Hurricanes baseball prepares to utilize different strategy, new faces for upcoming season

Junior outfielder Carl Chester discusses the upcoming season with members of the media at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in January. Josh White // Staff Photographer
Junior outfielder Carl Chester discusses the upcoming season with members of the media at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field in January. Josh White // Staff Photographer

For most baseball programs, a trip to the College World Series constitutes a successful season. But for the four-time national champion Miami Hurricanes, just getting to Omaha isn’t enough.

Miami won the ACC Coastal Division title and the ACC Regular Season Championship last year. However, after advancing as one of the NCAA Tournament’s final eight teams, the Hurricanes struggled to find their way – going 0–2 and ultimately getting eliminated early on. Baseball America Preseason All-American Carl Chester talked about how the performance in the series affected the team.

“It was a real teaching moment for us,” Chester said at the team’s first media availability of the season. “We need to buckle down this year and get ready to go. There’s a bitter taste in our mouth. As soon as we got off the plane, we were already thinking about this year.”

With the start of the season just about a week away, the junior outfielder isn’t the only Hurricane geared up for another year of success. Coach Jim Morris led his team to its second-straight 50-plus win season in 2016. Can he do it for a third?

“Every year is exciting, and every year is different,” said Morris, who is entering his 24th year as head coach of Miami. “We’ve lost a lot of guys to professional baseball. We have a lot of question marks, but we have some guys to build around.”

While the Canes lost sluggers Zack Collins and Willie Abreu to the MLB draft, they have two vital players returning: Chester and senior infielder Johnny Ruiz. Both are efficient hitters, batting .336 and .342 last season, respectively.

Despite their effectiveness, Chester and Ruiz are not power hitters. UM will have to manufacture runs differently this season and not be as reliant on the long ball.

“I think we’re going to have to run more,” Morris said. “I don’t think we’re going to have as much power given the middle-of-the-lineup guys we lost. I think we’re going to have to pitch again, which is the name of the game, play really solid defense and play small ball.”

Miami will rely heavily on junior pitchers Michael Mediavilla and Jesse Lepore to lead the team on the mound. Last season, Mediavilla was the Hurricanes’ best weekend pitcher, going 11–2 with a 3.40 ERA in 18 starts and leading Miami in strikeouts and innings pitched. Lepore, who served as the Canes’ midweek starter in 2016, is slotted for weekend series this season after finishing last year with a perfect 9–0 record on the hill. Lepore struck out 57 batters in 73.2 innings a season ago, posting a 2.20 ERA. He pitched six shutout innings in his lone ACC start against Georgia Tech in the ACC Baseball Championship.

Sophomore right-hander Frankie Bartow will step into the closer’s role, replacing 2016 NCBWA Stopper of the Year Bryan Garcia. Bartow finished 6–0 with a 2.72 ERA in 56.1 innings pitched in his freshman campaign.

The Hurricanes are ranked No. 21 in D1Baseball’s preseason poll, and the goal for the season is just the same as any other year.

“Omaha is instilled everywhere – into our shoes, into our hats, into our brains,” said Mediavilla, who was among a trio of Canes named to the NCBWA Preseason All-America Third Team alongside Lepore and Ruiz. “It’s everywhere in the locker room. It’s something we always go to work towards.”

Miami opens up the season with a three-game series against Rutgers starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17 at Mark Light Field.