolades over the long offseason. While there’s no doubt his future in the MLB is imminent, his focus currently is on leading the Miami Hurricanes to the college baseball promised land of Omaha, Nebraska, the site of the College World Series. In the offseason, Del Castillo worked with Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez and bench coach Pedro Grifol.

“They taught me a ton of things, and I listened very closely to what they told me,” Del Castillo said. “And I’m going to take it to my game. I was very fortunate to have them.”

Nicknamed “El Caballo,” Del Castillo is one of top draft-eligible Division I products. He was named the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year by D1 Baseball, as well as making the first team preseason All-American lists at D1 Baseball, Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and Perfect Game.

In addition, Del Castillo was added to the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award preseason watchlist and the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list alongside teammate Alex Toral.

Del Castillo jumped right off the page as a freshman, hitting .331 with 12 homes runs, both second-highest on the club. He improved his average to .358 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, while hitting two homers in 16 games.

UM also returns Jared Thomas, who slashed .188/.278/.313 a year ago to go along with three walks and a homer in 2020. Thomas—a second-year player from California who also saw action at right field—looks to make a big next step in his development. He’ll continue to play at outfield in 2021 while also possibly catching midweek matchups.

The Hurricanes also have freshman Carlos Perez to use at catcher, part of the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class. Perez comes out of Miami’s Florida Christian School, where he hit .327 during his high school career.

Left Field: Jordan Lala

A starter since his freshman year, now junior Jordan Lala has been lead-off hitter for the Hurricanes. Lala started all 16 games as Miami’s left fielder and primary leadoff hitter last season and had 13 hits, three doubles, 12 runs scored and six RBIs. Lala also led the team with four stolen bases and ranked third with a .419 on-base percentage.

Center Field: Tony Jenkins

DiMare described senior Tony Jenkins as Miami’s best outfielder and said “we need him to play well.” In 2020, Jenkins batted .300 with a double, a home run, three stolen bases and scored 11 runs with five RBIs.

Right Field: Gabe Rivera

Right field will likely fall to Gabe Rivera, but newcomers like Christian Del Castillo or Jared Thomas could be used in that position. Rivera, a Miami native, started 12 out of 16 games last season and hit .317 with a double, a home run and five RBIs. As a sophomore in 2019, he batted .290 with 29 runs scored, seven home runs and 31 RBIs.

Starting pitching: Daniel Federman, Alejandro Rosario, Victor Mederos

Undoubtedly the biggest loss from the Hurricanes roster from last year is the starting pitching rotation, with three of Miami’s four starting pitchers from last year on Major League rosters.

Brian Van Belle (Boston Red Sox), Chris McMahon (Colorado Rockies) and Slade Cecconi (Arizona Diamondbacks) pitched Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and were the most dominating part of last year’s squad.

As hard as it will be to lose three of college baseball’s best pitchers, all is not lost for the Hurricanes pitching staff. Miami retains closer Daniel Federman, who recorded 3 saves and a 2.08 ERA, against just one loss. Federman was announced as the Friday night starter for this season.

Freshman Alejandro Rosario will be the Saturday starter. Rosario, at just 19, is already a star. He was the 24th ranked recruiting prospect in the country, and seventh among right-handed pitchers. In 2019, he was selected as an Under Armor and Perfect Game all American, in addition to making the under 18 and under 17 USA National team. As a member of Miami Christian high’s squad, he helped earn the team state championships two years in a row while acquiring a 1.67 ERA over his four year career. As impressive as that is, Rosario’s 97 mph fastball is what blows the rest of the competition away. There are pitchers in the MLB still looking to find 97, and Rosario has it at 19. If the Miami pitching staff is to attempt to replace Van Belle, McMahan and Cecconi, it starts with Alejandro Rosario.

Another highly touted freshman is Victor Mederos, who will start Sundays. Mederos was ranked 11th in the country among right-handed pitchers, and deservedly so. Mederos’ high school stats speak for themselves, as he put up a 6-1 record with a 1.93 ERA as a sophomore. Mederos also packs quite a heater as his fastest pitch clocks in at 96 mph.

Bullpen:

Sophomore Carson Palmquist and graduate transfer Ben Wanger are the top two candidates for Miami’s closer role. Palmquist made eight appearances as a reliever and went 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA. Wanger, who transfered from the University of Southern California, made three saves as a closer with a 0.00 ERA. The Hurricanes will retain reliever Jake Garland, who put up a 1.93 ERA in 6 appearances last season. Another newcomer is Anthony Arguelles, who recorded a 4-0 record with a 1.38 ERA and 54 strikeouts at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida last season.