Jim Morris Q&A

Baseball head coach Jim Morris answers questions about the 2007 season.

At this point in the season, where do you stand as far as a starting lineup?

"At this point I believe you should start the veterans unless somebody younger absolutely beats them out at their position. In our alumni game I will start as many veterans as possible. That will be Richard O'Brien behind the plate, Yonder Alonso at first, Jemile Weeks at second, Roger Tomas at shortstop, Gus Menendez at third, Blake Tekotte in centerfield, Dennis Raben in rightfield, and in leftfield will be Nick Freitas. With that said, that will not be our lineup when we go to the NCAA tournament. There is no question about that with the adjustments that will be made. We have an outstanding recruiting class and some young guys that are pressing the older guys pretty hard. I think the strength of our team will be our starting pitching with Maine, Gil and Miguelez—that will probably be our rotation next weekend. That will be a left-right-left rotation and that is our strength. Our defense has the chance to be as good as any defense I have had at Miami."

Who is going to fill the closer role this season?

"That is our biggest question mark right now. We have a young man, Enrique Garcia, who transferred in from junior college that is a prototype guy—6-foot-5 that throws 90 mph with a split. We also have Mark Rudman, a freshman who may see some time and we have Dennis Raben who is going to hit for us and do some pitching for us also. Being a closer is a special role. There are not many guys that you can give the ball in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and say get the batter out. A lot of games are won in the eighth and ninth inning, so I expect to have an outstanding closer if we are going back to Omaha."

Which freshmen can make an immediate impact this season?

"Mark is going to DH for us right now. Even though he is a freshman, he is hitting the ball as hard as anybody right now. Ryan Jackson is a player who was considered by pro scouts the best defensive shortstop in the country last year coming out of high school. He is actually leading our team in hitting right now in the preseason. If you look at the stats, Jackson should be in the lineup. We have some good young guys that will push the older players."

After losing seven guys in the draft after last year, are you surprised Miami is ranked as high as #2 in one poll?

"Last year, I thought we were a little under-ranked, but this year I feel we may be over-ranked. As a coach, your goal is to know that you have a chance to go to Omaha. We do have a chance to go to Omaha and we do have a chance to win. Now it is our job as coaches and players to put the work in to get back to Omaha. We are a long way from saying we are the number two team in the country, but I guess there are a lot of teams like that out there."

Are you concerned about any sophomore slumps from any of your four sophomores that contributed last season?

"The good news is that we do have a lot of depth, so if you do go into a slump, there will be a freshman right behind you. I think that is healthy and competition is good. It makes players better individually, and it makes our team better. I am having a tough time making out the lineup now, which means that you have a lot of players who are right there that deserve to be in the lineup on opening day. For now I will go with veterans unless somebody absolutely takes the position away."

How big is it to have Scott Maine back for one more season?

"Scott is healthy for the first time really. He has gained 20 pounds since the end of last year. He is throwing well. I expect him to win 12-15 games this year. If he wins 15 games, then I believe that we are in Omaha."

How is Jemile Weeks doing?

"Jemile played on the USA team. Some people considered Jemile the best player on the USA team. He always has a big smile on his face and he loves to play the game. He is arguably the best player on the team."

What is the progress of the stadium reconstruction?

"We have a long ways to go. We have spent about 1/3 of what we are going to spend because the cost keeps going up due to inflation. The park looks better now that the restrooms are ready. We haven't started the main building—the weight room, meeting room, locker room, and computer room—of the project yet, and we won't start building that until the season is over."

What have the young players from last season gained from playing in Omaha last season?

"Having returning players is important because they understand what it takes to get to Omaha. There is a carry-over with the players. At the end of every practice I tell the assistant coaches and players to come together and we all say Omaha. Everyday there is something talked about Omaha and the returning players always have something to say to that."

Has Freitas been able to carry over his strong performance of the fall to the spring?

"He is going to start the alumni game in leftfield. He is a very good athlete who has as much power as anyone on the club. Right now he swings through a lot of pitches, but he is a talented guy who can run and throw and the ball jumps off his bat. If he makes contact, then he will be a starter in my opinion."

What have you seen from Raben that would make you want to try him out as a pitcher?

"Raben was the player of the year coming out of Broward his senior year. He was 12-1 or 11-1 that season and his pitching stats were actually better than his batting stats. When he came in during the fall his freshman year, he had an outstanding fall and we thought he might make it into the starting rotation in the spring, but it became too much—trying to hit and pitch—as a freshman and he would rather be a hitter. He is going to hit, but we want him to pitch some. He is a guy who may be our lefthander late in the bullpen."

David Lake can be contacted by emailing him at lake@canestime.com

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