Almost 11 months have elapsed since the 2020 campaign ended for the Miami Hurricanes with a disappointing flight back to Coral Gables, Florida, instead of pursuing the chance to host Regionals for the first time in four years.
That Hurricanes baseball program has nonetheless remained one of the nation’s most-recognized over the past handful of months, having already reeled in four top-15 preseason rankings.
“We felt like we had a really, really good ball club last year with some of the better starting pitching I think we’ve ever had here, and we didn’t see it get to come to fruition,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said.
The calendar reads 10 days until first pitch, as a renewed in-state rivalry showdown with the Florida Gators — a unanimous preseason No. 1 ranked team after finishing 16-1 last year — remains on the horizon. Uncertainty has gripped Miami’s clubhouse concerning its starting rotation, with tons of possible options as to who will start in Gainesville, Florida.
“It’s wide open in terms of who’s gonna be those four guys,” DiMare said. “I think probably on the outside looking in, that’s gonna be the biggest question mark for our team is establishing a rotation, but also the bullpen, too. It’s gonna be a lot of new guys kind of filling those roles as well. A couple of veteran guys are back, but it’ll be a lot of new guys as well, so it’s definitely wide open.”
Though the shuffling has not changed the perspectives of collegiate baseball media publications, given that the Canes were listed as No. 15 in the USA TODAY coaches preseason poll on Monday afternoon.
“We’re excited about the team we have a lot of veterans returning, especially on the hitting side. We’ve got a very, very good recruiting class that came in, a lot of good, young players that came in on the mound and position players,” DiMare said.
Despite a 12-4 (3-0 ACC) record, Miami has not stood alone in the Atlantic Coast Conference — one of the nation’s deepest — when it comes to receiving all the attention pertaining rankings, however. Programs including No. 6 Louisville, led by outfielder Levi Usher, No. 12 NC State, and No. 14 Virginia have all been among the conversation to at least make the 2021 Regionals.
“We’re gonna probably have one of the more challenging seasons, not just with COVID but with our schedule,” DiMare said. “Seeing that the ACC cut us six games, which took away some mid-week games, some out-of-conference games. We added six conference games to our season, so we’re playing everybody in our conference now except one team, which will be Notre Dame that gets rotated out this year. When you put that with playing Florida and playing the mid-week schools that we play, the out-of-conference FAU’s, Florida Gulf Coast’s, FIU’s, it’s certainly going to be very challenging.”
Multiple Miami preseason All-Americans will be relied upon for their production and leadership, including catcher and top MLB prospect Adrian Del Castillo as well as first baseman Alex Toral. Both received Baseball America first-team honors, as Del Castillo, one of the nation’s most pure hitters, batted .358 through the team’s 16 games. Toral scored 13 runs through 54 at-bats, cementing his reputation as one of the best power hitters.
“Adrian Del Castillo is arguably one of the best hitters in the country and he’s certainly one of the best hitters we’ve had here, just pure hitters that can hit the ball all over the place, and he hits for power and he’s an RBI machine,” said DiMare on the Miami native, who logged the second-most RBI as a UM freshman with 72. “He also possesses a great feel for the strike zone and for a power guy is a difficult guy to strikeout.”
The Canes have landed plenty of both individual and team preseason rankings to keep themselves motivated, primed for what could be a complete season that may last longer than an early exit in the Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. All that remains is the ACC’s preseason rankings to give Miami’s ball club the full picture.
“It’s always great to have preseason honors and it shows that hard work is being noticed,” Toral said. “At the end of the day, my goal is to help us get to Omaha and win a national title. If we do that, then I know I did my part.”