Like there will be on the mound, FIU coach Turtle Thomas will have several new position players this coming season when the Panthers open the season against Tennessee at home on February 13. On the previous baseball post we took a look at the FIU pitchers in fall ball, here we'll go around the diamond.
FIU has three of its infield starters back from last season in third baseman Josh Anderson, shortstop Julius Gaines and Edwin Rios, who is expected to move from second base to first base as he recovers from a shoulder injury. The Panthers know what they have in those three: solid bats and good gloves. Thomas said Anderson had a really good fall.
J.C. Escarra takes over behind the plate for Aramis Garcia, who is now in the San Francisco Giants organization after being drafted in the second round last summer. Escarra played plenty last season spelling Garcia and showed some promise both behind the plate and in the batter's box.
Still, Thomas thinks new catchers JUCO transfer and former Louisville backstop Zach Soria and freshman Nelson Mompierre could push Escarra for playing time.
"It's a battle royale behind the plate for us," Thomas said. "J.C. did some good things last year and he's coming along nicely. Zach Soria has a good arm and a solid bat. His arm is his number one tool. He's caught our eye. Nelson Mompierre swings the bat as good as any catcher. He could DH some."
With Rios moving to first base, the second base starting job is up for grabs. Thomas said three players stood out in the fall: Austin Rodriguez, Eddie Silva and Ray Perez.
Rodriguez is a California JUCO transfer with a good bat. Silva brings a good glove as does Perez.
"Austin Rodriguez is a good gap to gap hitter," Thomas said. "Eddie Silva is a solid defensive shortstop that can also play second base. His bat is a work in progress. Ray Perez is coming off shoulder surgery but he's good fielder and is a singles, doubles type hitter."
Freshman Mitchell Robinson had a good fall according to Thomas. Robinson, who can play either corner position on the infield, could be a middle of the order type bat.
"Mitchell swings it well," Thomas said. "He has doubles, home run-type pop. He can be a good offensive guy for us and he plays a good infield."
In the outfield Brian Portelli might have had the best fall ball. Portelli, who was primarily a DH last season, will be playing either left field or right field this season.
"Brian Portelli has been the most impressive of anybody this fall," Thomas said. "We'll look at him play left and right to see where he plays better. He has improved a lot as an outfielder with his arm and feet. Always been a good hitter."
Two Brandons will also vie for playing time in the outfield. Brandon Gomez had a good freshman season last year. Brandon Cody is a JUCO transfer from California. Thomas said Gomez has improved his swing and has gotten better in the outfield. Cody has extra base pop at the plate and "well-tagged a couple of home runs in the fall", Thomas said.
Center field is up for grabs among three players, according to Thomas. Returning sophomore Kolby Follis is progressing at the plate and Thomas says is the fastest college baseball player he has seen in his 30+ years coaching. Freshmen Jack Schaaf and Evan Holland are the other two players competing in center. Schaaf runs well and is a left-handed bat. Holland also is a fast runner and developing at the plate. Thomas said who ever plays center will either lead off the lineup or bat ninth.