After dropping two out of three against the University of Rice Owls, which eliminated FIU from any playoff contention, but it shouldn’t go without saying that this was a season to remember. After going 16-34 in 2022, FIU hired coach Rich Witten who was a big factor in their 21-34 record which had two ranked wins.
Let the Rich Witten era begin
When FIU hired Rich Witten, there was a lot of positivity around the air. An offensive-minded coach who at the end of the day turned the Panthers into one of the best offensive teams in Conference USA. When it comes to managing the team, he made a lot of good decisions which included going with Ryan Cabarcas in the bullpen to back up Angel Tiburcio, or just good decisions on mid-week starters such as Joel Pinero who improved in every single start he made.
A big part of Witten’s first season was planting the roots of the culture that FIU wants the build moving forward. Last season, it seemed as if the guys weren’t motivated to play at all, but this season it was totally different. Every single guy was at the top step of the dugout, you would hear certain chants for certain guys, and the guys meshed very well together.
Coach Witten has successfully planted the roots of the culture and he will continue to make the changes throughout his tenure.
The only negative that is worth pointing out is the mismanagement of the bullpen at times, especially toward the end of the season, but besides that, there are few complaints to give about Witten. It wouldn’t surprise me if Witten is extended at some point this summer just like most coaches have been.
The Seniors Stepped up
When you think of FIU Baseball, Alec Sanchez is the first player that comes to mind. After putting up some of the best numbers of his career in 2022, Sanchez topped that in 2023 and put up career numbers as he slashed .340/.432/.639/1.012 with 12 home runs, 34 RBIs, and matched a career-high in walks.
There is a reason why Sanchez was the team MVP this season and even after he received the award, he continues to mash the baseball. Sanchez struck out less in 2023 and found ways to get on base as well which is a big improvement that he had to make entering this season. Alec will be a name that we will for sure see be taken in the draft at some point.
First-year Panther Mike Rosario had a very nice season. Despite a rough finish to the season, Rosario still performed well and slashed .305/.383/.475/.908 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. A big issue for Mike this season was the 49 strikeouts against 16 walks. Rosario definitely had a nice season and showed that leaving the University of Miami was a smart decision as he earned a lot of playing time.
Despite being a junior, FIU honored Ruben Carpio on senior day which leads to the conclusion that Caprio’s FIU tenure has come to an end. After a slow start in 2023, Carpio picked it up and ended the season hitting over .300 and struck out only 18 times against seven walks. Carpio put the ball in play and that was the key to his season and a big reason that he had two home runs and 20 RBIs.
Despite only starting seven games, Craig Palidar impressed and ended his college career hitting .367 and getting on base at a .441 rate. Palidar was impressive towards the end of the season as he hit a couple of home runs and was a productive hitter for the Panthers.
Ryne Guida is the clear cut most consistent hitter on the FIU roster. The Junior transfer had himself a historic season, to say the least. Slashing .378/.449/.616/1.030 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs. Guida made history this season as he is the first player since Edwin Rios to get to the 50 RBI marker.
Expect Guida to be a name that is called in the MLB Draft. The most impressive stat from Guida’s season is that he played every game as the team’s DH. What Rino did this season is truly impressive and should be given a lot of credit.
𝑹𝑩𝑰 𝑴𝑨𝑪𝑯𝑰𝑵𝑬 ‼️@Ryno1324 becomes the first Panther in eight years to notch 50+ RBIs in a season!
An incredible ride that continues on for Ryne! pic.twitter.com/bBANsh5tJf
— Jonathan Mayer (@jmayer2002) May 19, 2023
Consider him the Iron Man of the team. Adrian Figueroa had himself an improved season. Despite the lower on-base percentage, Figgy was able to make nice contact and strike out less. Figueroa played every single game at first base this season and will be a player that the Panthers will need to rely on next season.
The Panther’s main catcher in 2023 was Brendan Roney. Despite not putting up the greatest numbers, Roney looked great on defense and handled the rotation well in the 27 games he started. Roney also was an on-base machine as he would get on at a .396 rate. At this point, Roney will be the team’s starter in 2024 and there is truly no competition at this moment.
In the rotation, the best pitcher by far was Angel Tiburcio who made 13 starts and had a 4-5 record with a 6.52 ERA but had some starts where he looked like the ace of the rotation. The Redshirt Senior also gave provided length as he would be able to go five to six innings a game.
Sticking with the rotation, Ryan Cabarcas, who was the Opening Day starter had an up-and-down season. In the eight games started and 14 appearances that he made, the Redshirt Junior had a 5.61 ERA, but like Tiburcio, Cabracas provided length and also starts where he looked like the best pitcher out there. The Panthers will truly need Cabarcas next season as the pitching staff as a whole is in question with who they can add and who they can lose.
To put a wrap on the 2023 season, FIU truly did improve in what was expected to be a bridge season. The offense was the most encouraging part of the season as they carried the pitching staff. If there is one part of this team that is truly concerning, it is the pitching staff as a whole. They were unable to keep leads, they blew games towards the backend of games, and starters like Jackson Ritchey and Richie Peña weren’t able to get anything going right away.
If there is a main area where the Panthers need to focus on in terms of recruitment, it is pitching as a whole. FIU needs length in their rotation and also the backend of the bullpen pieces that can hold onto leads and a closer would be a big need as well. For example, you look at the Miami Hurricanes bullpen, you can rely on almost every piece and they even have a reliable closer in Andrew Walters who will most likely end up being an MLB Draft pick.