Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)
Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)
We will wrap up the 2014 Hurricanes Baseball Season by looking back at the 2014 season, and by also previewing the 2015 team.
2014 Year In Review
We will used our tried and true question-answer format to review what was an up and down 2014 season.
Question: What was the highlight of the season?
AC: Can a highlight last a month? If so, then the stretch from late March through the end of April has to be it. But that feels too much like a non-answer. Specifically, the road sweep of Clemson was the point in the season where I thought this team had real potential to make some noise in the post-season. The ‘Canes pitching was excellent that weekend, giving up a combined 6 runs to what had been one of the hottest offenses in the ACC. This was the point in the season when the freshmen were at their best – Zack Collins was hitting absolutely everything, Willie Abreu had become a reliable bat in the top half of the order, and the bullpen combination of Cooper Hammond and Bryan Garcia were shutting down everyone.
VP: For me, it’s tough choice between Javi Salas’ perfect game and the Canes winning the ACC. But I will go with the Salas perfect game. That is something that you basically never see in sports, let alone in college baseball, and I might never see from a Cane again. I hope to see several more ACC titles.
Question: What was the lowlight of the season?
AC: It’s predictable, but it surely has to be the regional. Miami was gifted one of the easier draws and completely failed to capitalize, doing so in painfully inept fashion. While the ‘Canes lineup had certainly not been a juggernaut during the season, the sudden inability to work counts and get on base was supremely disappointing. It gets even worse when you take into account that Florida got bounced early in their regional, with 4-seed College of Charleston ultimately progressing to the Super Regional. Where they were promptly knocked out by Texas Tech with successive 1-0 losses.
VP: Obviously the regional. This is going to be a tough, tough one to get over. The seas parted and the team still managed to drown. The fact that it feels like they didn’t really give it their best go either, with horrid at bats, makes it even worse. I loved the way the team came together, ran off an absurd winning streak, and really clicked. It was all erased last weekend, and the memory of this season will certainly be the complete inability to score against Texas Tech.
Question: The Canes have failed to get out of the Regionals 5 out of the last 6 years, and last made the College World Series in 2008. What is wrong with this program?
AC: There’s really a number of issues at play here, but I think Miami had recruited very poorly for a few years. The ‘Canes would get a number of high-ranking “commitments” who would go early in the MLB draft and never make it to campus. That falls on Morris and his staff to identify the level of talent that are of Miami’s level but are still likely to sign. He seems to have found his way somewhat with this last recruiting class, but the lack of reliable bats is a testament to poor recruiting tactics for the last 5 years.
VP: It’s hard to pinpoint. The pitching was good enough to not only get out of this regional, but to do so easily. I think there is some sort of mental block here now. This is a team that expects to go to Omaha, and the longer they go without doing so, the more the pressure builds. When the Canes won the ACC Regular Season, it appeared they hit a brick wall. Batters began pressing, and the results showed. They went 4-4 since then, and the performances at the plate were atrocious. I don’t think that is coincidental.
How to break out of this cycle of failure is a different, more difficult question. I don’t know if there is answer to that. You can’t even say playing a bit better to get a national seed would have helped. The Canes got a winnable regional and would have hosted the Super Regional since Charleston won the Gainesville Regional. This was just a massive failure to do the same things that successfully carried them this year. And we can’t prove any problem is “fixed” until next year, when they reach this same stage. I don’t know how to “fix” it, because it was so anemic. In the past we can point to specific instances of bunting unnecessarily or poor lineup choices that resulted in low run totals. The Canes weren’t even getting base runners this weekend.
Question: Does Jim Morris need to be replaced and/or retire?
AC: I have been on the ‘Morris is not helping this program’ bandwagon for a couple years, and while he started to give me reason to jump off this season, the way the year ended certainly makes me think about it. I am never going to accuse someone of not caring enough or anything like that, because that’s essentially impossible to assess from our vantage point as fans. But the struggles over the past few seasons have been about fundamentals – baserunning mistakes, poor fielding, lack of discipline at the plate, etc. These are the signs of an unprepared team. And when you compound that with the aforementioned inability to recruit capable hitters, it can really drag a program down. I’m of the mentality that Morris should get next season to show some progress, even with major upheaval next season for the pitching staff (more on that in part 2).
VP: This is a tough one, because following on the previous question, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is wrong.
First, obviously, Jim Morris is not getting fired. The Canes won the ACC. We can certainly point to a pattern of 6 years of substandard results and make a case for his dismissal. There is validity there, but the administration is not thinking that way, so we can forget that path.
But I think there are systemic issues. One of them is the over bunting and curious substitution patterns. The continual insistence on pinch running for Zach Collins when games are still in doubt, only to see the pinch runner not score and see the lineup turn over with the Canes missing their best bat. It actually became a running joke on twitter that every time that Lawroski came in as a pinch runner it meant the Canes wouldn’t score. While that might be comical, it is still massive problem. The Canes overcame a lot blunders from the managerial spot, something our Twitter friend @DaU_Canes nicknamed “Morris Law,” for the number of times a decision would be made that wouldn’t make sense, the decision actually would not work, but the Canes get away with it anyway (for example, pinch run for Collins, pinch runner gets thrown out on a base running error, next batter hits a home run, Canes win, no one remembers the massive managerial error).
JD Arteaga has been a fantastic pitching coach and this staff has carried this team for years, so nothing needs changing there. But I do think an addition of another coach with a different philosophy or perspective on the staff could be a huge boost to perhaps change the offensive approach. While the Canes offensive numbers leaped forward this year from previously pathetic levels, it still wasn’t nearly enough so we shouldn’t pretend like it is. The pitching is national championship quality, the offense as a whole isn’t, and a new perspective (not even firing of anyone, just an additional voice) could make a night and day difference. I would love to see some movement there. The fact that the Canes never changed approaches at the plate while they chased balls into a shutout loss to end the season is all the proof I need that some new blood/perspective of some sort is necessary.
Editor’s Note: Just before publishing this, we found out that Jim Morris has received a contract extension through 2018.
Question: The Canes struggles at the plate seemed to coincide with David Thompson’s surprise return from injury. Did David Thompson’s return negatively impact the team?
AC: I don’t think it should have had too much of an impact. I do think that, as fans, we overrated Thompson a little bit last season just because he stood out as the one of two semi-capable hitters (Chantz Mack the other) in a crappy lineup. I don’t think his return had any detrimental effect on the team from a chemistry standpoint, but his struggles at the plate upon returning (not surprising, given the injury he sustained) certainly did not help matters.
VP: I don’t know if that is fair. Thompson actually had the only 2 RBI against Texas Tech this weekend out of all 3 games.
If you look at the Canes season, they spent much of it making the clutch hit, and scoring the clutch run. This was not a rake the ball, blow out opponents team. It was always get ridiculous pitching, get just enough hitting. There were instances of offensive explosion, for sure. But I don’t think anyone ever expected Miami to score more than 4 or 5 runs. We just expected that to be enough (and it would have been this weekend).
So how did it get so anemic all of a sudden? I don’t think it was really all of a sudden. I think Abreu was a huge bat this season but he had hit a freshman slump. If you recall, the season started with Collins being a complete disaster and Abreu as the Canes best hitter. The team only took off when Collins got going so they had the Abreu-Collins combo. Yes, this also coincided with Thompson’s injury, but to me, the reason for that boost was that Abreu and Collins were both hitting. That provided base runners, RBI, everything.
Abreu’s swoon started before Thompson returned, and that is when the Canes did start to struggle. They were still winning series, but the last 2 home series before Thompson returned the Canes lost games to Notre Dame (who didn’t even make the ACC Tournament) and Alabama State. With the team still winning more often than not, it was very easy to ignore warning signs. They crystallized this weekend and came to a head. I think Thompson serves as more of a scapegoat than anything else. He replaced a struggling Fieger in the lineup. The Canes relied on the top of the order for so much this year, that when Abreu slumped and Carey struggled in the regional, there was nothing there. Also, losing the Diaz start was the killer, because if Miami goes 2 of 3 against Texas Tech throwing Diaz, Suarez then Radziewski, I think they win easily. Instead, they ended up only throwing one of those against Texas Tech (another curious managerial decision was to burn Radziewski against Bethune-Cookman), and while both Salas and Beauprez were excellent, there is a mental comfort the Canes hitters enjoy knowing one of their Big 3 guns are on the mound, and perhaps that alleviates some of the pressing we saw.
Overall, I think the Canes struggled a bit, then completely exacerbated the problem by pressing, losing fundamentals, having poor at bats, and that vicious cycle lead to the anemic performance. It wasn’t one thing or one player, but collective team panic.
2015 Too Early Preview
In this section, we will look at what returns on the mound and at the plate, and where the Canes will need to fill holes.
The ‘Canes will lose all 4 of their starting pitchers from this past season. Javi Salas’ has graduated, and Andrew Suarez, Chris Diaz, and Bryan Radziewski will all likely forego their final year of eligibility and sign an MLB contract, after each were drafted in the first 9 rounds. As far as contributors, nobody else is expected to be gone. A.J. Salcines, who started his UM career so well before having some struggles and ultimately disappearing completely, will be gone after graduating.
The gem of the Hurricanes’ recruiting class (at least at pitcher) is left-handed pitcher Brian Gonzalez from Archbishop McCarthy in Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately for the ‘Canes, he was drafted in the 3rd round by the Baltimore Orioles and is not likely to turn down their offer. Keven Pimentel could be a freshman that makes an early impact – he is a big right-handed pitcher who can reach 94 with his fastball, but works in the 90-93 range. He was high on MLB scouts’ boards last year, but got injured and will now look to show his stuff at UM. Jesse Lepore is another tall right-hander who could come in and earn a starting spot in a wide-open rotation, he doesn’t have a lot of power but has shown to be very consistent in Perfect Game events. Michael Mediavilla is a local kid from Hialeah who had a strong Junior season but fell off slightly as a Senior. He also played 1B in high school and might project better there. Other incoming freshmen include LHP Luke Spangler and RHP Devin Meyer.
We might as well put a big question mark here. We can only make guesses as to who will fill out the rotation, but probably the one guy that we feel confident will be one of the weekend pitchers is Derek Beauprez. Beauprez got a few starts in the midweek this season and was Morris’ 5th starter in the regional, doing all that was asked of him in terms of limiting Texas Tech. Bryan Garcia, the ‘Canes Freshman All-American closer, could get the opportunity to start, as he showed the ability to get 6 or even 9 out saves at times. Thomas Woodrey is another option, as he became one of the few reliable bullpen arms that Miami used down the stretch. After that, it’s all up in the air. The ‘Canes will hope that one of the incoming freshman, or perhaps someone from last year’s recruiting class, can step up and fill the major void left by Suarez, Diaz, and Radziewski.
Whoever does not move up from their bullpen role to a starter will likely anchor the Miami bullpen, and it will mostly be filled out by the incoming freshman arms. One guy that we do expect to stay in the bullpen is Cooper Hammond, whose side-arm delivery will function best as a specialist late in games. In an ideal world, the ‘Canes would keep Bryan Garcia as their closer and love having someone who can finish the job in close games. But given the massive exodus of starting pitching, his talents might be better served as a starter.
CF – Dale Carey
1B/DH – Brad Fieger
2B – Alex Hernandez
PR – Jon Lawroski
LF – Tyler Palmer
1B – Brad Zunica
Bolded represent players that were regular starters in 2014.
RF – Willie Abreu
C/DH – Zach Collins
C – Garrett Kennedy
SS – Brandon Lopez
3B – Johnny Ruiz
1B – David Thompson
The Canes return 6 regular starters, and have 3 massive losses, including the 1-2 hitters (Carey and Palmer) as well as their best infielder (Hernandez). To replace them, there are solutions within the team.
They will need 2 outfielders to step up. The leading candidates are Sophomore Ricky Eusebio (who filled in well when injuries hit this team hard) and Freshman Jacob Hayward (who was used as a pinch hitter in the Regional). Ideally, Miami would like both of those pacy players to set the table, and then get Collins, Thompson and Abreu in the 3-4-5 hole to become a murderer’s row. The potential is there, but all 3 never got going at the same time this year
The leading candidate to replace Hernandez is Edgar Michelangeli who filled in well for an injured Johnny Ruiz this year at 3rd base. We could also see Laz Rivera who saw some time this in an expanded role. Freshman Sebastian Diaz featured as a defensive substitution occasionally this year, so he would be a 3rd option.
Another thing to watch is what happens with catcher/DH. Garrett Kennedy will return, but if he doesn’t improve at the plate and someone else steps up, Zach Collins can definitely catch and allow any of the other positional players mentioned here to DH.
Finally, we don’t know the recruiting class yet since we don’t know who will end up on campus, but there might be a potential starter or 2 there, especially since DH could be open.
Way Too Early Potential 2015 Lineup
1) Ricky Eusebio – CF
2) Jacob Hayward – RF
3) Zach Collins – DH
4) David Thompson – 1B
5) Willie Abreu – LF
6) Johnny Ruiz – 3B
7) Brandon Lopez – SS
8) Edgar Michelangeli – 2B
9) Garrett Kennedy – C
Signing off for 2014
This is Vishnu writing this part, and I wanted to wrap the season by giving a special mention to a few things and people that make our work possible (some tongue in cheek):
1) People that actually attend games and take pictures. Neither Adam nor I are able to attend many games, so we rely on the eyewitness photos to spruce up these articles and also more vividly describe the action. This is much more important in baseball because there is often no TV coverage for us to fall back on. The foundation of any blog is always built on real reporters doing real reporting, and without those reporters out there, we would basically be have nothing to write on.
2) FAU, for having what is far and away the most difficult web site to navigate of any athletic department I’ve ever seen. http://www.fausports.com/ Why is that web site wave themed? Why does running your mouse over the top menu cause a huge wave to come crashing down and block the screen? These are questions that might never be answered. But Adam and I always secretly hope to not have to do the FAU piece of a preview just cause of this.
3) Sergio Ramos.
4) The dedicated Hurricanes Baseball Fans on twitter. We interact with a handful of you regularly, you know who you are (there might be a Moose involved). But it certainly makes watching the games significantly more enjoyable and motivates us to write quality previews and reviews. Also, your feedback did drive some of the questions that were answered in the first section.
6) Over the last 2 weeks of the busiest time of the Canes season, Adam went to England, and my sister got married, so we were both “out of pocket” so to speak for the last week of the season and the ACC Tournament. But Adam wrote updates from England and help hold everything together so no one even noticed. I get a lot of credit for this site as the main editor and only one who contributes across all sports, but it would be impossible to run without our staff of writers since we all hold down full time jobs and do this as a hobby.
Thus ends another Canes baseball season, much sooner than any of us wanted. We will be back soon (after a brief “offseason” hiatus) as we began our lead up to the football season with previews. So stay tuned and thank you to the people that visit this site on a weekly basis. Go Canes!