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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."

MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM FRIDAY...

> 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."

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