Feb. 15, 2013

CBI ACC Preview


Canes’ Salcines Looks to Close Door

By David Furones

Special to College Baseball Insider


CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami closer AJ Salcines enters his junior year with some hefty expectations.


The left-hander was named Preseason All-ACC, is on the Stopper of the Year watch list and was deemed the ACC’s top reliever by the league’s coaches in a survey for CollegeBaseballInsider.com. All this after a sophomore season in which he split time at set-up man and closer, recorded an ERA of 1.40 with a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and earned seven saves.


Despite the countless quantitative measures for his success last season, Salcines says he doesn’t pay attention to the stats.


“I can’t really control those things,” he said. “That’s not my goal – to have a low ERA. I just go out there and do the best I can, help my team win.”


Salcines is not your typical closer. He’s not a hard thrower who blows a 98-mph fastball past hitters. He prefers to locate his fastball, pitch to contact with his changeup and utilize his slider as his out pitch.


While he may not be intimidating on the mound, Salcines is not intimidated by the expectations. In fact, he embraces them.


“I always set higher expectations on myself probably than anyone, so I’ve always wanted that,” Salcines said. “I’ve been motivated to be successful at this level.”


The Hurricanes, who finished 36-23 last year in a season that ended in embarrassing fashion by getting blown out in two Regional games they were hosting, figure to be in a lot of close, low-scoring games. With pitching the strength of the team and an offense that has failed to produce the past few years, Miami will need late leads to be converted to wins from its closer.


“He did a great job out of the pen last year,” said coach Jim Morris, who’s heading into his 20th season at Miami. “If he ends up All-ACC as the closer, we’ll have a good year because it means we’ll have a lot of close games and he’s going to win, so he’s a very big part of the club.”


His starters in the rotation believe leads they hand over to the bullpen will be safe in Salcines’ hands.


“AJ’s the man,” said junior starter Javi Salas, who’s been roommates with Salcines since the two were freshmen. “It’s just the trust factor. You hand the ball over, you know AJ’s going to get out of that inning. He doesn’t throw the hardest, he’s not the most intimidating, but he just gets the job done.”


Salas watched as both he and Salcines struggled their freshman year. He says the turnaround for Salcines came when he spent that offseason working on his game playing summer ball in Virginia. When he returned in the fall of his sophomore season, he was ready to be elite.


“He’s one of the best closers in the nation,” added Eric Whaley, a senior right-handed starter who will miss the first two weeks of the season due to soreness. “He’s definitely a guy we all count on and we know in the ninth inning if we got the lead, he’ll probably get the job done.”


Salcines started playing baseball when he was “4 or 5 years old” playing T-ball and grew up through Little League at the local Kendall Boys & Girls Club in Miami. He remembers playing in the same leagues as current Hurricanes teammate Chantz Mack.


He then made some of his greatest strides in his development in high school, where he says he learned who he was as a pitcher. His first two high-school years were spent at Gulliver Prep and his junior and senior season at Florida Christian, both located no more than a 20-minute drive from UM’s campus.


Miami, a storied baseball program with four national championships, is a young team this year that’s enters the 2013 season in unfamiliar territory: outside of the Top 25. Salcines said the Canes are ready to prove preseason pollsters wrong.


“This team has talent, and we have to prove ourselves, and I think we’re ready to do that,” he said. “I’m not a guy that looks at any of that stuff [rankings]. I know we’re going to have the opportunity to do what we can do and show what we got, so none of that stuff really matters right now.”


The Hurricanes open their schedule with a home weekend series Friday against Rutgers.


(photos by HurricaneSports.com)