The conference features 10 pitchers nominated for the Roger Clemens watch list for college baseball's pitcher of the year while 11 players have been named to the preseason All-American team.
GoJackets.com will take a look at the top six teams in the league with weekly previews prior to Georgia Tech's February 10th season opener with Georgia Southern. This week we will preview the Miami Hurricanes.
MIAMI - After being knocked out of the ACC tournament by Georgia Tech, Miami won five of their six games in the regionals to advance to the College World Series. They were eliminated in the series by Oregon State. The Hurricanses enter the 2007 season ranked 2nd by Baseball America and 6th by Collegiate Baseball.
Infield - The Hurricanes start the 2007 season only having to replace Danny Valencia at third base. Yonder Alonso returns at first base and will be backed up by Dennis Raben. Raben will also serve as a DH and possible outfielder. Alonso hit .295 with 10 home runs and 6 RBIs. His 69 RBIs led the team last year. Jemile Weeks returns as the only returnee on the squad to hit over .300 last year. Weeks, a preseason third team All-American, hit .352 as Miami's leadoff hitter. He is also on the watch list for player of the year. Roger Tomas returns at short but will face serious competition from freshman Ryan Jackson. Many feel that Jackson could be the starter if he shows that he can hit college pitching. The third base job will be a battle between senior Gus Menendez and freshman Mark Sobolewski. Menendez hit .284 in 14 games as a starter last year.
Outfield - Miami will look to replace two of their three starting outfielders from last year. Look for sophomore Blake Tekote to open in center field. He filled in last year in both right and left field. Raben could turn out to be the starter in left or right if he's not playing first or serving as the DH. He started in both left and right last year. Freshman Blake DiNatle may have the edge as the starting right fielder. Sophomore Nick Frietas will compete for the left field starting job. He started one game as a freshman. Look for former Tech coach Jim Morris to try various combinations in the outfield before deciding on his starting three.
Battery - As is the case in the outfield, the Hurricanes will have new faces behind the plate. Senior Richard O'Brien and freshman Jason Hagerty will both see time behind the plate. Look for O'Brien to start the year. Miami is very high on Hagerty's abilities. The Hurricanes lost two important pieces of their pitching staff. Carlos Gutierrez is lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery and Chris Perez has moved on to the pros. Scott Maine, Manny Menedez, and Danny Gill should make up the weekend rotation. Maine led the staff with 12 wins last year. He turned down a chance to play for the Rockies in order to return to Coral Gables. Gill led the staff with a 2.66 ERA as both a starter and reliever. Menedez compiled an 8-4 record last year. Freshman Eric Erickson could turn out to be their midweek starter. Enrique Garcia will try to pick up the slack left with Perez's departure. His setup man should be freshman Michael Rudman.
Losses - Coach Morris loses 6 players who made significant contributions to the Hurricanes run to the CWS. Center fielder Jon Jay led the team in hitting last year with a .361 average. Jay was the 74th selection in the MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals . Third baseman Danny Valencia, catcher Eddy Rodriguez and right fielder Tommy Giles were all .300-plus hitters last year. As previously mentioned, Gutierrez will miss the season due to injury. He finished 2006 with a 9-7 record. The final player that left for the pros is Chris Perez. He was one of the leading closers in the league last year. He finished with a 1.79 ERA.
Newcomers - Coach Morris brings in one of his best recruiting classes ever. This is saying something considering the talent that has played at Miami since his arrival. These freshman will be counted on to help Miami live up to their preseason rankings. Jackson and Sobolewski should see significant playing time in the infield as will DiNatale in the outfield. Hagerty has the ability to possibly replace O'Brien as the starting catcher. Morris will be counting on Erickson to be one of his starters and Rudman to log significant innings out of the bullpen.
Outlook - The ability of the incoming freshman class to make an impact will determine if the Hurricanes will challenge for the league title this year. The depth on the squad is one of the strength's of this year's team. Their veteran starters should help them overcome a lack of dominating hitters. Jemile Weeks will be counted on to lead the hitting attack as their leadoff hitter and leading base stealer. Away series against UNC and Virginia will play a big part in determining where they finish in the highly competitive ACC. The Hurricanes are picked to finish second behind UNC in the Coastal division.