For those of you familiar with the blog, you know I've rarely talked about UM baseball here since I've never really covered it for The Herald. But with the season around the corner, I decided to attend today's media day to try and gather some notes for you diamond cutters. I'm not making any promises, but who knows, maybe I'll start making way out to the ballpark more this season. Here's some of what I gathered:
NEW PHILOSOPHY: After 26 seasons of having either himself or his pitching coach handle the pitch calling duties, UM coach Jim Morris said Wednesday he's changed his philosophy this season and will now let his catchers handle that responsibility.
"What we’re trying to do is get more rhythm in the game," Morris said Wednesday afternoon, two days before the Hurricanes open their season at home Friday night against Cincinnati. "The signals have gotten so complicated from the pitching coach to the catcher and from the catcher to the pitcher, it’s taking too long. I want the game to be quick. I think the fans like it better that way. I think our players play better that way and they like that way. In the major leagues, that’s how they do it. I think you’ll see us call some pitches, but we’re going to put more of a burden on them to call the game."
Miami isn't the only college baseball program experimenting with giving its catcher such freedoms. But it is somewhat of a surprising move for Morris considering his two catchers heading into this season are fairly young. Highly-touted freshman Yasmani Grandal, who is expected to eventually beat out sophomore Jason Hagerty for the starting job and did so in the fall, said Wednesday he began calling pitches for the first time this summer. Hagerty, who started started 23 games last season, has a little more experience. He did it all four years in high school at St. John Vianney in St. Louis, Mo.
"I’m actually really excited about it," said Hagerty, who said he tossed the idea around to coaches last season. "I had a coach in high school, Steve Beezer, who caught in the big leagues and taught me a lot about it. It’s actually one of the best parts in my game and getting to do it here at the top of college baseball, it’s a dream come true. It’s going to be a lot of fun." "[Doing it the other way] really slowed down the pace of the game. With doing this, we get to speed up the game and get timing with hitters and pick up their weaknesses. It’s going to help us out a lot I think. [Pitching coach JD Arteaga] is great with picking up weaknesses of the hitters. But I think you need to be in the flow of the game especially when your behind the plate. You can see a lot more with the hitters and the field. Don’t get me wrong, JD picks up a lot of stuff. But I think when we both work together, our catchers and JD, its going to work out real well."
Morris said his pitchers have always had the right to shake off a sign they don't like. He says the policy will remain the same. But just like before, if there is a pitch he or Arteaga demands, his pitchers will be required to deliver.
"We will still have signs where [our coaches and our catchers] talk. We can call a pitch and we will call some pitches. But the bottom line we’re going to let them call them game and talk to them about it," Morris said. "It’s going to be more about spending time with the catchers, talking to them about the hitters. We already have a scouting report for the hitters this weekend our catchers have studied... So, it’s going to be different. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change back. But I think its going to work. It worked in the spring."
PROJECTED LINEUP: With seven position starters back, Morris said he has a pretty good idea of what he wants the top of his lineup to look like Wednesday, but admits he will probably tinker some with the batting order in spots six through eight. Here is what he said and what is projected...
1. Blake Tekotte, CF, L/R, 5-11, 180, Jr.: Will become a three-year starter in centerfield. Last season, he hit .333 including a UM ACC-best .365 in league play. He's coming off a good summer ball season in which he was named a Cape Cod All-Star and led the league with 22 stolen bases. Morris said Wednesday he wants Tekotte to leadoff because although he's not as fast as Jemile Weeks, he's more aggressive. And it also allows him to split up his order of lefties in the lineup.
2. Jemile Weeks, 2B, S/R, 5-9, 180, Jr.: Weeks was named a 2008 Baseball America Preseason Firt Steam All-American. He skipped playing summer ball under Morris' orders to get over the injury that limited him last season. Morris said Weeks is now 100 percent healthy.
3. Yonder Alonso, 1B, L/R, 6-2, 215, Jr.: We all know how Alonso has spent his summer working out with Alex Rodriguez. He's coming off a season in which he hit .376 with 18 dingers and 74 RBI. He hit .338 in the Cape Cod League this summer and is coming rated the No. 5 college prospect in the Class of 2008 by Baseball America.
4. Dennis Raben, RF, L/L, 6-3, 220, Jr.: After finishing second on the team in home runs (12) and third in RBI (48), Raben will return to his familar spot in right field. He was named 2008 Baseball American Preseason First Team All-American after earning Cape Cod League All-Star MVP honors. He's rated the ninth-best college prospect in college baseball.
5. Mark Sobolewski, 3B, R/R, 6-1, 200, So.: The freshman All-American hit .345 in 61 starts, splitting time at third base and in left field. Canes expect even bigger things from him this season. He could potentially hit some clean-up too.
6/7. Dave DiNatale, LF, R/R, 6-1, 200, Jr.: After transferring over from UCF, DiNatale struggled some in 2007, hitting .233 with 23 RBI in 42 games. His fielding was a perfect 1.000 last season. He could potentially find himself splitting time with Aden Severino in left field and at designated hitter.
6/7. Adan Severino, LF/DH, L/R, 6-0, 200, Jr.: The JUCO transfer from Broward Community College has good speed and is a good defensive player. A three-time All-Dade selection at American High, he hit .344 with 23 RBI, three home runs and three steals at BCC last season. Could see some DH duty. Morris also mentioned freshmen Iden Nazario of Miami Southridge (who left the fall as the DH after hitting .367 with a team-leading 14 RBI), Joe Terdoslavich (who played with Sobolewski and ace Eric Erickson at Sarasoata High), and redshirt sophomore Jonathan Weislow (the fastest player on the team according to Morris and a backup for Tekotte in center) as guys who will fill this hole as well.
8. Catcher, Jason Hagerty, S/R, 6-3, 220, So. or Yasmani Grandal, S/R, 6-2, 210, Fr.: Hagerty is known for his defense. He only hit .195 last season. Grandal left the fall as the No. 1 catcher as the big-time prospect. He was a three-time All-Dade selection. He hit .447 with 48 RBI and 13 HRs as a senior. Grandal said he has dropped 20 pounds since graduating high school and added "lean muscle."
9. Ryan Jackson, SS, R/R, 6-3, 180, So.: A defensive beast, he made 49 starts last season as a freshman. He only hit .236 but hit .452 in the fall with a team-high 28 hits. Spent the summer in the Cape Cod League.
THE PITCHING ROTATION: There is no doubt who UM's ace is -- left-handed sophomore Eric Erickson, who went 10-4 with a 2.50 ERA last season and who became the first UM freshman to earn All-ACC First Team honors. Morris listed the rest of his rotation as...
2. Enrique Garcia, RHP, 6-4, 225, Sr.: After starting the season as the closer, Garcia found his way into the starting rotation and led UM with 80 strikeouts in 92 innings and finished 8-4 with a 3.82 ERA.
3. Chris Hernandez, LHP, 6-1, 195, Fr.: The Miami Herald's 4A-1A Pitcher of the Year at Monsignor Pace, Hernandez has had a strong showing in fall practice, striking out 23 batters in 16 1/3 innings. At Pace, he went 7-2 with 106 K's and an 0.87 ERA. Hernandez told me he has added speed to his fastball since working with pitching coach JD Arteaga and is now topping out at 92 miles per hour.
4. John Housey, RHP, 6-4, 180, So.: As a freshman he made 17 appearances and 1 start, going 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA.
5. Michael Rudman, RHP, 5-9, 170, So.: Appeared in 11 games and had an ERA of 12.34 with an 0-1 record. He's expected to improve after having a good fall season in which posted an ERA of 2.29, allowing just five earned runs in 19 2/3 innings. Morris said junior RHP Jason Santana, who went 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA, could find some starts after coming back from shoulder surgery.
THE CLOSER: After returning from Tommy John Surgery this past summer and pitching some in the North Carolina league, 6-3, 205-pound right hander Carlos Gutierrez has been designated as the Hurricane's closer. Gutierrez anchored UM's pitching staff as the Friday Night Starter in 2006 before being injured and finishing the season 9-7 with a 4.40 ERA.
Morris told me Gutierrez has actually picked up velocity on his fastball since the surgery and both catchers told me his stuff is flat out nasty.
"Carlos is amazing. He goes from 91 to 95, his ball drops, moves, it goes everywhere," Grandal said. "The first time I caught him I can’t even say I caught him. I had about six, seven passed balls from how much his ball moved. He’s going to have a great season here. As a closer, I’m glad to have him on my side because I don’t think anybody is going to hit him."
*Morris said his left-handed specialist out of the bullpen will either be senior PJ Fisher (6-0, 165), who pitched 16 2/3 innings during the fall and struckout 18 and allowed 13 hits or Nazario.
I conducted interviews with coach Jim Morris, catchers Jason Hagerty and Yasmani Grandal, freshman pitcher Chris Hernandez and closer Carlos Gutierrez and shortstop Ryan Jackson. Click on the links to listen to them.