2007 Baseball Season Preview

Only the University of Miami can lose six players to the Major League Baseball Draft, five of whom were underclassmen, and enter the next season with higher expectations for the next season season.



Despite losing pitchers Chris Perez and Ricky Orta, outfielders Jon Jay and Tommy Giles, third baseman Danny Valencia, and catcher Eddy Rodriguez, the Hurricanes enter the 2007 season with aspirations to win their fifth national championship.

Twenty-one Hurricanes return from the 2006 team that went 42-24 with the 2007 team seemingly having a perfect mixture of veteran leadership with talented and hungry young players.

Seniors such as Roger Tomas, Richard O'Brien, and Gus Menendez will help keep the team even keeled and steady all season. Miami also returns four sophomores in Jemile Weeks, Dennis Raben, Yonder Alonso, and Blake Tekotte, who received significant playing time as freshmen.

Combine those super sophomores and steady seniors with a recruiting class that ranked second in the country by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and the ‘Canes should be ready for a College World Series run in 2007.

Catcher

Senior Richard O'Brien will lead the 2007 Hurricanes from behind the plate. O'Brien is a junior college transfer who arrived at UM in January of 2006. O'Brien batted .252 in 111 plate appearances last season and showed good power with five home runs.

As a senior, O'Brien is one of the leaders of the 2007 team. It will be hard to replace the departed Eddy Rodriguez, who had a career year in 2006, but O'Brien provides the steady presence every team needs from behind the plate.

Backing up O'Brien will be true freshman Jason Hagerty from St. Louis Missouri. Hagerty comes to UM as a highly touted freshman that is expected to have a solid impact for the ‘Canes this season. At 6-feet-2, 207 pounds, Hagerty is an impressive presence from behind the plate and is a switch hitter with potential for power.

During the fall practices, Hagerty struggled at times defensively when base runners pressured him, but at the plate Hagerty has proved to be as good an option as anyone off the bench in a pinch hitting situation.

Third Base

Senior Gus Menendez will seemingly get the first crack at starting at third base for UM. Menendez was one of the Hurricanes top hitters in the fall and was solid in the field. Menendez hit .284 with 74 at bats in the 2006 season, while driving in 12 RBI. To hold off UM's top recruit in 2006, Mark Sobolewski, for the starting job Menendez will need to continue his solid work at the plate.

Sobolewski comes to UM as one of the top high school prospects to come out of Florida in 2006. Sobolewski missed the majority of fall practice due to a swollen eye caused by a wild pitch. The Sarasota native is said to have a good ability to pull the ball for average at the plate. Sobolewski will get the first shot hitting in the DH slot for UM this season. Also, first baseman Yonder Alonso showed he could be effective at third base during the fall if the team needed him to move there.

Shortstop

Senior Roger Tomas will battle with freshman Ryan Jackson for the starting spot this season. Because Tomas is a senior, he will get the first chance to start at shortstop this year, but Jackson is an ultra-talented player that could be hard to keep off the field.

Tomas batted .283 last season, starting 43 games and scoring 28 runs. Tomas was particularly impressive in the field with a .978 fielding percentage on the season. Tomas swung the bat well during the fall, hitting a home run after not hitting one for the 2006 season.

Jackson is blessed with remarkable hands, outstanding instincts and a smooth approach at shortstop and has good speed on the basepath. Jackson has been hitting the ball well of late in the preseason, and if he continues to make solid contact at the plate he will eventually overtake Tomas. However, at 6-feet-1, 170 pounds, it may be a concern that Jackson could wear down physically during the season.

Second Base

Jemile Weeks returns for his sophomore season after a stellar freshman year in which he hit for average, .352 and power with 18 doubles eight triples, and six home runs. Weeks also started at second base for the USA National Team during the summer. Weeks was one of only three players to start all 19 games for USA and he lead the team in average (.347) and was tied for the team lead with 25 hits and four home runs.

Because of his ability to lay down bunts, make hard contact from both sides of the plate, and wreak havoc with his speed on the basepaths Weeks is a prototypical number two hitter in a batting lineup. Weeks has lightning-quick hands that allow him to hit for more power than his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame would suggest he possesses. Defensively, he has good range, sure hands and an accurate and strong arm.

Weeks did not participate in the majority of the fall because he was resting a groin muscle that he pulled during his busy summer. Though Weeks is not the most vocal player on the team, he will no doubt be thrust into the role of team leader; much like the departed Jon Jay in 2006.

First Base

If there is one returning player who can have a breakout season in 2007 for UM it would be Yonder Alonso. As a freshman in 2006, Alonso started all 66 games for UM while batting .295 and leading the team with 10 home runs and 69 RBI. As impressive as his freshman stats were, Alonso looked like an even better player for UM during the fall.

Following the College World Series, Alonso was rated the number one prospect out of the Valley Summer League. Back spasms slowed him toward the end of the summer, but Alonso still managed to hit eight home runs and slug .556 in 99 at-bats.

Alonso is a disciplined lefthanded hitter who can wait on an offspeed pitch and has the bat speed to turn on a fastball. His best tool is his above-average power. Alonso is also a solid defensive first baseman, with soft hands and surprisingly good mobility for a player his size.

"I improved my overall hitting this summer; specifically turning on the inside pitch and the mental side of hitting," Alonso said. "I feel like if the pitchers make one mistake I will take advantage of it. Mentally, if I have a bad day, I can just shake it off and go on to the next day because in summer ball you play everyday so you have to move on."

Senior Chris Petralli will back up Alonso at first base. Petralli is a player who could see time at DH occasionally. Though he does not have great power, Petralli is a good gap hitter who bats for average and finds a way to get on base.

Outfield

After playing in just 18 games and missing the last half of the season due to a bout with mononucleosis as a true freshman in 2006, Nick Freitas looks like he is ready to have a solid 2007.

Freitas may have the best power to speed ratio on the team, as he led the team in home runs during the fall and has outstanding speed. Morris has said that he wants his outfielders to produce runs and heading into the season, Frieitas will get the first crack at the starting left field position.

"I am trying to just be a hitter," Freitas said during his stellar fall. "All you have to do is be a hitter when you are an outfielder. I worked really hard this summer to come out here and be productive. I made sure I was the strongest guy on the team this year and one of the faster guys. I just need to get on base when I am at the plate and try to steal some bases."

In centerfield, sophomore Blake Tekotte will replace the departed Jon Jay. Tekotte hit .286 last season in 199 at-bats for UM in 2006. Tekotte has great speed on the basepaths and in centerfield, as he is able to get to nearly every catchable ball.

Tekotte makes consistent, hard contact with gap power and enough bat speed to hit occasional home runs. Tekotte also had an impressive summer playing in the Valley Summer League, batting .354 in 82 at-bats, and being ranked as the number two overall prospect in the league.

"I wanted to prove that I can hit at the top of the lineup during the summer," Tekotte said. "I feel like I am a one or two hole hitter. I feel like I improved my bunting and stealing bases. I also want to work on hitting the ball to all fields. Last year I was a little one dimensional pulling the ball."

In rightfield, slugger Dennis Raben will look to continue to progress from a solid freshman campaign in 2006. In 179 at bats, Raben hit eight home runs and hit .285. Raben is a lefthanded batter that is extremely powerful. Raben may be used as a DH in 2007, but he will most likely get the first crack at right field.

Two transfers may and a freshman have the biggest impact off the bench for the outfield in 2007: Dave DiNatale, Jonathan Weislow, and Kevin Diego.

DiNatale, a sophomore, arrives to UM from Central Florida where he batted .276 and led the team with 18 doubles. DiNatale possesses a strong arm and can cover a lot of ground. Weislow, a redshirt freshman transfer from George Mason University, is an explosive athlete who could be a valuable pinch runner. Diego, a freshman from Columbus high school possess good speed and defensive ability. He could be a strong defensive substitute late in the game for Miami.

Pitching

The starting rotation is Miami's strength this season. Miami presents one of the best three man rotations in the country in Maine-Gil-Miguelez. Maine and Miguelez are two of the best left handed pitchers in the country while Gil is a crafty and competitive right hand pitcher who has a lot of experience.

A collection of primarily freshmen and sophomores will compete for the long reliever and setup roles out of the bullpen. Freshmen Michael Rudman, Teddy Kaufman, Anthony Nalepa, Alex Koronis, and Kyle Bellamy will all compete for a spot out of the bullpen. Freshman Eric Erickson may be held out of action early in the season because of a nagging arm injury. Sophomores Jason Santana and outfielder Raben will also compete for a spot in the bullpen.

Transfer Enrique Garcia will get the first shot at the closer role for UM in 2007. At 6-foot-4, and 215 pounds, Garcia presents an intimidating presence on the mound. His fastball is in the low 90s and an offspeed pitch that keeps hitters guessing.

David Lake can be reached at lake@canestime.com

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