After relying on predominantly freshmen and sophomores in 2019, the growing pains were overcome and the payoff was eminent in 2020 for the Miami Hurricanes. At 12-4, Miami had worked its way to the eighth spot in College Baseball Nation’s Top 25 by week five and looked poised to make an Omaha run. The COVID-19 pandemic ended those aspirations, but only temporarily. “The bottom line is, if we’re going to be the program like I expect us to be, we need to be right there again in the mix.” Third-year Head Coach Gino DiMare was forwarded-looking when he spoke with College Baseball Nation.
In 2020, everything centered around the rotation, which DiMare rightfully claims was “arguably one of the top rotations in the country.” The weekend rotation of Brian Van Belle, Chris McMahon, and Slade Cecconi marked a 1.72 ERA across 73.1 innings pitched. The trio’s production was noticed by scouts as Cecconi and McMahon were selected in the first two rounds of the MLB Draft, and Van Belle, along with reliever Tyler Keysor, signed a free agent deal.
“Losing those four guys is a big blow,” DiMare acknowledged. However, he was quick to refocus on the future. “We can’t be rebuilding if we are going to have a program like I'd like to have at Miami. I’d like to try to get it to where we were at one point, consistently at the top.”
Junior LHP Spencer Bodanza was one of the standouts of the fall. Not only did he serve as a team captain in Miami’s fall world series, he pitched five scoreless innings and was named the pitching MVP. DiMare emphasized that while the rotation from 2020 has all moved on to professional baseball, the depth of his pitching staff has improved over a year ago.
While DiMare is confident in his pitching staff, the identity of his 2021 squad is built around a versatile offense. “We’ve got basically our whole offense back, so high expectations again for us.” A key departure from the 2020 Miami squad is SS Freddy Zamora who was picked in the second round of the MLB Draft. However, his departure is slightly less notable for the Hurricanes because he missed the 2020 season with an injury.
Returning to the Hurricanes is sophomore Adrian Del Castillo, who is currently ranked sixth on College Baseball Nation’s Top 50 College Prospects. While Del Castillo is already the best draft-eligible pure hitter, he is still working on his defense behind the plate. “He’s developed a lot in a short period of time,” said DiMare. “His arm has gotten better. There’s a jump in terms of him getting the ball out, getting down to second quicker. He’s gotten a lot better. His blocking, which has been pretty solid all along, has gotten better. And his receiving has gotten better."
“We’ve got basically our whole offense back, so high expectations again for us.” -Gino DiMare, Miami Head Coach
Alongside Del Castillo, Alex Toral represents one of the most dangerous bats in the Hurricane lineup. “Alex is one of the better power hitting guys in the country,” said DiMare. “He’s a veteran guy. We’re very fortunate. He most likely would not have come back if the draft was a normal draft.” Both Del Castillo and Toral figure to be in the heart of the lineup in 2021.
While there are several impact bats returning from the 2020 squad, DiMare is also excited about new faces on campus. “We have a lot of veteran guys coming back, certainly on the offensive end, but I think some freshmen are going to have a good chance of playing in the lineup.”
DiMare has previously called his incoming recruiting class one of the most coachable classes he has ever had, and he doubled-down on that assessment when he spoke with College Baseball Nation. “The guys are all very high character guys that want to be good, that want to be coached, that work hard. Those are all good signs—that you have a talented player and guys that have good work ethics and character traits that allow them to get better. The sky's the limit.”
Chad Born was one of the standout freshmen from the fall. “Born was our MVP in the fall, not only in the World Series but he had the best fall of any of the hitters overall,” began DiMare. “His offensive approach was just excellent. He hit balls all over the field, got better as the fall went on, and was not easy to strike out. He’s going to be a very, very good player for us when it’s all said and done.”
The combination of talented returning and incoming position players has made for increased competition for playing time. “We’ve got depth in the infield—multiple guys are battling for the shortstop position. You got battles really everywhere—at third base, all throughout the outfield. The one position that is pretty locked in is Del Castillo behind the plate.”
So far Anthony Vilar, Yohamdy Morales, and Dominic Pitelli are battling to replace Zamora at shortstop. Raymond Gil, who was out for the fall due to a broken shin, and
Luis Espinal also will compete for infield positions.
The ACC recently decided on a 50-game schedule, including 36 conference games, up from the usual 30. DiMare is up for the challenge of additional conference games and is bullish on the quality of the ACC. “It might be a year like we had in ‘16 when we had ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t see why that can’t happen again.”
Regardless of what teams are on the schedule, a dynamic offense, talented position players, and a deep pitching staff will have Miami in contention with every team across the country. Miami exits the fall ranked number 24 in College Baseball Nation’s Fall Top 25.