CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR FOR CANES' BASEBALL TEAM?
The Canes baseball team swept their season-opening, three-game series vs. visiting Cincinnati this past week despite getting little production from their "Big Four" junior hitters.
Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Blake Tekotte all hit .250 or less against the Bearcats, and right fielder Dennis Raben sat out the series due to a minor back injury.
But the Canes' pitchers stepped up, allowing just 5 runs in the 3 games. The team ERA stands at an impressive 1.67.
Here is a position-by-position look at this year's team:
This position is more important than usual this season. For the first time in his career, long-time UM Coach Jim Morris is allowing his catchers to call the pitches, which seemingly puts the pressure on sophomore Jason Hagerty, who was a seldom-used backup to Richard O'Brien last season, and freshman Yasmani Grandal.
So far, so good, however. Not only did the catchers call the right pitches vs. Cincinnati (judging by the 1.67 ERA), they also came up with a couple of extra-base hits. Hagerty, who started the first two games, had one of the biggest hits of the series, a three-run homer that tied up game 2 in the late innings. Grandal hit a double in his first-ever college start on Sunday.
Despite the homer, Hagerty's forte is his defense and pitch-calling, which he handled all through high school. Grandal has the potential to be a big bat in this lineup for the next three or four years.
Yonder Alonso, a Preseason First-Team Baseball America All-American, is off to a slow start with a .182 average and just 1 RBI. But no worries with this guy. He is coming off a season in which he hit .376 with 18 homers and 74 RBI. He led the ACC in homers, RBI and walks. And he had a great summer in the nation's No. 1 league, the Cape Cod. Baseball America ranked him the second-best prospect in the Cape.
Expect Alonso to have a huge junior season and sign a pro contract soon after the June draft.
Jemile Weeks is another player who won't see his senior year because he is way too talented and will be in the pros after this season is over.
Like Alonso, Weeks got off to a slow start in his first two games this year. But Weeks broke through with 3 RBI in Sunday's Cincinnati finale.
The best thing about weeks is that he is finally healthy. Weeks, who played for Team USA in the summer of 2006, took this past summer off to make sure his body was right for his junior year at Miami.
He is another first-team preseason All-American and perhaps the best all-around second baseman in college baseball. He has great speed, is a switch-hitter, an excellent fielder and has surprisingly good power. Baseball America rates him the 19th-best prospect in college baseball.
Sophomore Ryan Jackson is as smooth as they come with the glove, but there are questions about his offense after he hit just .236 as a freshman and .215 in the Cape Cod League.
But Jackson may surprise this season. He had a great fall, batting .452, and hit .500 (5 for 10) in the Cincinnati series. Three of his hits this past weekend were for extra bases (2 doubles, 1 triple). Jackson is not a home-run hitter, but if he can keep spraying line drives around the field and continue to play great shortstop, the Canes will be overjoyed.
Mark Sobolewski is only a sophomore, but you might as well lump him with the star juniors on the team because Sobo will be eligible for this year's draft due to his age. And Sobo told me recently that he is planning on playing pro ball next season.
So enjoy Sobo's skills while you can. As a freshman, he started all 61 of the Canes' games and led the team in hits. He batted .345 with 16 doubles, 8 homers and 54 RBI. This season, he is off to a good start, batting .385.
Sobo can also play shortstop and second base, which is good insurance should something happen to Jackson or Weeks. In fact, Sobo prefers to play up the middle and could end up there in the pros.
Raben hit AND pitched in his first two years at UM. But this season, he is strictly a hitter, which is where his pro future lies.
Last season, Raben hit .280 and was second on the team in homes with 12 and third in RBI with 48. He also had a great summer, winning MVP honors in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game. He was named the best power hitter in the Cape, which is saying something since Alonso and other studs were there.
Raben joins Alonso and Weeks as Preseason First-Team All-Americans and is ranked the 9th-best college prospect in the nation, according to Baseball America. The Canes are hoping he is ready for the Florida Gators, who visit this weekend for three games.
Blake Tekotte joined Alonso and Raben as Cape Cod All-Stars. (Only South Carolina matched UM with three all-stars at the Cape.) Tekotte was also named the league's best base-runner.
An excellent fielder, Tekotte hit .333 for UM last season, leading the team with 15 steals and also 19 doubles. He added 2 triples, 3 homers, 4 game-winning hits and led the team with a .365 batting average against ACC pitchers.
After transferring from the University of Central Florida, Dave DiNitale started 31 games for UM last season, hitting just .233 with 3 homers and 23 RBI.
He is off to a great start this season, however, producing a homer, a triple and .300 batting average vs. the Bearcats.
The Canes have several candidates here, including freshman Joey Terdoslavich, who started all three games vs. Cincinnati and hit .333. Joey is from the same high school as Sobo and UM ace pitcher Eric Erickson - Sarasota.
Another player to watch is junior-college transfer Adan Severino, who is off to a 2-for-4 start with a home run. Both Severino and Terdoslavich were drafted (rounds 38 and 35 respectively), which indicates they have pro potential.
Backup outfielder Jon Weislow, the fastest guy on the team, could DH if he shows he can hit enough. Grandal could DH on days he does not catch. And freshman hitter/pitcher Iden Nazario is another possibility. He could be the newest version of Dennis Raben.
Lefty Eric Erickson is the ace. He was a Freshman All-American last season with a 10-4 record and a .250 ERA. He is smart, fields his position well and knows hot to set up hitters and get them out. He is off to a great start with a 1-0 record and a 1.50 ERA.
Kiki Garcia is a solid No. 2 guy. The only senior on the team, he went 8-4 last season with a 3.82 ERA. He is a big guy (6-4, 225) with a power arm and pro potential (the Cubs drafted him in round 32). He got a no-decision in his 2008 debut with a solid 2.25 ERA.
Canes fans have to be excited about their No. 3 pitcher, lefty Chris Hernandez. The freshman from Pace High won his debut with 6 shutout innings, striking out 8 and walking none. Wow. This kid is the truth. He throws 92 and has a bright future.
When Miami plays mid-week games, it will need its fourth and fifth starters. The fourth starter was supposed to be John Housey, but he may lose that spot soon unless he can turn things around. Housey had a high ERA (5.65) as a freshman and is off to a bad start in 2008 with a 27.00 ERA after three innings.
A better candidate for the 4th spot appears to be Jason Santana, who has a 0.00 ERA after three innings in 08. Santana missed last season due to injury but was effective in 2006, when he compiled a 4-0 record and a 1.42 ERA.
The fifth spot could be a battle between Housey and sophomore Mike Rudman, who had a major struggle (12.34) as a freshman. Rudman, however, did toss two shutout innings in the series vs. Cincinnati. He also had a good fall with a 2.29 ERA.
One of the reasons why the Canes won't need Dennis Raben pitching this season is because they feel they have much more bullpen depth this time around.
Start with Carlos Gutierrez, who missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery. Gutierrez showed he's back by earning saves in his first two games, pitching a pair of shutout innings.
But the biggest surprise might be sophomore set-up man Kyle Bellamy, who struggled with an 8.68 ERA as a freshman. He bounced back with a great summer in New York, earning 16 saves with 26 shutout innings. That may not be the top summer league in the nation, but still .... only 4 hits and 2 walks allowed in 26 innings? Are you kidding?
Bellamy backed that up by striking out the side in his 2008 debut vs. Cincinnati. He now has a 0.00 ERA in three innings tossed and his nasty side-arm stuff is recording a lot of strikeouts (5 so far).
The lefty relievers figure to be P.J. Fisher and Iden Nazario. Fisher is from Las Vegas and spent two years as a starting pitcher at Miami Dade College (1.81 ERA in 103 innings). He missed last season due to an arm injury but is now back after a good fall.
Nazario is a super-talented pitcher/hitter drafted in the 41st round by the Nationals. He throws 92 mph and will also see time at DH.
SUMMARY - If the Canes can find the right answers at the No. 4 and No. 5 pitching spots in the rotation, it will serve them very well in postseason play. And with most of their best players likely gone after this season - Alonso, Weeks, Sobo, Tekotte, Garcia, Gutierrez - this is the year for the Canes to return to the top of the college baseball world.Hall of Canes