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Hurricanes Baseball Season Preview

Coming off two straight CWS appearances, what can we expect?

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Miami vs UC Santa Barbara
Zack Collins was a key piece in UM’s last two runs. How do we replace him and others?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Hurricanes Baseball has been successful for almost as long as the football team has. There is a long tradition of success and solid play for the Hurricanes and this year should be no different. However, this year’s success will have to come with a more youthful flare, as the team has to replace several key starters.

Expectations from @NextCaneUp

This will be a young team under Jim Morris. In fact, two starters who started all 64 games last season are missing, OF Jacob Heyward and OF Willie Abreu, and catcher Zack Collins who started 62 of 64 games and won the Bench Award for the nation’s best Catcher has also departed. SS Brandon Lopez also marks another significant loss for the infield, and solid pitchers Danny Garcia and Bryan Garcia have also departed for the MLB.

Jim Morris will have to build his lineup around a few key players and introduce new players into the lineup. I expect Centerfielder Carl Chester and Infielder Johnny Ruiz, both of whom were Preseason All-Americans, to provide experienced leadership to young units. Michael Mediavilla and Jesse Lepore, two more Preseason All-Americans, will be expected to nail down a solid rotation, expectations are especially high for Lepore after his 9-0 record and 2.20 ERA as the midweek starter this past season, but the most important part of the ENTIRE pitching staff may be relief pitcher Frankie Bartow, who will be the go-to reliever after the departure of Bryan Garcia, who was named the 2016 Stopper of the Year Award winner for the nation’s best relief pitcher.

The infield returns more experience with the addition of experienced first baseman Christopher Barr and third baseman Edgar Michelangeli to the list of returning regular starters. Michael Amiditis will be the biggest question mark in the infield however, as he will be asked to replace Zack Collins at catcher as a Freshman. Amditis has a shot to be the best Hurricanes defensive catcher in awhile, but it will be hard for him to replicate Zack Collins’ offensive production.

Meanwhile, in the outfield 2016 64 game starter Carl Chester will have some new faces on both his left and right, James Davis and Hunter Tackett. These two new JUCO transfers into the program figure to be the primary starters alongside Chester after the departure of Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward. The outfield is arguably the biggest question mark on the team, and it will be interesting to see how Davis and Tackett adjust to big-time ACC baseball.

To round out the lineup expect Randy Batista to continue as the ‘Canes primary DH and look at Michael Burns, another JUCO transfer, as the Hurricanes’ very own do it all Ben Zobrist type player.

The biggest determining factor for this team will be how the veterans gel with all of the new faces in the locker room and the dugout. The ‘Canes will also sink or swim depending on the ability of players to move into roles that were previously handled by upperclassmen. Expect Jim Morris to experiment with the lineup card day in and day out until he finds out the lineup that works the best together, and expect this team to improve as the season goes on.

For a look at key series during the ‘Canes season, here is Wade with a breakdown...

Expectations from @WadeCanes05

There is no doubt Jim Morris will have a young team this year and will have to look for new leadership but there is a positive to this. When you play in the best baseball conference in the country, odds are your team isn’t the only one to lose a bunch of players to the draft. As a matter of fact, our ACC opponents this coming year had a total of 32 players drafted and signed by an MLB team last year. Not to mention Florida lost a bunch to the draft too. Take a look at how the Canes match up to its opponents this year:

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida vs Texas Tech Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators - Gainesville, FL - February 24-26

Florida lost a total of eight players to the 2016 draft with 7 of the coming in the top four rounds. This is good news for Miami because this means they will also have to find some young guys to fill some big shoes. Canes and Gators face off in Gainesville on February 24th for a weekend series. The Gators took 2 of 3 from the Canes last year in Coral Gables but with UF losing all of the players they did, I think the roles reverse and Canes win the series.

Prediction: Canes win series 2-1

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - Coral Gables, FL - March 10-12

Georgia Tech lost their entire middle infield (SS & 2B), their catcher and a RHP to the draft this past year which means they will have to find a way to gain chemistry up the middle and gain leadership behind the plate. The Canes took 2 of 3 games in Atlanta last year with two dominating wins. With the Jackets losing a lot of their star leaders I expect the Canes to AT LEAST win 2 of 3 again.

Prediction: Canes sweep series 3-0

North Carolina State Wolfpack - Raleigh, NC - March 17-19

NC State lost their starting first basemen, catcher and two left handed pitchers this past draft. Losing two lefties in a draft can really set you back especially when they are MLB caliber lefties. The Canes only played the Wolfpack once last year and it was in the ACC tournament. The Canes won 8-7 and I expect them to win 2 out of 3 in Raleigh based on who the Wolfpack lost and the talent Miami still has/brought in.

Prediction: Canes win series 2-1

NCAA Men's College World Series Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

University of North Carolina Tar Heels - Chapel Hill, NC - March 24-26

North Carolina lost FIVE pitchers and an outfielder to the draft which means they will have some young, inexperienced pitchers on the bump this year. I like this matchup for the Canes because we swept UNC last year in Coral Gables and that was with UNC having five MLB caliber pitchers. If the bats are hot in Chapel Hill the weekend of March 24th, the Canes have a great shot at bringing out the brooms again.

Prediction: Canes sweep series 3-0

Wake Forest Demon Deacons - Coral Gables, FL - March 31-April 02

Wake Forest lost their starting third and second basemen in this past draft. Their second basemen was drafted 22nd overall by the Pirates so you know that is a key loss for them. The two teams did not meet last year but Wake went 35-27. I expect the Canes to sweep just based on how much more talent Miami brings to the table.

Prediction: Canes Sweep Series 3-0

Duke Blue Devils - Coral Gables, FL - April 8-10

Duke only lost two RHP, which might seem like a lot, but in realty it means they will have experience on the bump, on the field and at the plate. The Canes took 2 of 3 from the Blue Devils last year but this is a series that makes me nervous. With the Blue Devils only losing 2 pitchers, I think their experience alone gets them two wins in Coral Gables.

Prediction: Duke wins the series 2-1

Pittsburgh Panthers - Pittsburgh, PA - April 14-16

Pitt lost a RHP, SS, Catcher and two outfielders this past draft. Losing this many players all over the field is a good thing for the Canes and I think we will be able to take advantage of their lack of experience. The Canes swept the Panthers last year in Coral Gables and I expect the same thing to happen again this year in PA.

Prediction: Canes the sweep series 3-0

Florida State Seminoles - Coral Gables, FL - April 21-23

Florida State, surprisingly, only lost one player to the draft this past year and he was their second basemen. This scares me. FSU went 41-22 last year and is pre-season ranked in the top 10. With them not really losing anyone to the draft, they could be a force in the ACC. The Canes won the regular season series 2-1 but failed to beat the Noles in the ACC Championship semi-final game. With the talent FSU has coming back, and it kills me to say this, I see the Noles winning at least 2 of these 3 games.

Prediction: Noles win series 2-1

Boston College Eagles - Chestnutt Hill, Mass. - April 28-30

Boston College lost a RHP, LHP, their catcher and their starting short stop. They have some big shoes to fill on the bump after losing Justin Dunn who went 19th overall in this past draft. The Canes faced off with the Eagles in a chippy Coral Gables Super Regional where the Canes won the series 2-1. I expect the Canes to at least win 2 of 3 in Massachusetts come late April.

Prediction: Canes win series 2-1

Virginia Cavaliers - Charlottesville, VA - May 12-14

Virginia lost their starting catcher (16th overall), their SS and a RHP to this past draft. The #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes at the time hosted UVA in Coral Cables and found a way to lose 2 out of 3. With this series being in Virginia and Miami losing more talent than they did, this series could end up with the same results. However, I expect the leadership from Carl Chester, Christopher Barr and Edgar Michelangeli to get this team two wins in Charlottesville.

Prediction: Canes win series 2-1

Virginia Tech Hokies - Coral Gables, FL - May 18-20

Virginia Tech only lost an outfielder to this past draft which means they will be more experienced on the bump, in the field and at the plate. The Canes won the final two games of the series last season after losing game one 14-3. That first game shows that the Hokies have some power and can score some runs. Hopefully home field advantage prevents them from scoring and the Canes win at least two of the three games at home.

Prediction: Canes sweep series 3-0

Conclusion and Predictions

Where do we think the Hurricanes finish in the ACC Coastal Race?

John: Second behind UNC and closely followed by Virginia.

Wade: I think the Canes find a way to win the Coastal but it won’t be easy

What player do we think has their breakout season this year?

John: I think Carl Chester breaks out into a outstanding CF this season. He will have more experience this season and will be the true leader of the OF.

Wade: I also think Chester has a breakout year but my pick for breakout season goes to Edgar Michelangeli. I think his defensive skills improve and he hits a ton of HRs this year.

Do the Hurricanes make it to a third straight College World Series?

John: I think that this team comes close to boarding a plane to Omaha but can’t quite get over the hump, BUT I also think this team definitely has the potential to make an appearance in Omaha and I think that they will improve as the season goes on.

Wade: It sure would be cool to go back for a third straight year but I think we just lost too many guys. I hope I’m wrong but the Canes just seem too young to make run. My prediction is that Miami hosts a regional but loses to the 2-seed.

What are your thoughts on this upcoming year? Let us know!