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Miami Hurricanes Baseball Final Preview and Predictions

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Miami will hope to return to Omaha for the first time since 2016 in 2020.

Credit: Miami Athletics

The Miami Hurricanes baseball team comes into the 2020 season with the most-excitement surrounding a ‘Canes squad since 2016. The Hurricanes come into the season as a consensus top-10 team with multiple preseason All-Americans and future MLB Draft selections.

The best part of Miami’s squad may be the pitching staff. The Hurricanes return three of their four starting pitchers from last season. The ace will be senior Brian Van Belle, who was a second team All-ACC player last season and is a preseason All-American. Van Belle was Miami’s best pitcher last season, filling in as the Friday starter for several weeks when both Evan McKendry and Chris McMahon were injured. This season, Van Belle will take on that role full-time and hope to continue his success from 2019 as the Friday night starter. Saturdays will be manned by Chris McMahon. McMahon had a strong year last season despite missing a few weeks with an injury, and played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer. McMahon has an excellent fastball to go along with excellent complimentary pitches, and if he stays healthy he has All-American potential. Slade Cecconi will take the mound on Sundays. Cecconi, a freshman All-American last season, improved as the year went on, and expectations are high for him this season. All three weekend starters have MLB Draft potential, and this could be the last year in orange and green for all three (Cecconi is a draft-eligible sophomore).

The weekday starting spot remains a little less clear. Top 100 freshman Alex McFarlane is one option to start on Wednesdays. McFarlane was drafted in the 25th round by the St. Louis Cardinals in June, but instead signed with Miami. McFarlane has elite talent, and he could develop into the Hurricanes’ ace over his time in Coral Gables. Tyler Keysor is another option as the mid-week starter. Keysor split his time between the bullpen and the starting rotation last year, and he could make a full-time move to starting for the Hurricanes this season. Each player, whether they are named as Miami’s fourth-starter or not, should see starts this season.

Miami’s bullpen leaves the most questions to be answered surrounding the Hurricanes’ pitching. Daniel Federman enters the season as the clear closer. Federman had a solid year in 2019 as the setup man for Greg Veliz, and a move to closer would make sense for him this year. Sophomore JP Gates could be Miami’s most important left-handed reliver. Gates, who is also a key piece of the Hurricanes offensively, struggled as a pitcher in limited appearances last season, but his talent is still there and he could be a key piece this year. Right-handers Albert Maury and Alex Ruiz could also see increased roles this season, and Keysor or McFarlane will be a key piece of the bullpen if they aren’t the mid-week starter. Spencer Bodanza, a transfer from Hillsborough Community College, will be another key left-handed reliever after an excellent JUCO career.

The Hurricanes offense should remain fantastic as well. Miami could have one of the best offensive infields in the country this season. Alex Toral and Ray Gil both have fantastic power at the corner infield spots. Toral, in particular, is primed for a big 2020 after leading the ACC in home runs last season with 24. Gil is a great right-handed complement to Toral in the middle of the order and should remain an excellent player for the Hurricanes this season. The middle infield also has great talent. Freddy Zamora and Anthony Vilar, who will be the ‘Canes everyday starters at shortstop and second base in 2020, are extremely talented hitters. Vilar is an excellent top of the order bat, who has high-level on-base skills. Zamora may be Miami’s most complete hitter, with a combination of power, on-base, and contact abilities. The biggest question for this group remains on defensive side of the game. Zamora and Gil in particular struggled on defense last year, each of them had a fielding percentage under .900 at season’s end, and Miami finished second-worst in the ACC as a team in defense last season. This group will also have to play without Zamora for the first few weeks of the season, after him and freshman right-handed pitcher Carson Palmquist were suspended for the start of the season for a violation of team rules.

Miami’s outfield is where the most questions arise surrounding 2020. Jordan Lala should remain the Hurricanes’ lead-off hitter this season. Lala had a great freshman campaign last year, displaying great plate-discipline from the lead-off spot. However, Lala struggled with strikeouts at the end of last season and fell into a bit of a slump, something he’ll need to work on this year. Gabe Rivera will start in one of the corner outfield spots, most-likely right field, and will be a key power bat in Miami’s lineup. Rivera only played about half of the season last year, but he emerged as a great-offensive player towards the end of the year. The third outfield spot is the most wide-open, but at the start of the year it should go to Tony Jenkins. Jenkins is Miami’s best defensive outfielder, and if he lowers his strikeout numbers and gets on-base more often in 2020 he should become an everyday player in the Hurricanes’ lineup. Mykanthony Valdez, a freshman, could see some playing time in the outfield. Valdez is an extremely highly-regarded freshman who could certainly play a role this year.

The Hurricanes best position may be catcher, where one of the best players in the country in Adrian Del Castillo is the clear starter. Del Castillo is a great offensive player, he batted cleanup all season as a freshman last year, and he should continue to produce in that spot in 2020. He enters the season as a preseason All-American, and it would be a shock if he wasn’t an All-American at season’s end. Issac Quinones, Daniel Labrador, and Jared Thomas provide excellent depth at catcher. Each could see playing time when Del Castillo needs rest. Quinones in particular could see mid-week starts, especially since Gino DiMare tended to give his starting catcher, Michael Amditis in the case of last season, the day off during the week last year.

Miami will face a tough schedule this year, as always, but enters the year as the ACC Coastal Division favorite. The ‘Canes will face the preseason No.1 team in Louisville, and also have series against FSU, Florida, North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia, each of which are ranked in the Top 25.

All in all, the Hurricanes have their best chance to return to Omaha since 2016. The pressure is on for Miami to return to the previous heights of the program. This season, Miami has a great chance to do that, with one of the best rosters in the country and great success to build off from last season.


Predictions

Most Valuable Player: C Adrian Del Castillo

Adrian Del Castillo is one of the most talented players in the country and was the Hurricanes’ MVP last season. Del Castillo led the team in multiple categories last season, and now that he’s Miami’s starting backstop he’s just that much more important to the ‘Canes.

Freshman of the Year: RHP Alex McFarlane

Alex McFarlane has elite talent and could play a significant role whether it be as a mid-week starter or as a reliever. McFarlane will play a key role on the pitching staff this season and could be poised to do great things in Coral Gables.

Most Improved Player: CF Tony Jenkins

Tony Jenkins will start the year as the centerfielder, and with just a few adjustments could be a key piece of the Hurricanes’ lineup. Jenkins is already one of the best defenders on the team, with a few offensive adjustments he could be one of the most complete players on Miami’s roster.

Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Brian Van Belle

Brian Van Belle was Miami’s most consistent starter last year and nothing should change in 2020. Van Belle is an excellent starter, and should be able to set the tone for every weekend series on Friday nights.

ACC Coastal Finish: First

Miami is one of the most talented teams in the country, and they should win the ACC’s Coastal Division this year. There will be significant challenges for the Coastal Division crown in the form of North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech, but the Hurricanes have the talent and experience to come out on top.

Record Prediction: 41-15

The Hurricanes should be one of the best teams in the country in 2020. Miami could very realistically get to 40 wins in the regular season in 2020, despite a challenging schedule. The expectation for this year should be becoming a national seed for the NCAA Tournament and reaching Omaha for the first time since 2016.