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January 31, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 2 Miami

Head coach: Jim Morris
Last season: 37-24, 17-13 in ACC
Postseason: The Hurricanes entered last season with high expectations, but failed to meet them. After finishing third in the ACC Coastal Division, Miami earned another berth in the NCAA Tournament. They finished third in the Columbia Regional.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

When it comes to history and tradition few schools can best Miami.

After the Hurricanes put together a less than impressive regular season campaign last year, they also failed to get past the Regional round.

That occurrence has the Hurricanes motivated more than ever this season.

MIAMI HURRICANES
Sophomore third baseman Mark Sobolewski has high hopes for this season.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Yasmani Grandal
1B Yonder Alonso
2B Jemile Weeks
SS Ryan Jackson
3B Mark Sobolewski
OF Dave DiNatale
OF Blake Tekotte
OF Dennis Raben
DH Iden Nazario
SP Eric Erickson
SP Enrique Garcia
SP Chris Hernandez

While Eric Erickson and Enrique Garcia headline the weekend rotation, veteran right-hander Carlos Gutierrez is the closer.

The offense is the most impressive part of this team. First baseman Yonder Alonso is one of the nation's top four hitters, while Blake Tekotte, Jemile Weeks and Dennis Raben highlight a strong junior class.

Miami needs more clarity with some of its middle relief roles, but overall, this team is primed for a run at the national title.

Offense

With almost every starter from last year's team back this spring, the Hurricanes enter the season with one of the nation's best offenses.

Junior Yonder Alonso spearheads the offense.

Alonso batted .376 with 18 homers and 74 RBIs last season. He also slugged .705 and had a .519 on-base percentage. Additionally, he ended the year with 13 doubles, a triple and 148 total bases.

Juniors Blake Tekotte, Jemile Weeks and Dennis Raben are also consistent producers.

Tekotte hit .333 with three homers and 25 RBIS last season, while Weeks hit .298 with five homers and 27 RBIs. Raben finished last season with 12 homers, 13 doubles and 48 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on sophomore third baseman Mark Sobolewski. He hit .345 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in his first season at Miami.

Others to watch include shortstop Ryan Jackson, outfielder Dave DiNatale, catcher Yasmani Grandal and designated hitter Iden Nazario.

Starting pitching

The Hurricanes aren't flawless, but enter the season with an impressive one-two punch of Eric Erickson and Enrique Garcia.

Erickson blossomed as a freshman last season. The sophomore went 10-4 with a 2.50 ERA in 90 innings of work. He also struck out 63 and walked 16, while opponents hit him at a .243 clip.

Garcia started 14 games last season and had an 8-4 record and a 3.82 ERA in 92 innings of work. He also struck out 80 and walked 31, while opponents hit him at a .251 clip.

Freshman left-hander Chris Hernandez is expected to be the Sunday starter, while John Housey, Jason Santana and Michael Rudman are in the mix to start during the midweek.

Housey had a 5.65 ERA in 28 2/3 innings of work last season, while Jason Santana was sidelined for much of the season because of a shoulder injury. Rudman worked just 11 2/3 innings.

Bullpen

The Miami bullpen still has some questions to answer, but veteran right-hander Carlos Gutierrez is slated to close.

With the most important bullpen role set in stone, the Hurricanes have turned their attention to the long and middle relief roles.

David Gutierrez, Kyle Bellamy, Iden Nazario and PJ Fisher lead the charge.

Gutierrez made 29 appearances last season and had a 3.74 ERA in 43 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 26 and walked 23, while opponents hit .256 off him.

Bellamy worked just 9 1/3 innings last season, while Fisher didn't see the mound.

Nazario is a pitcher to watch. The two-way star had an impressive fall at the plate, but will also serve as a left-handed specialist in the bullpen.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Miami entered last season as one of several candidates to win the national title, but were nowhere to be found when the dust settled at the College World Series. Hoping to get back to business this spring, the 'Canes enter the season with something to prove. The offense is in great shape with Yonder Alonso, Blake Tekotte, Mark Sobolewski and others leading the charge. There is some uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff, but the weekend rotation is in good shape with Eric Erickson and Enrique Garcia as the headliners. Veteran pitcher Carlos Gutierrez is back from an injury and will be the closer. The pitching staff is in better shape than some think, but will it be enough to win the national title? The Hurricanes are ready for action.

Shoes to Fill

Even with the return of weekend starters Eric Erickson and Enrique Garcia, the Hurricanes have some important holes to fill on the mound.

Scott Maine, Danny Gil and Manny Miguelez highlight the departures.

Maine made 17 starts last season and had a 3.28 ERA in 96 innings of work. He also struck out 74 and walked 24, while opponents hit .261 off him.

Gil made 34 appearances and had a 3.50 ERA in 54 innings of work last season. He also struck out 53 and walked 32, while opponents hit him at a .208 clip.

Miguelez started 10 games last season and had a 5.60 ERA in 53 innings of work. He also struck out 32 and walked 18, while opponents hit him at a .282 clip.

Infielder Roger Tomas is the key offensive departure. He batted .337 with a home run and 29 RBIs. He also slugged .433 and had a .430 on-base percentage.

Must Step Up

The Hurricanes have a talented and experienced offense, but needs more production from outfielder Dave DiNatale and shortstop Ryan Jackson.

DiNatale had a .233 batting average with three homers and 23 RBIs in 116 at bats last season. He also slugged .362 and had a .350 on-base percentage.

Jackson was a highly touted freshman last season, but failed to live up to expectations. He batted .236 with 10 doubles, two triples and 25 RBIs. He also slugged .313 and had a .319 on-base percentage.

Though not stemming from bad performances, redshirt junior pitcher Carlos Gutierrez must also elevate his game.

Gutierrez missed last season because of Tommy John surgery, but will be counted on to close this spring. As a starter in 2006, the right-hander went 9-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 88 innings of work. He also struck out 62 and walked 33, while opponents hit .245 off him.

Impact Newcomer

With the Hurricanes looking to return to Omaha this spring, they're hoping for immediate production from freshmen Yasmani Grandal, Chris Hernandez and Iden Nazario.

Grandal is slated to be the starting catcher. Known as an exceptional defender, he was drafted by Boston in the 27th round of last year's MLB Draft.

Nazario is an asset both on the mound and at the plate, while Hernandez is in the weekend rotation.

Nazario is a hard-throwing left-hander, and will be a staple in the Miami bullpen. He also hit .367 with a team-high 14 RBIs during fall workouts. Additionally, the freshman had six extra-base hits in 49 at bats.

Hernandez is the most highly touted addition. He was drafted by Detroit in the 14th round of the MLB Draft, but chose to attend to school. The talented left-hander struck out 23 in 16 innings of work this past fall.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 1.