Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. Today’s preview features the Miami Hurricanes.
Even when Miami was in the Big East during the 1990s and early 2000s, the Hurricanes’ baseball team remained independent of conference affiliation. During that time, Miai won two national championships (1999 and 2001) to go along with the 1982 and 1985 College World Series titles under Ron Fraser, who passed away last month. Miami has not posted a losing season since joining the conference in 2005, but it also hasn’t experienced the same level of success as before.
Under head coach Jim Morris (not to be confused with Jim Morris from ‘The Rookie’) from 1994 to 2004, the Hurricanes made the trip to Omaha nine times. Since 2005, the Hurricanes have only reached the College World Series twice and won the Atlantic Coast Conference once.
In 2012, the Hurricanes finished third in the Coastal Division with a 16-14 ACC record (36-23 overall). For most teams, this is a successful season. For Miami, it marked the first time since 1973 that a senior for the Hurricanes didn’t experience a College World Series during their career. Perhaps fittingly, the 2012 season ended with Miami hosting an NCAA Regional but losing 10-2 to Stony Brook and 12-2 to Missouri State.
The Hurricanes lose catcher Peter O’Brien, the team’s best hitter last season. O’Brien, drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, batted .340 and led the team in home runs (10), RBI (40), slugging percentage (.626), and on-base percentage (.441). For a team that posted a league-worst .259 batting average in 2012, this is a pretty significant loss.
The team’s leading returning hitter is junior third baseman Brad Fieger. Fieger has started 119 of the Hurricanes’ 120 games during his two seasons at Coral Gables. Fieger batted .295 with four home runs and 39 RBI in 2012.
The only other returning Hurricane with more than 50 starts last season is outfielder Dale Carey. Carey was touted as a five-tool player out of high school and will keep scouts’ interest in 2013. The fielding ability and speed is there, but Carey’s bat is still coming along at the college level. Carey batted .271 with 11 doubles, two triples, nine steals, and two homers in 2012, but struck out 48 times.
With Eric Erickson’s graduation and Steven Ewing signing with the Seattle Mariners, Eric Whaley is the team’s lone returning weekend pitcher. Whaley posted a 2.68 ERA, eighth best in the ACC. His .270 opposing batting average, 63 strikeouts, and 20 walks allowed were also good for a top 25 spot in the conference in those categories.
The Hurricanes also welcome back Bryan Radziewski and Andrew Suarez. Suarez missed the majority of last season rehabbing from surgery, while Radziewski made five starts before also going under the knife. In his five starts, Radziewski posted a 3.08 ERA and a 2-0 record. These two, along with Javi Salas (6-3, 3.21 ERA, 48 K, 34 BB) figure to compete for the openings in the weekend rotation.
Miami’s recruiting class was ranked ninth in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. However, it could have been even stronger, as six Hurricanes’ signees signed professional contracts after being drafted in the first three rounds, highlighted by first overall selection Carlos Correa.
One freshman expected to provide some offense for the Hurricanes is David Thompson. While it’s uncertain what position he will play, first base or designated hitting seems like the most likely destination for Thompson as he returns from shoulder surgery that kept him out of fall drills. Thompson is also on the Hurricanes’ football roster as a quarterback, but will focus solely on baseball during the spring.
Regardless of what position he plays and how effective he may be in the field post-surgery, Thompson’s bat will be a welcome addition to the lineup. Thompson set Florida high school records for home runs in a season (19, 2010) and a career (55), breaking many of the school records at Westminster Christian set by Alex Rodriguez. Thompson was a three-time Miami Herald Athlete of the Year and was named to both the Under Armour and Semper Fi All-American teams.
Grant Heyman and Brandon Lopez are also freshmen expected to have an impact on this year’s Hurricanes. (A David Thompson and a Heyman? Is this a recruiting class or an ACC basketball honor roll, am I right?) Heyman was drafted in the 11th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, but signed with Miami. Heyman batted .424 with five triples, three home runs, and 17 RBI for Sutherland (N.Y) high school as a senior.
Lopez is expected to see time at shortstop for Miami this season, with Stephen Perez’s signing with the Washington Nationals after being drafted in the eighth round opening up that hole in the lineup. Lopez is a strong fielder, with both the arm strength and the quickness to play short.
The Hurricanes are projected to finish third in the Coastal Division, behind North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Miami lacks the returning players to realistically place them ahead of the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets in the preseason. If the top-ten recruiting class can add some pop to a lean lineup to support what should be a strong pitching staff, they could realistically finish the season ahead of them.