BOCA RATON, Fla. – The countdown continues to Opening Night, with just nine days left before Florida Atlantic University baseball hosts George Washington. This is the second of three positional primers on the way to the season’s beginning, and today, Head Coach John McCormack previews the Owls’ outfield and catchers.
- Monday, Feb. 5: Infielders
- Today: Outfielders and Catchers
- Friday, Feb. 9: Pitchers
Heading into last season, the FAU coaching staff knew they had to be creative in filling the outfield. All three starters had departed, and as the season went along, injury and roster turnover necessitated more creativity. When the year ended, literally every inning of every game in left, center and rightfield was manned by someone who was not on the active roster in 2016, including pitchers in some late-inning situations.
A year later, things have gone the other way. Two of the team’s three top returning hitters are back to man the corners, as sophomore Eric Rivera returns to left, and senior David Miranda will patrol right.
“Eric brings a different dynamic to the team,” said McCormack. “Someone with his type of passion, you just don’t see it on an everyday basis. He’s also matured as a baseball player, we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do this year as he’ll be in a more comfortable role in leftfield from the very beginning.”
Rivera was forced into some centerfield duty a year ago, but still earned Conference USA All-Freshman honors, batting .256 with six home runs and 31 RBI. Like Rivera, Miranda was a diamond in the rough, forcing his way into the lineup and having a season that saw him voted ABCA Second Team All-Region, hitting .319 with team bests of 12 home runs and 51 RBI.
“David was a little bit of a surprise last year, he got in there and never looked back after struggling in intrasquads,” said McCormack. “This year, you’re going to see a different David Miranda, he’s got a different body and made himself faster (in the offseason). He has rounded into more of a complete player, and his defense and throwing arm have gotten a lot better.”
Centerfield was a bit of a revolving door a year ago, but McCormack hopes it solidifies in 2018 with the addition of redshirt sophomore Cody Wilson, who transferred to FAU from Palm Beach State College.
“Cody Wilson will play center, he’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had here on campus,” said McCormack. “Right off the bat, he’s going to do some things and you’re going to scratch your head and say wow. There’s going to be some ups and downs, as he’s only played one year of college baseball. So he’s a little green in that respect. With his physical tools, you just put him out there and let him play, and at the end of the year, you’re going to see pretty good stuff. He can run, he can throw, he plays very good defense, he’s got bat strength and bad speed, it’s just a matter of getting more consistent in the game.”
Another transfer, Diamond Johnson (from St. Petersburg College), is expected to be the top reserve. A handful of other guys could see some spot time in the outfield, but McCormack points to two players in particular to provide depth first.
“Diamond is going to be the swing guy, he’s another tremendous athlete that can play a number of different positions,” he said. “Redshirt freshman Steven Revilla and another newcomer, Jacob Pino, will be in the mix to help out.”
Revilla sat out last season, and he and Pino are both from Pembroke Pines, hailing from West Broward High School and American Heritage-Plantation, respectively. Pino was previously a member of the FAU football team as well.
The Owls’ catchers boast the most experience returning of any area, with 56 of the 57 possible starts and about 98 percent of the possible pitches caught. The two-headed monster of sophomore Pedro Pages (29 starts at catcher) and redshirt senior and team captain Kevin Abraham (27) will both be back to don the tools of ignorance.
“Pedro has really matured in the last year,” said McCormack. “Offensively, he’s become very consistent and he’s started to drive the ball more. Defensively, he is an above-average receiver with an above-average, above-average throwing arm. He’s certainly taken a huge step forward and we’re looking forward to what he can accomplish this year.”
Abraham will return for his fifth year with the program in a leadership role, as he was voted team captain along with relief pitcher Weston Clemente. The Miami native played in 39 games last year in his return from cancer.
“Kevin, it finally seems like he’s back to full strength a year later,” said McCormack. “His leadership skills off the charts and he’ll continue to make an impact on and off the field.”
Beyond that duo, there are others on the team who have caught in high school, college or both. Gunnar Lambert, previously written about as a candidate to start at first base, would be a name called upon if need be, as would true freshman Jeremy Kennedy-Davis, from Fort Lauderdale. Fellow freshman Brock Nowell, a Wilmington, Delware, native, will be taking a redshirt year due to an offseason injury and rehab, or he would have also been in the mix.
“Right now the third catcher will probably be Gunnar if we get in that type of emergency situation,” said McCormack. “His arm has come back and he knows what he’s doing back there. Jeremy is getting up to speed and he’s going to help us out in the bullpen, which is a valuable role for any team. He’s going to work towards the future.”
Friday will mark the last of these three position previews, focusing on the Owls’ pitching staff. For tickets for the 2018 campaign, including the opener versus George Washington on Feb. 16, call 1-866-FAU-OWLS.