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Hurricanes Baseball 2021 Season Preview

Miami finally returns to the diamond on Friday afternoon.

Credit: Miami Athletics

For the first time in more than 11 months, Miami Hurricanes baseball is scheduled to take the field to play a game against an outside opponent. 2020 was supposed to be an excellent season for Miami before it was cut short after just 16 games with the Hurricanes ranked in the top ten of every major poll in the country. 2021 could be just as promising for Miami, and a large group of newcomers will hope to join the Hurricanes’ experienced group of upperclassmen to try to make a return to Omaha this season.

Any conversation surrounding Miami has to begin with the lineup. The Hurricanes return preseason ACC Player of the Year favorite Adrian Del Castillo, who is one of the best players in the country and could establish himself as one of the best players in the history of Miami’s program. He’s joined by experienced infielders Alex Toral, Ray Gil, and Anthony Vilar. Toral is one of the best players in the country as well, and could be in contention to lead the country in home runs this season. Gil is coming off a challenging year at the plate; he batted just .179 with a .675 OPS last season in 16 games, but he was swinging the bat well as the season ended. Vilar remains a quality player on both sides of the ball, and he should be a key contributor for Miami at the top of the lineup.

The Hurricanes brought in the No.1 overall recruiting class in the country, and a key piece of it, Yohandy Morales, is poised to join Miami’s three experienced infielders as the fourth member of that group. Morales could start the season at third base, as Ray Gil recovers from an injury, and he should move to the middle infield and remain a contributor all season. Morales would not have made it to campus without last year’s shortened MLB Draft, and he is a special talent that could have a major impact this year.

Two other freshman contributors will fill out the Hurricanes starting rotation behind ace Daniel Federman. Alejandro Rosario and Victor Mederos are scheduled to start on Saturdays and Sundays respectively, and like Morales, neither would have made it to campus under normal circumstances. Rosario has a mid-to-upper 90s fastball to go along with a steadily improving set of secondary pitches. His fastball is remarkably good for a pitcher his age, and if his breaking pitches can provide a foil to it he could accomplish incredible things in college. Mederos comes in with a well-developed set of secondary pitches that allow him to attack hitters in several different ways. He’s still working on attacking batters and throwing strikes, but like Rosario, the sky is the limit with his potential.

Daniel Federman moves from closing out games to starting them to anchor Miami’s rotation and the entire pitching staff. He’s filled several roles in his time as a Hurricane, and he started four games during his freshman season in 2018. The potential is there for Federman to be one of the best starting pitchers in the ACC, but the question mark surrounding him is how well he will adapt to moving back into a starting role.

One of the other major battles besides the starting rotation ahead of the season was in the outfield. Tony Jenkins remains one of the Hurricanes’ best overall defenders in centerfield and was quietly one of Miami’s best hitters last season. However, his regular outfield partners from 2020, Jordan Lala and Gabe Rivera, could face a tougher challenge to keep their outfield spots. Rivera is one of the Hurricanes best pure hitters, and his power can be truly special. He could be best suited to DH if and when Ray Gil is ready to return to the field. Lala struggled last year after an excellent freshman season in 2019. His strikeouts will have to come down for him to return to the OBP that was so valuable to the Hurricanes two seasons ago, but he remains a quality defender in leftfield. Newcomers Chad Born, CJ Kayfus, and Christian Del Castillo, along with second-year player Jared Thomas, will compete for time in the outfield this season. Thomas and Christian Del Castillo, in particular, have impressed the coaching staff this season, and the experience of Del Castillo, Adrian’s older brother, a three-year starter at Seton Hall, could be extremely valuable in 2021.

Miami’s bullpen will be the deepest it has been in several years this season. Carson Palmquist will start the year as the closer after a dominant first eight appearances in green and orange as a freshman where he pitched to a 1.80 ERA. JP Gates and USC-transfer Ben Wanger will serve as set-up men. Wanger was named a preseason All-American at closer ahead of this season after not allowing an earned run in six appearances at USC last season. Both players are also excellent hitters, and it will be interesting to see how Gino DiMare utilizes them this season. Alex McFarlane, Jake Garland, and transfer Anthony Arguelles should provide excellent depth in the bullpen this season. They, along with left-handers Spencer Bodanza and Alex Monroe, and newcomers Jamar Fairweather, Nicholas Regalado, Andrew Walters, Jordan Dubberly, and Jake Smith give the Hurricanes plenty of options in relief.

In 2021, as usual, the Hurricanes will face one of the toughest schedules in the country. After opening against the top-ranked Florida Gators Miami will play every other opponent in the ACC besides Notre Dame. The Hurricanes will face almost 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 and wrap up the season against another top-ten team in the Louisville Cardinals.

The Hurricanes should be a remarkably well balanced team this season. Miami’s lineup may have to support the starting rotation as it settles in over the first few weeks of the season, but the potential is there for the Hurricanes to have an excellent 2021. There’s a good chance that in May and June Miami could host a regional and super regional as they try to return to Omaha.


Predictions

Most Valuable Player: C Adrian Del Castillo

Del Castillo is one of the best players in the country and a preseason favorite for the ACC Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes award. He is a consensus first-team All-American and will hope to anchor the Hurricanes lineup all season.

Freshman of the Year: RHP Alejandro Rosario

Rosario is a special talent who would almost certainly not have made it to Miami’s campus if there had been a normal MLB Draft in 2020. He possesses elite talent and the thought of him as a member of the Hurricanes’ starting rotation during the next three or four years is extremely exciting.

Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Daniel Federman

Federman returns to starting for the Hurricanes after a couple seasons in the bullpen. He will be asked to provide experienced leadership for a young starting rotation over the early part of the season while also helping replace one of the best Miami starting rotations in recent memory.

ACC Coastal Finish: First

This is extremely tough to predict. The ACC Coastal division is quite possibly the deepest it has ever been this season. Virginia, Georgia Tech, and possibly Duke or North Carolina could compete with Miami for the division title over what should be a very exciting season.

Record Prediction: 35-15

Miami will play just 50 games in 2021; less than their usual 56. The Hurricanes will probably go through some tough stretches at the start of the season as newcomers settle in, but by the end of the year there’s potential for the Hurricanes to become one of the best teams in college baseball.