We picked Miami (Fla.) baseball's all-time starting nine
This is the latest in our series of all time starting nines for some of college baseball’s most successful programs. Players' professional careers were not considered, just their college careers — along with consideration given to their positional fits as well as a batting order that could provide a combination of a high batting average, speed and power.
1. Bobby Hill (1997-99) – Shortstop
This selection came down to Hill and Javy Rodriguez, who ironically were teammates on Miami's 1999 national championship team. Both players were All-Americans and were inducted into the school's althetics Hall of Fame, so there's no wrong choice between the two, but we went with Hill, who in three seasons set the Hurricanes' steals record (139) and ranks second in career runs scored (240).
The two-time All-American hit .404 as a sophomore, the eighth-best single-season mark in program history, with 12 home runs, 59 RBI, 87 runs (the most in a season by a Miami player), a .625 slugging percentage, a .505 on-base percentage, and 46 steals. As a junior on the national champion Hurricanes, Hill led the team with a .391 batting average with 10 home runs, 30 RBI, 73 walks, 77 runs and 52 steals.
He ranks sixth in program history in hits (253) and eighth in walks (166).
2. Mike Fiore (1985-88) – Left field
Fiore was a four-year starter who earned Freshman All-American honors as a member of Miami's 1985 national championship team who then became the Hurricanes' only Dick Howser Trophy winner in 1987 after hitting a program-record .423 with seven home runs and 58 RBI. As a senior, he was a consensus All-American after recording his best power-hitting season of his college career, batting a team-high .397 with 15 home runs, 83 RBI, and a .754 slugging percentage that ranks as the fourth-best single-season mark in school history.
Fiore holds Miami records for career at-bats (946), hits (341), runs (258), RBI (235), and walks (222). He's second in games played (270), third in doubles (63), fifth in steals (109), tied for sixth in triples (12), and tied for 10th in career batting average (.361). He batted at least .300 (over .390 in his final two seasons), with at least 45 walks, 40 RBI and 25 steals in each of his four seasons while leading the Hurricanes to the College World Series four times.
3. Yonder Alonso (2006-08) – First base
This was a tough decision between Alonso and Orlando Gonzalez, who won the inaugural Lefty Gomez Plate Award in 1974, which was given to college baseball's outstanding player. Gonzalez was the first Miami baseball player to have his jersey – No. 20 – retired, after his two-season stint with the Hurricanes. He capped off his time in Coral Gables, Fla., with a First Team All-American season in 1974, when he hit .402, set what was then an NCAA record with 62 steals, and he was named to the College World Series All-Tournament team after leading the 'Canes to their first CWS. Randy Guerra, a former first baseman and pitcher who is nicknamed "Mister Do-It-All for UM" in the program's media guide, was also considered.
However, it's tough to look past Alonso's impressive high-average, high-power batting numbers, especially when compared to Gonzalez's three home runs in two seasons for Miami. Alonso, a two-time All-American who was named to the First Team as a junior, hit .370 with 24 home runs, 80 RBI, 76 walks, 164 total bases and a .777 slugging percentage in 2008, an accomplished individual season that ranks in the top 10 in program history in several statistical categories.
He ranks third all-time for the Hurricanes in home runs (52), RBI (215), total bases (432), and fifth in slugging (.637) and walks (172). Alonso was also outstanding as a fielder, with two seasons with at least a 99.3 percent fielding percentage.
4. Pat Burrell (1996-98) – Third base
Burrell might own the best freshman season in the history of college baseball. He became the first freshman in NCAA history to lead the country in batting average, hitting a ridiculous .484 with 23 home runs, 64 RBI, 75 runs, 182 total bases, and a .948 slugging percentage. The First Team All-American led Miami to the College World Series championship game, where he became just the third player to be named the CWS Most Outstanding Player despite his team not winning the championship.
Congratulations to Pat Burrell, the newest inductee into the Omaha College Baseball Hall of Fame! pic.twitter.com/Nk4jNxsD61— Canes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) June 22, 2017
While his average dipped as a sophomore (to a still out-of-this-world .409), Burrell basically repeated his freshman year stat line as a sophomore to earn First Team All-America honors once again: 21 home runs, 76 RBI, 79 runs, 83 walks, and a .809 slugging percentage. Despite missing 38 games as a junior due to a back injury, Burrell won the 1998 Golden Spikes Award after leading the Hurricanes to the College World Series for the third straight year, while hitting .432 with 17 home runs, 47 RBI, and a .924 slugging percentage.
Not only is Burrell among Miami's career leaders in home runs (61, second all-time), total bases (465, second), runs (198, sixth), RBI (187, tied for seventh), he is third all-time in NCAA history in career slugging percentage (.886) and eighth in career batting average (.442).
5. Zack Collins (2014-16) – Catcher
In 2016, Collins became the first Miami catcher to win the Johnny Bench Award, which is given annually to the nation's top catcher, after batting .363 with a team-high 16 home runs, 59 RBI, 78 walks, a .544 on-base percentage that ranked second nationally, and a team-high .668 slugging percentage. Defensively, he only made four errors all season as Miami led the nation with a .983 fielding percentage as a team.
In his three seasons in Coral Gables, Fla., Collins helped the Hurricanes win two ACC regular season championships and advance to two College World Series berths. He finished his career fourth in career walks (177), tied for sixth in home runs (42) and 10th in RBI (183).
6. Jon Jay (2004-06) – Right field
We took some creative license with this positional fit. Jay played left field in his first two seasons at Miami, then moved to center field, but he has spent time in right field during his nine-year MLB career, so clearly he's able to move around in the outfield. The Miami Sports Hall of Famer helped the Hurricanes make two College World Series appearances in his three seasons in Coral Gables, Fla.
The All-American led Miami in batting average as a sophomore and junior, hitting .408 in 2005 (the seventh-best single-season mark in program history), then .361 a year later. His career average of .378 ranks fifth all-time. While not a major long-ball hitter (with just 13 home runs in college), Jay was a very productive offensive player, recording 56, 52, and 46 RBI in his three seasons, respectively.
The former 'Canes outfielder got on base in nearly one of every two plate appearances, on average, with an on-base percentage of .490 as a sophomore and junior. Defensively, Jay was always a strong fielder but improved his fielding percentage each season, from .963 to .978 to .988 over the course of three years.
7. Jemile Weeks (2006-08) – Second base
Four Miami second basemen have earned All-America honors and Weeks had the most consistent production of any of them over the longest span of time, with arguably the highest ceiling. He was named a First Team All-American in 2008 by Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA after hitting .363 with 13 home runs, 62 RBI, 81 runs, a .641 slugging percentage, .452 on-base percentage and 22 steals.
Weeks' 19 career triples are the most in Miami history, making him an explosive offensive threat in the batting order, and his 190 runs rank eighth all-time. He had a .974 fielding percentage as a sophomore, giving the Hurricanes a reliable middle infielder defensively.
8. Doug Shields (1981-84) – Center field
Shields helped Miami win its first national championship in 1982 and no Hurricanes player appeared in more games than the 284 that the former UM center fielder did in the early 1980s. Shields set seven offensive records at Miami and he ranks in the top 10 in career at-bats (871, second), runs (238, third), hits (271, third), steals (123, third), walks (189, third), doubles (51, eighth), and total bases (403, ninth).
As a senior, he hit .325 with 10 home runs, 62 RBI, 53 walks, 40 steals, 82 runs and a .458 on-base percentage. Shields' No. 5 jersey was retired by Miami and he's a member of the school's sports Hall of Fame.
9. Neal Heaton (1979-81) – Pitcher
Neal "The Heater" Heaton, a two-time All-American who was a consensus First Team selection in 1981, is responsible for Miami's two winningest individual seasons for a pitcher. He won a school-record 18 games as a sophomore, then 16 the following year, which is tied for second in program history. Heaton's career 2.03 ERA ranks as the second-lowest among Hurricanes pitchers of all-time.
Heaton's college statistics jump off the page, whether it's his single-game numbers (he once had a school-record 23-strikeout game), single-season numbers or career accomplishments. His 42 wins rank second in school history, and he's third in complete games (19) and strikeouts (381). Heaton was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and Miami retired his No. 26 jersey.
Coach: Ron Fraser (1963-92)
This might be the toughest single decision for any player or coach position for our entire college baseball all-time starting nines series. Fraser and current Miami coach Jim Morris, who's in his last year coaching the Hurricanes, have very similar resumes and both are worthy of this all-time coach title.
Fraser won the national championship in 1982 and 1985; Morris won the national championship in 1999 and 2001. Fraser left the coaching ranks as the second winningest coach of all-time; Morris entered this season with the second-most wins of any active coach and the fifth-most of all-time. Under Fraser, Miami set an NCAA record with 20 consecutive playoff appearances, while Morris has led the Hurricanes to 13 College World Series in 24 seasons – the best mark in the sport during that time span.
See how close the two coaches are?
But we're going with Fraser, by the most razor-thin of margins. The late coach who was nicknamed "The Wizard of College Baseball" was a member of the inaugural College Baseball Hall of Fame class in 2006 and had his No. 1 jersey retired by Miami. We'll put the decision to go with Fraser this way: if it weren't for Fraser, would Miami have been in position to hire Morris away from Georgia Tech in 1993 and then be able to continue to have kind of success that the Hurricanes' program has had in the last two and a half decades?