Scott Lawson wasn't happy with the way the 2009 season ended for the University of Miami baseball team. It wasn't just the fact the Hurricanes were eliminated by the Gators or failed to make it out of the regional round for the second time in the last three years. Lawson felt there was something rotten at the core of the Canes.
He was upset with the same thing coach Jim Morris said plagued UM down the stretch in 2009 -- a lack of team chemistry. It was more than obvious role players weren't happy with their roles and guys on the bench weren't happy riding the pine. It caused friction, especially as the season spiraled away with seven losses in the month of May.
"Once adversity hit, everyone started panicking. People's attitudes started going different paths,'' the All-ACC second baseman said during the team's media day on Wednesday. "I think everyone last year was too uptight and too serious about everything. Some guys couldn't take jokes. Baseball, you can't be serious and emotional. You have to relax, have fun and play the game. It just seems like this year, everyone has that swagger that we're going to beat people and have fun.
"It seems like every day we're goofing around in the locker room and having a ball. But when we get on the field, everyone is so serious. We're all focused to get better in practice and focused on every little drill that we do. Coach puts out a big practice schedule, we're not complaining. We're working to get better."
The 2010 Hurricanes get started on what they hope will be a return trip to Omaha Friday night when they host Rutgers at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Coming off a 38-22 season, the roster is sprinkled with plenty of veterans (especially in the pitching staff) and more than a few new faces. All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal, one of two Canes named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List on Thursday (pitcher Chris Hernandez is the other), is the big bat in the middle of the lineup. But the foundation is speed throughout the lineup and an experienced and talented 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
"I don't think we're good enough right now to say we're a shoe-in to be Omaha bound. But we have good talent, good athletes who want to get better," Morris said. "And the bottom line is whether you're a great athlete or not is, CYP. Can You Play? Can we get these guys together to play as a unit and can they get better? Once you get to Omaha, it's proven by many schools its all about who gets hot."
Morris didn't share an exact batting order with us Wednesday, but he did talk about who will be in the mix at each position and where they would probably be hitting in the lineup. Here a few notes...
> Freshman Stephen Perez, who played for former Hurricane Javi Rodriguez at Gulliver Prep, is slotted to start at shortstop and leadoff Friday. Drafted in the 18th round by the Reds, Perez is player Morris likens more to his high school coach than former shorstop Ryan Jackson. "He's a guy who can steal bases, bunt, play very solid defense," Morris said. "He's a switch hitter who can get on base.
> Scott Lawson, who hit .333 last season with four home runs, 34 RBI and 10 stolen bases, will start at second and likely hit behind Perez and in front of Grandal. Morris expects Lawson to steal more bases and benefit from hitting in front of Grandal, who hit .299, but belted 16 home runs and 45 RBI while walking 33 times and striking out 37. There could be times, Morris said, when Lawson moves to first base to allow freshman infielder Frankie Ratcliff to get in the lineup and play second. "I have no problems playing first," Lawson said. "It's just a bigger glove with the same ground balls."
> The team's most improved player according to Morris is sophomore catcher David Villasuso. He'll bat in the designated hitter spot when Grandal is behind the plate and switch every so often. The 5-10, 200-pound former Florida Christian star tore it up in the fall and is expected to hit much better than his .233 average with 6 RBI a year ago.
> Sophomore Harold Martinez, who hit .270 with nine home runs and 47 RBI, will be starting at third base and likely hitting behind Villasuso. Martinez, who made 19 errors last season, said he made defense his offseason focus. "I've worked hard getting bigger, stronger, faster," said Martinez, who has gained eight pounds of muscle in the offseason and is now listed at 6-3, 208. "I think I improved a lot from last year. Hopefully I'll have a better year."
> First base is likely to become a spot of rotation with the hot bat staying in the lineup the longest. Senior Ryan Perry, who received a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2009 season, will get first crack after hitting .250 with 8 RBI in 23 game in 2008. He'll rotate with sophomore Rony Rodriguez, who hit .270 with two homers and 10 RBI at Miami-Dade last season. If both struggle and Radcliffe swings a better bat, Lawson could become the team's regular first baseman.
> The outfield: Sophomore Nate Melendres, who hit .272 with 20 RBI and 7 stolen bases in 51 starts last year, is the lone returning outfielder from a year ago. He'll move to right to allow speedy freshman Zeke DeVoss (who hit .518 with 18 RBI, 19 steals at Titusville Astronaut High) to take over in center field. "Zeke's the fastest guy on the team," Morris said. "He just has to learn to make better contact." Junior College transfer Chris Pelaez, who played at Louisville during the Cardinals run to the 2007 College World Series and sat out the 2008 season, will start out in left field. He hit .393 with five homers and 39 RBI at Miami-Dade last year.
> Freshman Michael Broad a standout at Nova High and a Little League World Series star, could push for playing time in left or see time at short, third and second base because of his bat. "Mike is a guy that can hit," Morris said. "That's his biggest asset. He can swing the bat. He knows how to play the infield. He's learning how to play the outfield. Probably initially his best shot to get in the lineup is in the outfield. If he hits, he'll play. But we're going to find a place for him. He's played some second, some short, some third and some left field. He's a guy if he hits, we'll have him in the lineup."
For more on the pitching staff, check out the next blog which should be up by Friday.