David Thompson and the fearsome Miami offense present a daunting challenge for upstart VCU in the Coral Gables Super Regional. Aaron Fitt breaks it down.


2015 Coral Gables Super Regional Preview

Virginia Commonwealth logoHOW VCU GOT HERE: The Rams headed into the season as the favorites in the A-10 thanks to the return of seven senior pitchers and a lineup that remained mostly intact from the previous season. They wound up finishing fourth in the standings but caught fire down the stretch, winning their last seven regular-season games then going 4-0 in the conference tournament to snag the automatic bid. They upset Dallas Baptist twice and Oregon State once to win the Dallas Regional in seven games, as the No. 4 seed.

Miami Florida logoHOW MIAMI STATE GOT HERE: A year after getting upset in the Coral Gables Regional by Texas Tech, Miami blasted its way through the regular season, going 22-8 in conference play to win the ACC Coastal Division by seven games. Miami started off its home regional 2-0, then was upset by Columbia to force a decisive Game Seven, but the Hurricanes bounced back to clobber the Lions 21-3 in the rematch.


Miami Florida logoStarting Pitching: VCU’s rotation relies more on finesse than power stuff, but the Rams got good outings in the regional from funky lefty JoJo Howie, pitchability lefty Heath Dwyer and righty Sean Thompson. Still, Miami gets the edge here with a rotation led by second-team All-ACC lefty Thomas Woodrey (himself a low-slot finesse guy) and 2014 second-round pick lefty Andrew Suarez (who has power stuff).

Edge: Miami

Miami Florida logoBullpen: Low-slot lefty Matt Lees was a dynamo in the regional for VCU, and righty Daniel Concepcion has a good fastball and racked up 11 saves this year. But Miami’s bullpen has more depth and a trio of standouts in Bryan Garcia, submariner Cooper Hammond and lefty Michael Mediavilla.

Edge: Miami

Miami Florida logoOffense: This one is no contest. Miami leads the nation in scoring (8.5 runs per game) and on-base percentage (.426) and ranks fifth in batting (.314) and eighth in slugging (.471). Mashers Zack Collins, David Thompson plus ACC batting champ George Iskenderian form a fearsome heart of the order, and the lineup is stacked with dangerous veterans from top to bottom. VCU is competent on offense, but it ranks 102nd in the nation in scoring.

Edge: Miami

Virginia Commonwealth logoDefense: VCU ranks 21st in the nation with a .976 fielding percentage, while Miami is 74th with a .971 mark. The left side of VCU’s infield, shortstop Vimael Machin and third baseman Greg Davis, is truly outstanding, and center fielder Logan Farrar is another standout. Miami has its own standouts in center (Ricky Eusebio) and at first base (Christopher Barr), and the left side is sound with Brandon Lopez and Thompson. This is closer than the gap in fielding percentage suggests, but we’ll still give a slight nod to the Rams.

Edge: VCU

Miami Florida logoExperience/Intangibles: This is a true David vs. Goliath matchup, with one of the most tradition-rich programs in college baseball history taking on a VCU club that is appearing in its first super regional, and hadn’t played in a regional since 2010. The Rams have a veteran club loaded with seniors, and they played loose and confident in the regional, but handling the atmosphere at Dallas Baptist isn’t anything like handling the atmosphere at Mark Light Stadium.

Edge: Miami


An opposing coach breaks down VCU

“They were the preseason pick to win the league, they won 11 in a row at the end of the season. They pitch, they play defense, they’re a veteran team, They’ve got veterans all over the place. I think their pitching staff is their biggest strength. They can all really pitch, but none of them have great stuff. But it’s almost like I think that helps them a little bit, too. I think the better teams you play, they’re used to seeing a certain type of pitcher and arm action and velocity, they have some guys that are not that. They have some guys who are funky. JoJo Howie, the lefty they throw the first game, is real high in the front and he’s 82 and real funky with a great changeup — you never see a guy like that. Miami doesn’t see a lot of guys like that. You prepare to beat the first-rounder, the Friday night guy, low to mid-90s with the power breaking ball. Then you face guys who are different than that and you really struggle with it. I thought JoJo Howie was like that.

VCU lefty JoJo Howie (Aaron Fitt)VCU lefty JoJo Howie (Aaron Fitt)

“Matt Lees is not like that. Lees is really good, the lefthanded guy out of the bullpen. He’s upper 80s and he’s a low arm slot, low three-quarters, and that ball moves a ton. The breaking ball is OK. The other thing that makes him tough is it’s low three-quarters, got a lot of sink to it, and he’s also extremely quick to home plate. It doesn’t affect you on the bases at all — he’s lefthanded, you’re not going to steal on him. But I think it affects the hitters too. He’s 1.0 to 1.1 (seconds) to the plate, which is quicker than guys are used to, and then the ball’s sinking on top of it, so they’re just hammering the ball on the ground, they can’t get underneath it. Seventy percent of his outs on the season are ground balls, which is phenomenal. If a guy’s 60 percent, he’s a groundball pitcher, and this guy is 70 percent. Lefthanders are hitting below .150 against him — he’s the real deal. He’s tough for anybody.

(Closer David) Concepcion, he’s got good stuff — 90-93, he’s more the traditional, what you expect out of a closer. Fastball-slider, hard breaking ball, all that stuff. But to me, Lees is the best guy. kind of surprising that Lees isn’t the closer, but it looks like they use Lees more too. (Starter Heath) Dwyer is a little bit similar to Howie, but better stuff: mid to upper 80s, but kind of the same deal, he’s going to really mix. He’s tough on lefties though, where Howie’s just kind of — his breaking ball wasn’t great. Dwyer’s got a better breaking ball so he’s much tougher on lefthanders. His stuff is a little better, and he’s another one that’s a groundball machine.

“(Righthander Sean) Thomson was upper 80s, low 90s. But he’s a little different because he had the velocity more in the hitting range that you’re used to seeing, but the breaking ball was real funky. Slows the body down, real slow, so it’s not upper 80s/low 90s with a sharp breaking ball, there’s a big spread there with those pitches. Like a lot of their guys, they throw multiple pitches for a strike, not just two pitches. A lot of them throw two breaking balls, Thompson is the same thing — he’ll throw a big breaking ball then also a little shorter slider/cutter thing. He’s showing two breaking balls with his changeup. He threw a few good changeups against us, and he can throw that breaking ball to a righty and a lefty. Not a lot of side to side, it was just big and down. You can give up on it sometimes, because it pops up out of his hand, and it has a lot of depth to it on the end. He’s another one that gets a lot of ground balls. That’s their entire pitching staff — they’re all groundball guys. They’re a good team because they get a ton of ground balls and then their defense is really good too. Especially the left side of the infield, the shortstop and the third baseman are really good players.

“I think (shortstop Vimael) Machin and (third baseman Greg) Davis are their best players. Davis is a really good hitter too and a really good third baseman. But Machin is their best player. Really good hitter, he’s balanced, he hits the offspeed pitch well, he’s on time with the fastball. He was definitely the guy you’re kind of worried about in the lineup, you’re thinking about him a couple guys ahead of time. Davis has got a little bit of pop. I think a lot of their guys though, they’re just scrappy. They’re tough outs. With two strikes they’re still able to foul off a lot of fastballs and they’ll just keep spoiling them. We knew they were trying to take away the breaking ball so you try to elevate or come in late with two strikes, and they just kind of fight it off. So we threw a lot of extra pitches with two strikes, they just kept battling. A lot of their guys were scrappy like that.

“(Center fielder Logan) Farrar is pretty good, he’s a good fastball hitter. I think he’s got pretty good plate coverage, stays to the middle of the field pretty good, has a little bit of pop. He’s definitely a good guy to have at the top of the lineup for them. Then (second baseman Daane) Berezo is a perfect two-hole hitter, just a scrappy guy, gonna put the ball in play. They had guys on base, scoring position, he’s gonna put in in play and make you do something with it.

“For sure, they’re more pitchable at the bottom. Darian Carpenter’s got pop, but I thought he was pretty pitchable too. He’s got some power, but if you’ve got a good breaking ball, you can get him pretty good. A lot of those bottom guys, you can pitch to them if you have good stuff. But I thought the guys at the top — Machin, Davis, Farrar, Berezo — those guys compete pretty well.

“Defensively, I thought second base was a little shaky, and I know they’ll switch that position out a little bit. Center field is good, Farrar. The rest of the outfield is fine out there, but Farrar looked like he got good jumps and took good angles on balls. The catcher (Walker Haymaker) does a good job, he receives well, all that kind of stuff. Arm was average, but they have those lefties that hold runners pretty well.

“I haven’t seen Miami, but they seem like they’re extremely offensive. It’ll be really interesting, I think. (The Rams) have been going hot for a while, ended the regular season the way they did, 4-0 in the conference tournament, they win the regional. Who knows? Maybe they can keep it going. But that will be pretty tough.”

An opposing coach breaks down Miami

“The biggest thing with Miami is the offense — good grief. That’s what we all want, physical kids like that, righties and lefties. Who do you want to pitch to? Do you want to pitch to (Zack) Collins or (David) Thompson? If you avoid those two, you’ve got (Christopher) Barr and (Willie) Abreu, those guys aren’t easy. If there’s one lineup in the ACC that didn’t really give you a chance to breathe, that was them. (George) Iskenderian ends up leading the league in hitting, and that’s probably a byproduct of that lineup, but he’s a smart hitter, he uses the whole field. He’s a middle right-center guy with his approach. He did a good job. That culture of their offense turned into, ‘Hey, we can really score.’ One thing leads to another, and here they are with a lot of confidence, righties and lefties. In our league this year, you needed lefties, because there just weren’t a lot of frontline lefthanded arms.

“If you’d have asked me who I wanted to face last year, Thompson or Collins, I’d have said, ‘Give me Thompson, please.’ Look what’s happened. Collins, that’s as much raw power as you’re going to find in our game. I think he’s more pitchable, but the thing that stands out the most to me is the plate coverage that Thompson has. I’ve seen him hit balls out in all parts of the zone. I’m not really sure exactly where to go and how to get him when it comes to crunch time. I’ve seen him swing and miss at fastballs up in the zone, then seen him hit them over the scoreboard at Miami. I’ve seen him look terrible against breaking balls, then seen him hit them on the football field. You just have to hope your mistakes are fouled off, because those two guys can lose a ball at any point in the at-bat. Collins isn’t maybe as polished as Thompson, but I think he’s on his way.

Miami's Zack Collins (Aaron Fitt)Miami’s Zack Collins (Aaron Fitt)

“(Leadoff man Ricky) Eusebio, I like him a lot, because from a coaching standpoint, that’s what you want in your players. Ricky used to be a kid that couldn’t handle offspeed, he was such a dead-red fastball guy. You look at his progress as a player, he’s developed into a guy they’ve done a really good job with. He does a great job in center field, got a lot of life in that body, and I think he’s perfect for that lineup. He goes all directions well, he goes back on the ball, he comes in on the ball. You see some highlight catches with him. I think that’s probably what they recruited him to do, to play in the middle there and play center field one day, and it’s happening for him.

“(Catcher Garrett) Kennedy and Barr have good at-bats, there’s some power in there with Kennedy. If you’d have told me he’d put these numbers up after watching him his first two years, I’d have told you  you have no idea what you’re talking about. But he’s developed, his swing is shorter, he’s able to lay off soft stuff and doesn’t miss what he should hit. Barr is a contact guy, flat swing, able to use the whole field. He’s way more athletic than maybe you’d think he would be as a first baseman. You look for a guy that maybe would be more physical, but he’s a really good athlete. He can get down the line, can move the ball. Not a strikeout-prone approach or swing, manages at-bats really well.

“I think bringing (Brandon) Lopez back to shortstop was big, I think early on they were trying different combinations. I don’t think Thompson has quite the arm that maybe you’d want to have on the left side of the infield, but his feet are good — you’re talking about a football quarterback, so he’s got some instincts and he can move, he gets to the ball. I don’t think it’s anything you can exploit, it’s accurate enough that he’ll throw it to the bag. Their best pure defender is Lopez, they’ve got him playing short every day, that takes a little off Iskenderian and maybe puts him where he belongs at second. Then Barr is an above-average first baseman, so there you have it. It’s tough to get a ball through there. I think Kennedy would be the guy they’re going to catch in a lot of those big games. They’re playing VCU, that’s a running team, some guys who can steal some bases. That’s definitely the guy that handles himself the best back there. I think they’ll probably DH Collins down the stretch instead of letting him catch on Saturdays.

“Andrew Suarez, he’s good. The key to his deal is breaking ball command. We’ve had some outings we’ve been able to eliminate that. The fastball, there’s not some deception in there, even though there’s velo. Good arm, a guy they probably never expected to get back. It’s a pretty visible arm swing, you can track the ball out of his hand. When he’s not throwing his breaking ball in the zone, I think you’re able to see that fastball and get on it a little bit. But when he’s on, he’s pitching to both sides of the plate. His changeup’s got a lot of fade to it, it bottoms out. To me, the whole key is that offspeed command.

“With Thomas Woodrey, you sit over there and scratch your head. You’re watching your team mis-hit 82, 84, wondering, ‘Why we can’t square this guy up?’ Just when you feel like you’re starting to adjust, he’ll use the other side of the plate, he’ll double up with his changeup, and you’re frustrated. I think that’s the best way to describe him, frustrating. He’s got deception with that arm action. He’s not going to walk you, he’s going to make you hit him, he controls the running game. I can see why he’s stuck around for them on Friday. The breaking ball is backdoor, classic Miami. I don’t know what (pitching coach) J.D. (Arteaga) does with those guys, but they all know how to backdoor that breaking ball. Fastball-changeup, he’ll steal strike one, maybe even strike two on you, that backdoor breaking ball you give up on. It’s not a plus pitch, but he knows how to use it.

“(Righty Enrique) Sosa is a sinker/slider type approach. I think he gets ahead of his arm sometimes out of the stretch and he has a hard time adjusting. If you let him sit in that rocking chair in that windup, he can sink you to death. He can get you off that with the slider and use both sides of the plate. If he’s in the stretch enough and doesn’t have command of that breaking ball, he’s vulnerable, but I’ve seen him have some really good outings. For the most part he’s going to throw strikes, I think he’ll give them a veteran type guy. You’re talking about a walk-on, another guy like Kennedy and Eusebio that has just developed in their program. Not a physical kid, not a high draft pick, but has a chance to get a lot of ground balls with a defense that can play.

“In the bullpen, that (lefthander Michael) Mediavilla, that’s a good arm. That’s some angle to the ball, got some really good life on it, really tough to square up. Our guys had a tough time just getting the ball on the barrel. (Closer Bryan) Garcia, when I saw him, everything was arm side, and the breaking ball sat up in the zone and didn’t get down through the outer half of the plate like you want it to. But I’ve seen him good, both sides of the plate, command of two different breaking balls. It’s all in there with him. He thinks he’s the guy who belongs in the end of the game, which is 90 percent of it. That’s what they’re going to go do, they’re going to live and die with that guy, as they should, because he has so much track record of getting it done. (Submariner Cooper) Hammond, oh God, I can’t stand facing that guy. I love him. He’s going to keep the ball down, he’s gonna cut it, he’s gonna sink it. It’s really tough with him, especially if you’ve got a lot of righthanded hitters. The ball gets on you because of that low arm slot. If they have to go to him in the fourth or fifth, he’s easily capable of getting you to the seventh or eighth inning and maybe turning it over to Garcia.

“They’ve got the makings of a team that could win it all. There’s enough balance in the lineup, plenty of balance, with power, speed, left and right. There’s enough veteran strike-throwers in their arsenal there, starting with Suarez and Woodrey. Then you’ve got Hammond in there, and lefties who can get lefties out, and they’ve got a closer. It’s been a while since they’ve been to Omaha, I’m sure they’re champing at the bit to get back. They’ve got a team that can seriously do some damage.”

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