Mainieri, Baseball Staff Preview Season at Media Day
LSU Sports Interactive
BATON ROUGE -- Second-year LSU head coach Paul Mainieri along with his staff and players addressed the media on Tuesday, as the Tigers baseball team held its annual Media Day.
HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI QUOTES
“I have to tell you that it’s music to my ears to be introduced as the second-year head coach. First-year head coach was a very challenging job, and we battled through it. Here we are now with our second year, and we are very excited. I don’t think excited is the right word. I’m just really fired up. It’s hard to sleep at night because I’m so anxious about Friday night, and once Friday night begins then we don’t stop. We have Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday again. It just goes on and on, so we know that come Friday, everything is going to become very exciting.
“We are approaching the season with a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm. There’s no question in my mind that we are a significantly-improved team. It’s been well-chronicled that (Associate Head Coach) Terry Rooney and (Assistant Coach) Cliff Godwin brought in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country. We needed a good injection of talent, and I think we really have it. We have a lot of new guys who are going to contribute, but the thing that excites me the most is the fact that the returning players, particularly the four freshmen from last year who played on a regular basis – Sean Ochinko, Blake Dean, Ryan Schimpf and Jared Mitchell – have all made marked improvement. All of them had good summers last summer except for Jared who was here preparing for football, but in that short time that I called spring training that we had leading up until Feb. 22, Jared Mitchell has shown remarkable improvement. I think this kid is really going to be an outstanding player this year.
“Mike Hollander continues to be a staple of our team, and then add to that four new starting players who I think are talented players who are going to add a lot to our team. We have greater depth on our team. Our pitching staff has greater depth. It will be led by Jared Bradford. I have a great deal of confidence in our pitching staff. I think our midweek arms are much better. We were a little bit sidetracked the other day when we found out Anthony Ranaudo, one of our very talented freshmen, came up with a little bit of a sore elbow, so we are going to have to slow him down. We anticipate him being out about three to four weeks before he can resume pitching again. That’s a little bit of a bump in the road for us right out of the gates.
“Overall, our pitching depth is better. We have stronger, more power arms, and it is going to be an excited time. The field looks great. The grounds people have done a remarkable job of getting it ready to go. It’s the last year in old Alex Box Stadium. Every time I say that I am going to try to keep from tearing up. I know there are a lot of people who are going to be a little bit melancholy about the fact that it is the last season. I’ve been asked so many times about the new stadium, and we’re so excited about the new stadium. Today I was driving in, and the crane was wheeling a piece of steel into the big erector set that looks like our baseball stadium right now, and I almost drove off the road. I’m so excited about that, but I’m doing my very best to keep my eye on the target, which is this year’s season.
“I think it’s only appropriate that we send this old stadium out in a very proper way, and make no mistake about it. Our goal is to get postseason play back into old Alex Box Stadium for one last time so we can relive a little bit the old glory days of LSU baseball. I think we have a chance to do that. I really feel we have a team put together that has a chance to be pretty good. I describe it to a lot of people that I feel like last year everything had to go perfect for us to win a game in the SEC, and somehow we were able to win some pretty big games and I think we won four series against top 25 teams in the league. It was very difficult for us to maintain the consistency just because there were so many weaknesses on our team. Now I feel like this is normal for us. We have the talent to jump into the fight. I don’t think there will be a lot of teams in the SEC significantly more talented to us. I think we are going to be right in there fighting every step of the way.
“When it comes down to it, let’s get in to the coach-speak, it’s how you play on a given night. Do you get the big hit, make the big play, make the big pitch and do the little things that it takes to win? How are we going to handle victories? Are we going to come back the next day and be ready to play? How are we going to handle tough losses? Are we going to be able to come back ready the next day? If we do all the things that we as coaches are responsible for – getting the kids ready to play, motivate and inspire them, put the right pieces of the puzzle together – then I think we are going to be right in the midst of being able to fight and have some success this year. A lot of people have asked me, ‘What do you think you’re capable of doing this year?’ I am going to tell you the same thing that I told my team on the first day when they got back to school on Jan. 14, and that is simply, ‘I am not going to put any limitations on what I think this team is capable of accomplishing this year.’ And I mean that. A trip to Omaha would not surprise me at all. I would be very disappointed if we weren’t in postseason play. That’s the only thing I’ll say about expectations.
“I think this team is ready to go. They’re confident. With the fact that we have a lot of new players, obviously one of the factors is going to be how quickly the gel together, play together, find their roles and their niches in the big games, how well they play in front of 7,000 people, whether they continue to play loose and confident or whether they press. Those kinds of things we don’t know until we get out there and do it, especially with the new players. I will say this about this group of kids. They’re a fun group to coach. They work extremely hard. Their dedication and commitment is at as high a level as any team I’ve coached. These kids really want to win. They want to get after it, so that it makes it a lot of fun to go to work every day. They’re like sponges; they absorb the coaching. They want to go out there and execute and do the things that they need to do. They get along well. It’s going to be a fun group. You are going to see me smiling a lot this year because I am going to enjoy being around this group of kids, and we are going to get after it starting with Friday night.
“We’ve got the Indiana Hoosiers coming in on Friday night, a Big Ten team. There coach is a coach I know very well. His name is Tracy Smith. He was the coach at Miami of Ohio, and Tracy did a phenomenal job at Miami of Ohio. They have some outstanding ball players (at Indiana). Their catcher, (Josh) Phegley, is as good as anybody in the country. They have two pitchers who pitched in the Cape Cod League, so they have some talented players. They are in a building stage of their program, but this coach is really outstanding. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Indiana team that is remarkably improved over the previous teams, so we’re excited about the competition. I think it’s an outstanding series for our opening series because I can promise you there is no patsy there, and they are going to be a very good team that challenges us.
“We are going to enter the games with a great deal of confidence, and we’re going to get after it. I believe we are going to play well. It’s very important for our team to get off to a good start so that what happens is all the things that we have been telling the players for months comes to fruition. That gives a lot of credibility to you as a coach with your players when they do what you tell them to do, and then they go out there and have success. I hope we can get off to a really good start. I believe that we will. Of course we open up (SEC play) against Tennessee in mid-March, and hopefully we’ll be ready for that series because they have a great ball club.
“This is my 26th year as a head coach, and I can promise you I’ve never made this statement, ‘We have too much pitching; I can’t find enough innings for these guys.’ So, we feel confident we have enough pitching to be really competitive in each and every ballgame, but there’s not a surplus there. I can assure you no coach in the country would ever say that there is, but I think that what Terry’s done is really fantastic with the guys, and we’ll see how it all plans out. I feel very confident.
“I think in Bill’s (Franques) sheet that he gave you, it outlined our rotation, and we didn’t include Tuesday, but Ryan Verdugo will start on Tuesday against Southern University. We’re not sure about Wednesday. In that sheet, also, it identifies who we are going to be starting in our lineup on Friday night. I’ll give you the order if you would like to have it. Ryan Schimpf will be leading off playing second base. Jared Mitchell will be batting second and playing centerfield. Blake Dean will be in left field as our three-hole hitter. Our four-hole hitter will be our catcher, Sean Ochinko. The five-hole will be Matt Clark, our first baseman. The six-hole will be Matt Gaudet, our designated hitter, and the seven-hole will be a freshman, Leon Landry out of Baker, La. in right field. The shortstop, D.J. LeMahieu out of Michigan will bat in the eight-hole, and the nine-hole will be Mike Hollander, who’s been shifted over to third base.
“Now, for your information, I may play three different right fielders this weekend. Nick Pontiff is in the mix there, particularly against left-handed pitching, and Chad Jones could potentially start a game also. If we decide to do that, Pontiff would start on Saturday against a lefty, and then, Sunday, Chad Jones would get a start, but that’s not 100 percent sure yet. Also, Micah Gibbs, the backup catcher, will probably start a game on Sunday I’m assuming at this point. When that happens, I’m not sure what we’ll do with Ochinko. We might move him to first base and Clark to DH. One guy is going to sit between Ochinko, Clark and Gaudet. I’m just not sure who it will be at this point.
“With that information, let me go ahead and bring up Cliff Godwin, our hitting coach. Cliff also works with the catchers and has done a remarkable job with the guys. I keep saying that these guys do a remarkable job, but they really do. I don’t think there is a harder working assistant coaching staff in the country then what I have here. I have the ultimate confidence in all of them and the work that they do with the guys. Cliff has worked feverishly with these guys, and he will talk a little more about his philosophy and what he does with them. A lot of people were asking, ‘Well, why aren’t we doing Gorilla Ball like Skip (Bertman) did when we won all those national championships.’ The problem is that last year, we didn’t have guys that could hit that ball that far. So, when you don’t have guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, hitting a 300-foot fly out doesn’t do you a lot of good. We try to get the guys to hit the ball on the ground, do hit-and-run, bunt and all those things, but I mentioned to you when I stood here at my introductory press conference about a year and a half ago that the goal was to have a very balanced lineup with speed, guys who could handle the bat, clutch, line drive hitters and power. I think our lineup this year will demonstrate that much more. We’ve got some guys who can steal bases, some who can hit the ball out of the ballpark and then, some who are good line drive hitters.”
On Terry Rooney ...
“Terry was promoted to Associate Head Coach this year. That was a title that was awarded to him simply because of his value to our program. He has been with me for four years. He is my right hand man. He coaches the pitching staff, which is literally like being the co-head coach. He heads up the recruiting effort, and he had done a remarkable job in every aspect.”
On how he ranks the SEC West ...
“I would rank us No. 1. I think LSU should finish first in the SEC West. Now we have to go out and do that. It’s not a guarantee, and that’s not disrespecting the other teams. I can see why Ole Miss and Mississippi State were picked at the top. Ole Miss has a great team coming back. Mississippi State was in the College World Series last year. Arkansas got picked below us by one publication. When the coaches make their selections, you don’t vote for your own team, so when the coaches make the selection those are the guys who are in the trenches and have a sense for what the other teams have.
“I feel like they are underestimating us a little bit. That’s OK. As the competitor in you comes out and players know where the other coaches picked up, you can be picked to finish fifth in this league and still be a pretty good ball club. Certainly, you can be picked sixth in this league and still be a good ball club. It just adds a little bit more fuel to the fire and the challenge and a little more resolve to prove people wrong.”
On his thoughts about the late start date ...
“When I was coaching at Notre Dame is when the new rule about the common start date was put in. I was a big proponent of it, and I’m still a proponent of it even being in the South. For a sport to have true credibility on a national basis there has to be some consistency. I remember one year at Notre Dame, we were fifth in the country in the preseason poll, and by the time we played our first game we had moved all the way up to second in the poll. We hadn’t played a game, but the teams ahead of us kept losing. I made a comment to somebody if the whole season gets rained out, we’ll be declared the national champions.
“I thought it was awkward that one year we went out to play Southern Cal and they were ranked fifth and we were ranked sixth, and they were 14-2 and we were 0-0. I just think when you look at a poll, can you imagine LSU being 3-0 in football but Notre Dame hasn’t played a game yet? You would never tolerate something like that in other sports. I think the common start date has added some excitement across the country. The weather was in January in south Louisiana, I’m kind of glad we had the extra two weeks. We talked about it a lot. There were 10 days in a row where the sun didn’t even come out. We weren’t close to being ready. I feel we were ready to play last weekend, so now we added an extra week. I don’t think it’s going to hurt anybody.
“I think the challenges Terry talked about from the pitching staff standpoint, you can turn anything into a positive, and that is what we are going to do. We are going to be forced to use a deeper pitching staff which will help us. We may discover someone that we weren’t counting on that when the bell rings, the kid really stepped it up. We are going to take a good positive approach to it. It’s going to be a lot more baseball in a concentrated period of time. My biggest concern is just the kids being able to handle the academic load. If they can fight their way through and handle that, I think from a baseball playing perspective, the game will actually be a better game.”
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH TERRY ROONEY (pitching coach)
“When coach Mainieri was discussing our pitching staff, I was thinking a few days ago what we were doing in our preseason with our pitching staff is scrimmaging every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then Tuesday, which is virtually what we are going to be doing as the season gets going. When we finished our third go around with the scrimmage, I asked our pitchers at one of our practice days before we started when I had all 16 pitchers together, ‘When you talk about our pitching staff, I want each one of you to give me a word that describes our philosophy and what I want out of this pitching staff.’ I heard words like, ‘Offensive, aggressive, confident, always going at guys.’ I heard somebody say that when other teams leave this field, I want them to feel that regardless we came right at them and never backed down, and when we were on the mound we exuded confidence. As a coach, I stood back and said hopefully the message is getting across. Because of those words they echoed to me, I think the message is getting across. When you look at our pitching staff, those qualities are the qualities that we can bring to the table.
“Our pitching staff has improved upon last year. We have a tremendous amount of depth. With our pitching staff, one of the greatest things that we have to offer with our 16 pitchers is we have some options and some depth. I can tell you as a pitching coach, there are two things that you want to know every time a pitcher gets on the mound. No. 1, is he going to throw strikes? No. 2, is he going to compete? You can’t control the outcome. There are going to be days where your kids get hit, people make errors, or whatever it might be. You want to know if he has confidence and is going to throw strikes over the plate. In order to do that from a pitching standpoint, I look at coach Bertman and coach Canevari, they would echo that pitching is a little bit different than offense because each guy you have to know in an individual pitcher what each pitcher brings to the table. They are entirely different, and when you look at our starting rotation this weekend in our opening weekend, that’s a prime example.
“On Friday night, we’re going with Jared Bradford who obviously is a returning All-SEC pitcher who everybody knows is a guy who commands the strike zone, is continually around the zone, throws three pitches for strikes and has an outstanding two-seam fastball. Our No. 2 pitcher right now starting on Saturday is a right-handed pitcher who has been drafted twice, and his name is Jordan Brown. Brown is from Meridian Community College out of Mississippi. He is actually a Louisiana native originally out of Hahnville. Jordan is a fastball, breaking ball, changeup pitcher who is going to start Saturday. Game three starter is someone everyone knows is left-hander Ryan Byrd. Right now on Tuesday, we have decided that Ryan Verdugo, also a two-time draft pick, a left-handed pitcher from Skagit Valley Community College in Washington, is going to be our game four starter against Southern. That is what our pitching staff looks like right now from a starting standpoint.
“When you look at all the other roles individually without going into each specific pitcher, what I can tell you is that when you look at our pitching staff, I think the biggest qualities I alluded to is to be able to decide what each guy does well. What each guy does well is something that as a coaching staff I think we do a pretty good job of. An example of what I talked about is knowing the difference between a Jared Bradford, a Jordan Brown and a Ryan Byrd, and putting those guys in a situation where they can succeed. We have a returning group of pitchers that we know what we are going to get out of the bullpen out of Paul Bertuccini, Nolan Cain, both guys who had extremely high appearances last year. We have a set of newcomers who are really up and ready for the task.
“When we recruited this class that is on campus right now, from a pitching standpoint, there was one major goal, and that was to try to bring the best power arms in the country that we felt would end up in college to this campus. We really feel like we did that with this recruiting class. We have a combination of junior college pitchers along with some of the best high school pitchers throughout the country and certainly throughout the state of Louisiana that are here. I can tell you that when they toe the rubber, you will see a group of pitchers that look like pitchers. I don’t know if there is a guy who is under 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4. They are all upper 80s, low 90s guys. Certainly, velocity is not the tell all, but it is a pretty good starting point. Especially as a young pitcher, learning how to pitch and understanding that if they have a little bit more velocity, that velocity does do one thing for them – it increases the margin of error. So we have a group of kids who I think are ready for the task.
“When we look at that starting rotation combined with the veterans, Nolan Cain and Paul Bertuccini, along with the newcomers, Anthony Ranaudo, Austin Ross, Daniel Bradshaw, some you are going to see coming out of the bullpen, this group of young kids are ready to go with the task along with the junior college pitchers. When you look at this pitching staff, one thing I feel very confident in is that we have a lot of great options this year. We have some young kids I think have improved. You can look at that in the returning pitchers from last year. All those guys had better years than they had the year before. That’s a sign that they are continuing to develop. The biggest challenge for these guys is for them to start off this season how I just started this conversation out. If they can bring those traits to the table, the confidence factor and going in there and attacking the strike zone, I think we are going to have an outstanding pitching staff.”
On how the young pitchers fared in the fall ...
“The biggest thing for young pitchers is that before you want to correct them or sell them on a philosophy or a product, everybody wants to see immediate results. Sometimes when you get in the fall, not that you want kids to experience failure, but they are going to have to experience a level of failure before they can totally see for themselves what they need to do to succeed at this level because their 90 mph fastball might have worked up in the North or in north Louisiana but it is not working at this level. The key to that is they have to be able to throw off-speed pitches behind in the count for strikes; they have to know if we are going to miss, we are going to miss down in the zone; they have to know they don’t even want to get to three-ball counts because when you get a three-ball count, you are going to get hit at this level.
“The kids have all seen what it takes, and a big reason for that is they can sit in the dugout and see the veteran pitchers on this staff that we have returning in a Jared Bradford, who is consistently down in the strike zone, in a Ryan Byrd, who is not an overpowering pitcher but is extremely successful winning six games. They can sit back and look at that, and I always tell our pitchers, and this is something I take great pride in, I could have called it a symptom-sickness from a pitching standpoint and I want our kids to know this. As a pitcher, I want them to know what the sickness is – the ball is going up in the zone, my breaking ball is not getting out and in the dirt. What is the symptom and what’s causing it? If they know the answer on a day-to-day basis, then when they get out there on that mound they are going to be able to make those pitch-to-pitch adjustments. We have a group of kids who have gotten better. There’s no question the longer you are in any type of program or system, they are going to get more accustomed to it, but I think our guys have continually gotten better. That is why even this weekend, you are going to see a group of freshmen pitchers that are going to be on the mound in some capacity.”
On the goal of the pitching staff ...
“The major difference from high school to college in a philosophy standpoint is that when kids are in high school they are throwing pitches with the hope and anticipation that they swing and miss it. They want to strike everybody out. You want strikeouts. The problem is at this level the kids may not offer at those pitches off the plate so early in the count. When our guys get to the mound they tell me they have one goal in mind: get to an advantage count. That’s it. If you get to an advantage count, strikeouts are going to happen. When you look at this pitching staff as with last year and talent certainly plays a role, you can look at it and see if these guys are throwing strikes. That’s an easy way to judge the measure of success of a pitching staff. Are they throwing strikes? If they are throwing strikes, then you know they are buying into your system. I think this can be a pitching staff because of the increased talent level combined with the ability to throw strikes over the plate, we are going to have a chance to be very successful on the mound.”
On if the attitude of the pitchers is good ...
“There’s no question. I told these guys about the second week of fall baseball of all the pitching staffs I have had the opportunity to coach and I’ve had some pretty successful ones, this by far is certainly up there from a leadership standpoint. You have a Jared Bradford, a Ryan Byrd, a Nolan Cain and a Paul Bertuccini, the four I mentioned have been here at least two years with Bradford’s first year being last year. From a coaching standpoint, your points are going to come across a lot easier because they have experienced success. I think those guys have gotten better, and they have shown the way of what we are looking for from a pitching standpoint. In our locker room, we put up a chart, and there are only three statistics that we keep from a pitching standpoint: first-pitch strike percentage, two of the first three pitches for strikes and the number of walks. The bottom line is the proof is in the pudding. If you throw 70 percent of your strikes early in the count, you walk two or less people a game, you are going to win a large majority of the games. The kids have seen that. You play the percentages. The kids know those are the only stats we have kept in this entire fall and preseason. The proof has been right there, so they can see what it is they need to do. I think you are going to see that in the coming weeks.”
On how important the bullpen is considering the number of games a week ...
“It’s extremely important to have a bullpen, but it’s even more important to have a tremendous amount of depth. A lot of people were talking about with the new schedule in college baseball with the common start date and the first thing most coaches will tell you is from a pitching standpoint, we need more arms and more depth. We are going to need those 12, 13 or 14 arms now. There is some truth to that, but from a pitching standpoint in many ways it can be a positive. The positive is that from a developmental standpoint you will probably end up pitching more guys. Some of those freshmen that may not have gotten the innings in a one game a week are now going to get the innings. Every school in the country is in the same exact position now, so from a developmental standpoint, I think you are going to see is that No. 1, you are going to throw more pitchers and No. 2, kids are going to get better. That’s how kids get better – by getting the innings. This week when we play two mid-week games, you are going to see a lot of young guys getting innings out there. To the naked eye, look at where they are right now in the first week or two and see where they are in the next five to six weeks. I think you’re really going to see a lot of young guys continuing to get better and their roles improving as the season goes on.”
On Ranaudo’s injury ...
“Ranaudo has a little bit of tendonitis in his elbow. He has been experiencing it a little bit for the past few weeks. He had not been shut down for more than two consecutive days since we got back in January. This is something he is trying to work through the preseason. Right now, our trainer Beau Lowery made the decision to be more cautious and shut him down for the next two to three weeks in order to build up his arm strength a little bit. We have been very successful in that you look at the 16 guys in our pitching staff right now, he is the only one who is on that list that will not be able to participate this weekend in the games. The biggest thing from a pitching standpoint, you have to be able to develop the stamina in the base of their arm, the foundation, in order for them to bounce back on a regular basis. For a lot of guys, that foundation may not be there. With Ranaudo, he is looking to rest a little bit and recoup his arm, and I think after two to four weeks we will see him back out there. Anthony is an outstanding young pitcher, who was drafted in the 11th round last year by the Texas Rangers but decided to come to school. He is 6-foot-7 right-hander out of New Jersey and certainly has a tremendous future for us at LSU, and we have big plans for him.”
On if there is a style to this conference ...
“You have to get ahead and pitch down in the zone. That holds true no matter who you are playing in any part of the country or in any conference. I don’t think there is a particular style with pitching or even a philosophy that we talk about. It’s not our philosophy; it’s really the philosophy of everybody in the country from a pitching standpoint. Certainly the one difference I see in the SEC from other conferences is the athletes. You will see a lot of multi-skilled kids. The difference is that the cleanup hitter might not be a guy who is a physical, power-type hitter, but he might also have the ability to steal bases. That is what makes the SEC the No. 1 conference in the country. Most of the offenses from one to nine are balanced, and when you get that balance you have to attack them a certain way. It holds true and becomes more of a reason why you have to command the strike zone because of the weather, the ball parks and the ability of these players. All of a sudden if you do decide to walk one or two guys, a ball gets up in the air because of their ability, they have a chance to put a crooked number up – a three or four, and that’s not what you’re looking for. I don’t know if there is a different style. I think there are so many great coaches in this league that play to their game and their team, and whatever their team is, that is how they are going to play offensively.”
On Louis Coleman ...
“Right now Louis is slated to come out of the bullpen for us. Louis is a guy when you look at him, he has the pitcher’s body and has a tremendous arm. He is a guy who is a little bit inconsistent in his career but has never backed down at all from a challenge. Last year we did start him on a few occasions, and he did come out of the bullpen. As some of the people saw throughout the course of last year and the end of this fall, we actually dropped his arm slot down to sidearm. We played around that a little bit. He experienced some success. We decided for the majority of his pitches now to go over the top. I think he felt more comfortable there, and he feels more confidence in throwing over the top as opposed to down low. The bottom line is if he has confidence with it, then he has a greater chance to succeed for us. Right now, Louis is a guy who is coming out of the bullpen, so we’ll see.”
ASSISTANT COACH CLIFF GODWIN (hitting coach)
“I would like to reiterate a couple of things that coach said. First off, last year, when you came to see some of our games, there were a lot of things offensively that we couldn’t do, but this year is a much more balanced team. I think we can beat you with speed, we can beat you with power or by stringing a couple of hits together. When you look at the best offenses in the country and some of the teams in the SEC like South Carolina, they have a lot of guys that can hit the ball out of the park. When you look at our lineup one through nine, obviously the middle part of our lineup can hit the ball out of the yard more than seven, eight or nine, but one through nine can hurt you by hitting the ball out the park in this year’s lineup. Then, you have some guys that are not even in the lineup that could come in for a pinch hitting role can also hit a ball out of the park.
“I think when you face great pitching in the SEC like we do on a consistent basis, you have to have guys who can run into a mistake every once and awhile. I know Terry (Rooney) and I have talked several times over the past couple of weeks about when pitchers get the ball up in the zone, we have guys that hit the ball out of the park. Last year, when pitchers made mistakes, we didn’t make them pay for it. That’s a big thing that’s going to change this year, I can promise you.
“Let me talk about a couple of these returnees and first off, talk about some of these guys who are sophomores. Ryan Schimpf, Sean Ochinko, Blake Dean, Jared Mitchell: those guys have worked tirelessly at becoming better baseball players. Jared (Mitchell), obviously, doesn’t spend a lot of time with us because he’s with football most of the time, but even before he went to football in the summer last year when we didn’t necessarily know we were not going to the regional, we sat there and worked, and he worked on his swing this summer. He is a much more complete hitter than he was last year. Along with that, he is a much better bunter, so if the third baseman is not playing in and the first baseman is not playing in, he can drop a bunt down and get on base, and he is a tremendous stealing threat for us.
“Ryan Schimpf, last year, you are talking about a kid that came out a Class 1A high school in Covington, La. and then was thrown into the fire, so to speak, to have to produce against some of the best pitchers in the country. He went through some tough times, and we talked about those things, but he worked early everyday with me, and we worked on some things. The biggest thing with him was just kind of to know where his barrel awareness was. To kind of explain that with you, all good hitters know where their barrel is at all times. If you watch a Blake Dean, he can take a pitch that is thrown middle-in and still drive it out to left centerfield, but at the same time, he can take that same pitch and hit it out to right center. All the great ones can do that. Ryan would not necessarily know where his barrel was, and that would cause him to swing and miss a lot. He is a much better, complete hitter now. He doesn’t chase breaking balls in the dirt or changeups in the dirt. He keeps much more confidence, which we talk about to our guys a lot.
“Sean Ochinko had a pretty good offensive year last year. I think he hit .277. He went off to the Cape Cod League and ended up hitting like .315 with eight homeruns. Sean’s a kid that you never have to talk to about confidence because he thinks he’s the best hitter in the country, which is a good thing, but he’s really worked on his defensive skills from a catching standpoint. Now, he has the chance to be one of the best, most complete catchers in the country, which is obviously a good thing for all of us.
“Blake Dean: you guys know him very well from last year. He was a staple in our lineup last year. Blake has put on about 15 pounds of muscle, and he has really committed himself to the weight room. Last year, he had never picked up a weight throughout high school before he had come to LSU. This year, he’s not only going to hit for a high average, but he has a chance to really hit the ball out of the park. When you’re talking about power and hitters who really have power, you’re not talking about guys who can just pull the ball out of the park. Smaller guys can do that, but when guys can drive the ball out to the opposite field, that’s when guys really have power. I’ve been harping on Blake. He’s been hitting some balls out the other way in batting practice, and I told him, ‘Blake, I want to see you hit one out in a scrimmage.’ So, of course, last Friday night, he hits a ball off Jordan Brown, and it goes out in left center, and I told him, ‘There’s my handshake for you.’
“That’s the thing. When you watch our guys in BP, and BP obviously isn’t everything, but the ball flies off the guys’ bats. That’s for the guys who we’ve brought in and from our strength coaches, Jeremy Phillips and Robbie Yellott, who have done a tremendous job with our guys.
“Just to talk about some of the other guys in our lineup like Mike Hollander, who is a veteran. You can’t put a mark on how important it is to have veteran leadership in the lineup. Mike is going to hit low in the order, but when he gets on base, that’s what is going to set the table for the top of our lineup this year. It’ll let Ryan Schimpf see more fastballs because Mike is a base stealing threat. Then, Ryan and Jared get on, and you have a couple of speedsters right there bunched together, and then, all of sudden, you are there to the heart of the lineup with Blake Dean, Sean Ochinko and Matt Clark.
“Matt Clark, our first baseman, a transfer from Riverside Junior College (California), is probably the most knowledgeable hitter that I’ve ever worked with. His dad has worked in professional baseball, and when he goes up to the plate, he knows what pitchers are trying to do him. That experience that he has and knowledge of the game has been very viable for all of our hitters because they talk about what the pitchers are trying to do to them, and Matt has a very good idea.
“Matt Gaudet, a junior college transfer from Delgado (Community College in New Orleans). I’ll tell you about Matt, when I went to see him play last year, he was a little out of shape, but we saw bat speed when we recruited him, so we said we’ll give this kid a shot. He’s probably lost about 20 to 25 pounds and turned that into muscle, and now, he is one of our most feared hitters from our pitching staff. There is no question. In one of our inter-squad (games), he hit the ball to right field, which is opposite field since he’s a right-handed hitter and then pulls one in his last at-bat. So, when you talk about power, he’s got tremendous power. One of the best things about him is that if you get him the first time, he’s walking up there the second time thinking there is no way you’re getting me this time, and he exudes that confidence.
“DJ LeMahieu, obviously our shortstop, had one of the most impressive falls that you can imagine for a freshman coming in. D.J. has played on all kinds of travel teams, and he doesn’t say a whole lot, but he exudes this confidence that nothing bothers him. He was going through the first couple of weeks of spring practice and wasn’t getting a hit anytime, and I spoke to D.J. He told me, ‘Coach, I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.’ In the past three scrimmages he’s had about four hits each game, so he’s ready to roll.
“Obviously, like Terry and Coach talked about with our depth this year: we’re more athletic, and we have more options. Last year, if we had a player go down that was detrimental, the next guy we were sliding in was a lot lower talent level than the guy we would have to replace. This year, Rene Escobar and Derek Helenihi both had early injuries, and they were kind of in the mix to start at second base, and we put Ryan Schimpf in there, and he’s done a great job. Last year, we couldn’t have done that. There are a lot of other guys who can step in and help our team out.
“From a philosophy standpoint, we talk about quality at-bats a lot in our program. Hitting a baseball is the toughest thing to do in all of sports. You fail seven out of 10 times, so we are really trying to exude positive confidence in all of our hitters. You can get a quality at-bat from a walk, a hit-by-pitch, a lineout to a shortstop, a lineout to the centerfielder or just be a positive influence on the team. We always talk about getting to the 500 club. This past week, we had 11 guys in the 500 club. Last year, we may have had 11 guys total in the 500 club for a particular week, but if you do that, and you focus on the quality of the at-bat and not batting average, then they’re having more success individually and as the team because you are moving a runner, you’re getting a sacrifice fly, you’re driving in a run. It may not necessarily show up in the batting average, but it shows up on the quality at-bat chart. That’s the only stat that we keep in the locker room from a hitting standpoint.
“We harp on it all the time: when you step into the box, be aggressive. We want our guys to swing hard. Coach always tells the guys, ‘Swing hard, you might hit it.’ That’s exactly right. Obviously, you want to swing at strikes to get guys on base, but we want to be aggressive and strike fear into the opposing teams’ pitchers. This year we can do that. We have a group of guys who can do that, and there’s no question about that.
“I have to say that I’m the most excited about this team than any other team that I’ve worked with from an offensive standpoint. We have a chance to do some great things, and it’s going to be exciting this year, I can promise you that.”
LSU BASEBALL MEDIA DAY
February 19, 2008
OF Leon Landry
On his reaction to hearing he would start in RF to open the season ...
“I had a wide smile on my face. You can only have so many guys out on the field, and I was honored. I’m honored to just be here. I was surprised, but I’m looking forward to do what it takes to help the team.”
On his hitting ...
“I’ve been putting in my work. Everyone has been working hard. If you do the things you are supposed to do, it’s going to show. We are just trying to take things step by step.”
On the decision to come to school instead of going pro ...
“Being a young guy, money being put into my hands right then and there was interesting. I was wondering if I should go to the pros or go to school. But to me, education is most important. Every young athlete will tell you that the pros will always be there. If the pros liked me out of high school, they’ll like me when I leave here.”
On competing for playing time with fellow true freshman Chad Jones ...
“That doesn’t affect me at all. I’m here to do whatever it takes for the team. Chad (Jones) is my good friend. I’ve played with him before. Of course, there is competition, but it is a friendly competition. We are both working hard and doing what it takes to win. The main thing is winning. I don’t care where I play, and frankly, I don’t think he cares where he plays either. We just want to show our athleticism on the field and bring home the trophies.”
2B Ryan Schimpf
On starting the season at second base ...
“I played second base and a little of third in high school. It’s a bit of a change. We had an injury and coach (Mainieri) decided to give me a shot. I got to get in there and get a few reps at the plate.”
On he and Michael Hollander (3B) both starting and being from St. Tammany Parish ...
“It’s fun. I knew Mike before I came here. It’s fun to be able to relate to some stuff from back home.”
On his personal goals for the year ...
“As a team, we want to get back to Omaha. We want to send Alex Box away like it should be with a regional tournament or something like that.”
On the optimism of the team ...
“This is a really hard-working team. The talent is there and the hard work is there. The only thing left is that we have to just get out there and do it.”
OF Chad Jones
On the adjustment from football ...
“It was a little rough coming from football. They are two totally different sports. Baseball requires a little more one-on-one skill, so it’s real hard to adjust. I’ll be alright though.”
On not being named to the starting lineup ...
“I’m not disappointed that I’m not starting. I haven’t earned my spot. I’ll have to work harder and keep doing what I’m doing.”
On already being a National Champion ...
“The guys know what it takes to win a championship. It takes hard work, effort and being here every day to do the little things. Winning a national championship is something that motivates the rest of the team.”
On throwing out the first pitch with CF Jared Mitchell on Sunday ...
“I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m excited about that.”
On splitting time with football and baseball ...
“Since I’m on a football scholarship, I have to do some things with football. I’m not too excited about missing (baseball) games, but I’ll just have to work that out. It might be a little exhausting, but I’ll bounce right back. I’m in good shape right now.”
CF Jared Mitchell
On the improvement of the team since last season...
“...There was only a part of the lineup that was strong last year, and, as far as depth, we didn’t have any. We have both of those this year so it’s a big help.”
On the talent level of the team...
“It’s a lot better than what it was last year. From A to Z, all up and down our roster there’s a lot more talent. When you have a lot of talent on your team, it helps you practice better to get better and it also helps you prepare for games.”
On any advice he’s given Chad Jones on playing football and baseball...
“It’s a lot of time management. If you know how to manage your time, playing two sports isn’t going to seem as hard as it really is.”
On if Chad Jones has asked him any questions about playing two sports...
“Not really, he’s just been rolling with the punches and taking it for what it is. Anytime he does ask, I help him.”
On if playing two sports last year was more difficult than he thought it would be...
“The month where I had to do spring football and spring baseball was harder than I thought it would be. Otherwise, no.”
P DANIEL BRADSHAW
On his potential role as the closer...
“They told me that might be my role for this weekend, and after that, I’m not too sure, but any role they are going to give me, I’m ready to do.
On what pitches he throws...
“I have a fastball, curveball and changeup.”
On if he thought about closing coming in...
“It didn’t really cross my mind, but I was kind of surprised when they told me what they had for me. I’m ready to do it, so I’m glad they are giving me the opportunity.”
On his fastball...
“Right now it probably tops out at 88 (mph). Earlier in the fall, it was topping out at about 90 or 91.”
On adjusting to college level hitters...
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment. In high school, you could miss a pitch here and there, and it didn’t really matter, but here, any little mistake you make they can hit the ball and put it in the gap, so it’s minor adjustments that you have to make to get people out.”
On if he fears the adjustments especially as a closer...
“Not really. Not with the guys that I have behind me. The infield and the outfield we have this year is phenomenal, so it’s not more pressure or anything like that. With the great guys I have behind me, it’s nice.”
3B MICHAEL HOLLANDER
On comparing the overall talent level this year with past teams...
“I think we are a very talented team. We have a great mixture of older guys and some newer guys. Everybody, one through nine, and our pitching staff are capable of getting us back to Omaha. I’m really optimistic about this season. I think everybody is, so it should be a great season. I’m looking forward to it.”
On if getting to Omaha is a goal for them this season...
“Definitely. Obviously, we are going to play one game at a time, pitch by pitch, but that is our ultimate goal: to get this team and this program back to Omaha. I think you have to talk about it. I try to tell our guys to breathe it, think about it and live it. I think that if you dream about things, then they become real in your own mind and someday can become a reality. I think all of the guys that are here can attest to that. I’m sure when they were kids, they dreamed about being a LSU baseball player, and here we are in Alex Box (Stadium) playing on Friday night. I definitely think we should talk about it and think we are going be there in the bottom of the ninth in Omaha.”
On his optimism for this season compared to the last few seasons...
“The attitude that everybody has and how everybody works. As you can see, everybody is out here two hours before practice even starts trying to get better. A lot of that has to do with some of the new guys bringing in new energy and the way the coaches tell us to go about our business. There’s a lot to do with it. The increase in talent has a lot to do with it.”