As fans wait for National Signing Day to see who actually becomes part of Mark Richt's 2016 Miami Hurricanes football team, another Miami team will begin practicing Friday for a season with substantial promise.
Hurricanes baseball opens spring practice Friday afternoon at Alex Rodriguez Park's Mark Light Field, and the Canes -- winners of national titles in 1982, 85, 99 and 2001 -- are projected to be stellar.
Miami, which got back to the College World Series last season (50-17) for the first time since 2008, is ranked fourth by Collegiate Baseball and sixth in the USA Today coaches' poll and by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America.
"I love all the rankings because we've got good players,'' Hurricanes coach Jim Morris told the Miami Herald by phone Friday just before noon. "I hope the rankings are right, because top 8 [at the end of the season] would put us in Omaha [for the College World Series]. But we lost a lot of good hitters, and we lost [top pitcher] Andy Suarez. We've got some holes to fill with David Thompson [hit .328 with 90 RBI] and George Iskenderian [.364 with 55 RBI] and Ricky Eusebio [.286 with 19 stolen bases] and Garrett Kennedy [.320 with 51 RBI]. Every one of them had a career year.
"We have most of our pitching back and our bullpen is intact -- very solid. We've got Cooper Hammond and freshman All-American Michael Mediavilla and preseason All-American Bryan Garcia in the bullpen -- very, very solid."
Some of the other returning standouts: All-American catcher Zack Collins, All-ACC outfielder Willie Abreu, left-handed pitcher and second-team All-ACC selection Thomas Woodrey, who as it stands now, Morris said, is expected to be the Friday-night starter in the opener Feb. 19 against Rutgers; and all-CWS outfielder Jacob Heyward.
The top newcomers include Andrew Cabezas, a 6-0, 180-pound freshman out of Coral Gables Senior High. Cabezas was drafted by Cleveland in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. Cabezas finished 6-3 last season, with 84 strikeouts and a 0.39 ERA. He only walked eight batters in 2015.
Another top freshman is 6-2, 200-pound third baseman Romy Gonzalez out of American Senior High. Gonzalez, a first-team All-Dade selection by the Miami Herald, Gonzalez hit .420 last season, with four home runs and 36 RBI. He is vying to start at third on opening night.
Junior college transfer Randy Batista, 5-11 and 170 pounds, is another new standout. Batista, an infielder out of Indian River State, is from Kississimme. He will challenge for playing time up the middle -- though senior shortstop Brandon Lopez and junior second baseman Johnny Ruiz are veterans.
The Canes were ranked fifth going into the College World Series, and went 1-1 in the series, beating Arkansas and being eliminated by familiar nemesis Florida on June 17. The Canes finished the season ranked sixth by D1Baseball, Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, Perfect Game and USA Today.
UM, which returns 18 lettermen, will start off spring with intrasquad games Friday and Saturday.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN