J.D. Arteaga and new-look ‘Canes eager to prove themselves and kick off the season

Junior catcher Carlos Perez runs the bases after hitting a homerun against the first night of the Dartmouth series on Feb 24 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Reese Putnam

While certainly not new to the program, with 21 years spent as the Hurricane’s pitching coach and four years as a player at UM, Arteaga will assume a new role this season as the team’s head coach. He looks to lift the squad over the hump after a disappointing exit in last year’s regionals, with his sights set on a trip to Omaha and a national championship.

Arteaga said this year’s team will have a new look in his media availability last Friday. The departure of standout guys like third baseman Yohandy Morales and first baseman CJ Kayfus will shake up the lineup. Still, Arteaga feels that this will lead to the emergence of some up-and-coming stars and great competition at practice for those open spots.

“It’s a lot of new faces, but it’s an exciting team. So many positions are wide open right now when we lose a guy like Yoyo Morales and you know you lose (CJ) Kayfus and you lose your shortstop and your right fielder and closer and two set-up guys and a couple starters … it creates a lot of competition, so our practices are really game like, game speed,” said Arteaga.

With the loss of so many starters from last year, the Hurricanes will have less hitting power than last season, and the media appears to agree. Miami was left out of the preseason top 25 rankings on all the major college baseball sites after heading into last year’s regionals ranked no. 9 in the nation. However, the players seem to feel that losing those stars will give every player a more significant role and a chance to win games as more of a team than it did last season.

“I think we are going to be a more complete team this year. You know last year we had guys like Yoyo and guys like Kayfus we kind of relied on for our offense and I think we are going to be more complete … we’ll do the little things right,” said outfielder Dorian Gonzalez Jr.

As for the strengths of this year’s team, Arteaga loves the starting rotation, headlined by the return of Friday night starter Gage Ziehl, who posted a 4.30 ERA with a team-high 92 innings pitched. Having a veteran guy to lead the rotation will be vital as the ‘Canes will try to strike first in every series, winning that pivotal Friday night game one.

And for a weakness, Arteaga believes this year’s bullpen is a big “question mark.” The ‘Canes bullpen had a massive loss this off-season with the departure of star closer Andrew Walters, who picked up 12 saves with an incredible 1.12 ERA. Inning eaters like Alejandro Torres and Carlos Lequerica also left for the pros, leaving massive holes in the Hurricanes’ pen that Arteaga will look to fill with new guys.

Arteaga and Miami will have time to settle on an opening-day lineup before kicking off the season in about two weeks with a home weekend series vs. NJIT at Mark Light Field.