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3 posts from January 25, 2013

January 25, 2013

News and notes from the start of Canes spring baseball practice

Al Golden didn't get a chance to see David Thompson rifle passes to receivers this fall, but Jim Morris will get to see him use his bat this spring.

The talented freshman, who set a state record for career home runs and wiped Alex Rodriguez's name from the top of the record books at Miami Westminster Christian School, said Friday he is healthy and ready to make an impact for the Hurricanes.

Although Thompson doesn't have a set position just yet -- he's working at third base, first base and left field – chances are he's going to find a spot in the starting lineup.

"He can hit," said Morris, whose team practiced for the first time this spring on Friday -- exactly three weeks before the season opening weekend series at home against Rutgers.

"He's a good athlete, knows how to win and works very, very hard. And he can hit. When you can hit, you find a place to play."

Thompson, who had right shoulder surgery in June to repair a torn labrum, is one of a handful of newcomers -- and a few players coming back from surgery -- Morris is counting on to help turn the program around.

The others: left-handed starting pitchers Bryan Radziewski (the only player who wasn't ready to go at the start of practice Friday coming off shoulder surgery) and Andrew Suarez (a ninth round pick in 2011 who only pitched three innings in an exhibition game against the Marlins before having shoulder surgery himself); middle infielders Brandon Lopez (who could get a chance to compete for the closer's role) and Alex Hernandez (a JUCO transfer from Palm Beach Central who was the team's unofficial MVP in the fall) and left-handed power hitting freshman outfielder Grant Heyman (an 11th round pick of the Blue Jays  whom Morris said was hitting balls into the upper deck of the parking lot in the fall).

The Hurricanes, coming off a disappointing 36-22 season in which they lost their first regional at home since 1990, were tabbed to finish fourth in the Coastal Division in a preseason poll by ACC coaches on Friday. That hardly bothered Morris as much as the fact UM is entering the season unranked in Baseball America's Top 25 poll for the first time since he took over in 1994.

"There's a lot of questions we need to answer," Morris said. "I think we're going to have a good club and surprise some people, but to be honest, the polls aren't showing us a lot respect, which I don't like. We've got to prove we're as good as we've always been."

Morris said his biggest concern is the bullpen. Even though 2012 team MVP and left-handed reliever A.J. Salcines (3-0, 1.40 ERA, 7 SVs) is back along with right-hander Eric Nedeljkovic (0-1, 1.78 ERA, 4 SVs), Morris said Salcines is "not a prototype closer" and the team needs to find "guys that are proven that can do it every day."

"I think our defense will be much improved,” Morris said. "Our starting pitching should be good. We just have to figure out the bullpen."


> Thompson said his arm strength is “getting back to what it was.” Although he experiences some natural soreness, it’s not hurting him at all. Thompson said he’s making sure to throw a football around every couple days to stay sharp.

“I play catch with a lot of these guys after practice,” Thompson said. “[Center fielder] Dale [Carey] is a pretty good receiver. He's got the speed.”

Although Thompson missed the majority of fall baseball practices recovering from surgery, he was able to get some work in, hitting .316 in 19 at-bats. Three of his six hits went for doubles. He also said he was able to hit one ball out of the park at Mark Light Field.

“I have to be more patient than I was in high school,” Thompson said. “I always thought I could any pitch in high school no matter where it was. The way the ball moves, speed, and location, it’s a big difference.”

Morris said although Thompson is full committed to play baseball in the spring and football in the fall, he expects he will sneak over to get some spring work in on the gridiron.

"I'm sure he's going to still be over there some," Morris said. "I just know his mentality. I know he's a worker and David feels like he can play sports at the highest level."

Heyman called Thompson "a great hitter, probably the best hitter I've ever seen."

"He doesn't miss," Heyman continued. "It was amazing. He came out here first fall ball game and faced one of our better pitchers and just ripped a double down the line. I wasn't like that. It took me a couple weeks just to see the pitching.

"I'm really looking forward to playing with him the next three or four years. It's going to be really fun. He's a great guy too. Hopefully we'll make a good duo in the future."

> Suarez, who had surgery on April 9th, 2012 to repair a slight tear on his labrum and a bone spur on the back of his rotator cuff, said he hasn't felt any pain in his come back. He pitched in a few scrimmages over the fall and expects to be ready for the season. But he expects to let loose for the first time over the weekend and test his velocity.

"They haven't really gunned me yet. Sunday I'll find out," said Suarez, who allowed only two hits and struck out one in three scoreless innings of work in his only start for the Hurricanes last March in an exhibition against the Marlins. "I'm excited. The hitters told me I was throwing hard and stuff. We'll see what the [radar] gun says."

Morris said Suarez "may have the highest ceiling of anybody on the pitching staff."

"He's the highest drafted player on the team," Morris said. "He was hurt in high school, had the surgery last year after a few weeks. He's doing really well. He's doing good and had absolutely no setbacks in his program. We think he has a very good chance to start for us on the weekends."

> Morris said senior Michael Broad, who hit just .243 with four home runs and 30 RBI last season, should start in left field and hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup.

"We've moved strictly from the infield to the outfield, it should help him relax a little bit at the plate," Morris said. "He was hurt last year, but didn't have the type of year he wanted to have."

> Morris said the baseball team will do plenty to honor the late legendary coach Ron Fraser this season.

"We're going to do a lot of stuff. It's going to be a big thing, rightfully so," Morris said. We're having a Ron Fraser night and doing some special things you need to be here for that nobody is going to know until game time. We've talked about the season being committed and dedicated to Ron Fraser. I wouldn't be surprised if we pull somethings out of the hat Coach Fraser did."

David Thompson isn't the only hitter at UM who can throw a football

Turns out freshman David Thompson isn't the only athlete at the University of Miami who can swing a big bat and fling a football around.

Grant HeymanOutfielder Grant Heyman, a three-sport star at Pittsford-Sutherland High School (N.Y.) and 11th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in June, said Friday he's had discussions with the football staff about going out for football in the fall.

Heyman (6-4 1/2, 205) was an All-State quarterback and said he had offers from Rutgers, Syracuse and Buffalo as well as some Football Championship Subdivision programs. He said UM coaches told him he would come in as an athlete and potentially play "quarterback, receiver, really anywhere."

But right now, Heyman said, he's concentrated on trying to earn a starting spot on the baseball team and not worrying about football. Coach Jim Morris and the baseball Hurricanes held their first official practice of the spring Friday and have three weeks to prepare for the season, which begins at home against Rutgers Feb. 15.

"I guess when I originally came here they said I could play football. That's part of the reason I came, not the biggest reason," Heyman said. "I'm just trying to put on more weight before I go over there."

Heyman, who hit .424 with nine homers in just 18 games his senior year of high school, was the recipient of the Rawlings National High School Gold Glove Award his senior year. He said he was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash.

Grant HeymanUnlike Thompson, whose first love was baseball, Morris said Heyman's first love has always been football. Morris said Heyman is certainly talented enough to play both, but he loves his raw baseball skills. Because he lived in the northeast, though, Heyman just hasn't had as much time as others to focus on baseball.

"He has to progress," Morris said. "He's the highest drafted player on our team to come in here [this season as a freshman]. [In fall practice] he hit balls on the deck [of the parking lot behind the right field wall at Mark Light Field]. He just hasn't had the repetition. So he has a lot of work to do to learn how to play the game. But that guy is going to be a very good player for us.

"He's got great tools. Number 1, the power. He can run. He's 6-5," Morris continued before slipping in a joke. "He's a prototype quarterback -- I mean outfielder."

Time for another beginning: Miami Hurricanes baseball on the horizon with preseason festivities

The Canes baseball season is nearly upon us.

As we reflect on the passing of UM Hurricanes legend Ron Fraser, we also can look forward to the coming season, which begins Feb. 15 with a three-game home series against Rutgers. You know that Coach Fraser loved this time of year, and I'm sure Coach Jim Morris can't wait to begin after a disappointing ending to 2012.

    Today marks the opening of preseason practice for the 2013 season. The season begins Feb. 15, when Rutgers comes to Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field for a three-game series.

    Get your calendars out and mark these dates: 

    *Thursday, Feb. 7 for the First Pitch Banquet

    * Friday, Feb. 8 for the UM Baseball Golf Tournament

    * Saturday, Feb. 9 for the Alumni Game

    The First Pitch Banquet, per UM, will feature a speakers panel comprised of UBaseball alumni Yonder Alonso (San Diego Padres), Jon Jay (St. Louis Cardinals) and Chris Perez (Cleveland Indians). In addition to the panel, there will be an auction featuring memorabilia and other Hurricanes merchandise, a presentation by Morris and a multi-course dinner. The reception, to be held at the multipurpose room inside the fieldhouse adjacent to the BankUnited Center, begins at 6 p.m. To purchase tickets, contact the Hurricane Club at 305-284-6699.

    The golf tourney, presented by the First National Bank of South Miami, will be at the Melreese Country Club. Fans can enjoy a day of golf with the head coach alongside current and former UM players. For more information, contact Celebrity International at 305-255-3500 or email tod@ci-mgt.com.

     The team's annual Fan Fest and Alumni Game will be at A-Rod Park. Pregame festivities start at 4 p.m., including an autograph session with players and coaches, inflatables and face painting for children -- and more. The game begins at 6 p.m. and will be between the 2013 Canes and a team made up of former UM stars. 


 Visitation For Ron Fraser will be held from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sun., Jan. 27 at Stanfill Funeral Homes in Miami (10545 S. Dixie Highway). A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Mon., Jan. 28 at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches (5601 S. Flamingo Road).

 The burial will be private for the Fraser Family in Ron’s hometown of Nutley, N.J.

 “A Celebration of the Life of Ron Fraser” will be held Sat., Feb. 23 on the University of Miami campus. Details will be announced at a later date. The Fraser Family be in attendance and will receive friends following the program. Afterwards, the celebration will move to Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field for Miami’s baseball game against Milwaukee. The game has been designated as the “Remembering Ron Fraser” game, with game proceeds donated to the Ron Fraser Wizard Fund.

  To me, there's nothing like taking in a beautiful South Florida day at The Light and watching college baseball. And if you don't mind the lines, there's always those great shakes! Seriously, I am looking very much looking forward to baseball.