Baseball Preseason Media Day Coverage
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With the season just nine days away, the Kentucky baseball team held its annual preseason media day at Commonwealth Stadium's Wildcat Den on Wednesday afternoon. UK head coach Gary Henderson and players Taylor Black, Braden Kapteyn, Alex Meyer and Chad Wright met with the media.
COACH HENDERSON: Well, thanks for coming out today. I appreciate it. I'm sure when you walked out of your house and made it to your car you were thinking this was a great day to talk baseball.
But we've been going a month. We've got a great group. We're going to have a good season. We’ve Got great kids and great families. I'll go over our club a little bit and then obviously hit me with whatever it is that I don't touch on afterwards.
I think any time you look at a season and you start talking about what kind of club you project to have, I think you've got to look at starting pitching. If you can't do that, then you're going to have a problem. We're going to have good starting pitching. How good, I don't know, but we've got three returning starters. We've got Alex Meyer, we've got Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rogers. They're all bigger, stronger, more accomplished, more skilled, smarter, the whole deal. They're better. And it's pretty obvious.
So we're really excited about what we've got on the weekend, and we're ready to play. Those guys need to go out and get people out, and they will. They're going to do a good job for us.
I think after that you look at the obvious things; are you going to play defense. If you can't pitch or you can't play defense then you've got a problem obviously, but we feel we're going to be good defensively. That's a really encouraging thing for us. We've got two catchers minimum that can play defensively for us, Luke (Maile) and Michael (Williams). We've probably got more catching depth than anybody in the conference. We've got T.J. (Daugherty) and Micheal Thomas, as well, so we've got four guys that can play. Right now the frontrunners for the playing time are Luke and Michael.
We've got a drafted shortstop back in Taylor Black. You got a chance to talk to him. He's bigger, stronger, he's better. The arm is better, and probably as big a benefit as anything is he knows he belongs in the league now. That's a huge thing for an athlete, to go through a season and then come back and know that you're good enough, know that you're supposed to be successful, and he does, and he's going to be a huge part of our success.
Defensively in the outfield we're going to be extremely athletic. We've got to figure out who's going to play rightfield, but whoever it is, he will be able to play defensively. And then we've got Chad Wright, Cape All Star, three year starter, very, very good player; and Brian Adams in centerfield who's just an exceptional defensive player. So we're really excited about what we've got defensively.
We believe there are three areas that we've got to address early in the year. Any time that you have a club, you've got to figure out what the focal point is to create your identity to be good, to win close games; and the things we've got to get figured out are the bullpen, solidify the bullpen and what the roles are and who's going to be able to do it and who's going to be able to do when it's tight and it's on the road.
We've got to replace the three infield spots. Third base will be a new player from last year, as well as second and first base. We've got extremely good candidates at every spot, but there is competition. That's been a very healthy thing.
And then probably as important as anything is that we come together as a team. We've got 35 guys on the roster. That's the NCAA limit, and 18 of them are new. It's an extraordinarily good group of kids, people, family, and I give a lot of credit to (assistant coaches) Brad (Bohannon) and Brian (Green) for that, and I give some credit to me, too (laughter). We just don't put up with a lot of nonsense. And so we've got really good kids.
When we met with the parents here in the fall, I told the parents that it's been a long time since I've seen a group of freshmen that was as accountable and responsible as this group, so I'm really pleased with the kids that we've got in the program, and obviously how well you do is going to be dictated by your older kids. You can have bits and pieces that are played by freshmen in our league, but for the bulk of it you've got to have older kids. They've got to have gone through it, they've got to know what they're doing, they've got to be confident, they've got to be leaders, they've got to speak well to their teammates, and I think we have that.
As you look at our bullpen, if you paid attention last year, and I know a lot of you did, we had one left hander, and that was not by design, that was by circumstance and injury. It's really tough to get where you want to go in this league if you've only got one option left handed down there. So this year we're looking at three. Mike Kaczmarek obviously who is returning for his senior year will be very good, and then we've got Corey Littrell from Trinity and then Alex Phillips. Those three guys are going to be a main part of what we do down in the bullpen. The two lefties, Corey and Alex are also going to be guys that could start midweek games.
Right handed we've got as deep a group of guys that have proven that they can throw strikes as we've had here since '08, so I'm really excited about that. We've got six or seven guys down there that I'm confident can throw strikes. For the fans of college baseball, that's about as simple as it gets right there in the bullpen. If you've got guys that can come in, they like to compete and they can throw strikes, then you've got a shot. And if you have guys that are iffy on the competitive nature or they have a hard time commanding the second pitch down there, then it's going to be a rough go for you. So I think we're going to be good.
And then obviously we've got two guys that should be able to close out a ballgame for us in Braden Kapteyn and Nick Kennedy. I don't know that they'll be interchangeable. Again, I've got to figure out how the bullpen is going to look, how it's going to work. Does one come before the other all the time? Can one close when the other one is done from the day before, whatever it may be? So it's exciting. We've got 12, 15 guys that can throw strikes.
I've spent ten months, nine months, whatever it is, trying to get that figured out, and I can promise you it's been important in my life.
Infield positions we've got good options. With Thomas McCarthy from Feather River Community College, Paul McConkey from Knoxville and Dallen Reber from Utah, we have options at third base. McCarthy is kind of an unusual story in that he's hit .400 two years in a row in college baseball. I'm not going to suggest he's going to do it for three in this league, but he's a good hitter, he's a very good hitter, and he's been diligent with his body. He's changed his body. He's a kid that is from Oregon, went to junior college in California. But he's going to be able to get a hit. We're very excited about that. And he's also going to be a good player at third base.
Dallen (Reber) and Paul are freshmen; they're both talented kids. One is a right handed hitter, one is left so we have a little bit of depth over there.
Taylor (Black) will play shortstop. Second base is open, it's wide open. It's been healthy. We've got a lot of competition. Neiko Johnson is back for his fifth year in the program; Tyler Townsend from LCA is with us for his redshirt freshman year; we've got Matt Reida from Indiana who's an extremely good defensive player; we've got J.T. Riddle from Frankfort, our state player of the year, Mr. Baseball, who is a very good athlete. He's kind of forcing our hand offensively. There have been four intersquad scrimmages and he keeps hitting line drives, and you don't have to be very smart; if they keep hitting line drives, you tend to find a spot for them. I don't know where he'll be yet, I've got 9 or 10 days to figure it out, but he's a quality offensive player. He's also going to be able to pitch for us down the road.
First base, Braden, as we start the day I think Braden would be our player or starter there, but somebody has got to be able to play first base when he's pitching, and those things present challenges for you. Do you want your closer to be in the game, how often do you want that to be the case, can he play there when he's done, things like that. So that's what we'll get figured out as we go through the season.
Michael Williams and Luke Maile are the two options at first base and like I said, if J.T. Riddle keeps hitting doubles and singles down the line, then we're going to see if he can handle a first base glove. That's what the season does. It presents situations and challenges that you didn't necessarily foresee, but we've got good options, very good options.
The last thing I've got here is college baseball has three changes this spring that should create a little bit of discussion and some interest and some changes. One change will be the new bat; there's a couple things when thinking about the new bats. One, I think some of the complaining from some of the coaches in our league is a little bit overblown. You can still hit a home run, but you've got to hit it. You can't cap it, you can't get jammed, you can't be out front. You've got to hit it on the sweet spot. It's got to be a good, balanced stroke, and if you do, the ball leaves the yard. And we've seen some of that. We haven't seen a lot of it, but we've seen some of it with our kids.
But it's different. The ball is not hit as hard, as frequently to the infield. It's very obvious. There's going to be a lot of balls that are caught on the track with two outs that used to go out. The game is going to be shorter. The scores are going to be less, and if you happen to come across somebody that doesn't throw strikes then obviously all bets are off and that changes the game. But if you're throwing strikes, I think you're going to see that the new bat doesn't have as much power and as much juice and is going to be lower power numbers.
We have a 20 second clock, 20 second pitch clock now that will be introduced in college baseball this year. I think the 20 second pitch clock will be almost a complete non issue. I don't foresee it being an issue unless somebody has got to tie their shoe and you've got an umpire that isn't paying attention or doesn't have common sense or whatever it is, but I think that the 20 seconds is going to be a non issue.
What I think could be a little bit of a challenge is the 90 second between innings. If your catcher just flew out and he's rounding second or getting to second base on a fly out or he was at second as a runner, I think you have a shot if you're not paying attention to be challenged between innings 90 seconds.
But it's going to speed the game up, there's no question. I think the days of three minutes between innings, that's gone, at least for a year. So that will be a change.
I think that together with the new bats, I think you're going to see a shorter game. I don't think there's any question. And that's probably a welcome occurrence to all of you in late February and March at our place.
The other thing that is going to take place that's going to create a little bit of excitement is a national Thursday night game for ESPN. As soon as the Final Four is over, our league is going to be on national TV Thursday night, and for fans of college baseball, you know that Thursday night is typically the night or the day where there's no college baseball being played just about anywhere in the country except for some junior college leagues where they travel locally. But Thursday night for Division I baseball, that's a day of travel, and for us to be traveling on Wednesday and to be showcased on Thursday night, it's awesome. It's a great thing for our league. It's why these guys are here.
You come to our league, you know you're going to play against the best. It's the steepest challenge you have in amateur baseball, and for us to be showcased is a really, really positive thing, and we're glad to be a part of it.
That's kind of my notes on our club. Fire away.
Q. Last year you had a few defensive lapses in the infield, and I hear you saying you're going to have to replace three guys. How tough is that going to be?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, I think we're going to be better at third base immediately. I think from day one we'll be better at third base. We're going to be better at shortstop from day one. Taylor is stronger, and he's got the knowledge that he can play in our league.
I think second base we've got to get figured out. I don't know what that's going to look like. I'm really, really pleased to have some options and who can hit right handed or left handed pitching and who's going to pick it up in the eighth inning to turn the double play that gets us the win, those things we've got to wait and see and see how it plays out. That makes us like about half the clubs in our league.
So second base, I don't know. But we've got some good options. I have an opinion at this point, but I've done this job long enough to know that my opinion doesn't mean a whole lot. They've got to go out and they've got to do it.
Braden will be a very good first baseman, and when he's pitching, Michael are Luke are going to be solid at first base. I feel really good about our infield defense. I think we're going to turn the double play, and I think our infield defense famous last words because you don't know until you play, but I think we're going to have better infield defense early in the year.
Q. Is the pitch clock going to be administered the same way it was in the SEC tournament?
COACH HENDERSON: I think so. The only thing I can go on is just the phone calls, calling up guys that were there, and I've talked to four coaches that were there and I said tell me this, this, this, and I think it's exactly the same, and I don't think it's going to be an issue.
Q. On your three starting pitchers, I've talked to the hitters who have faced them, they said there's different types of guys. How much does that help when you can throw different looks on a weekend series against SEC teams?
COACH HENDERSON: I personally really like that, and I've always tried to put together a staff probably over the last, I don't know what, 10 or 12 years, at some point in time that hit me that I wanted different looks down there. You'll see programs where it seems like every guy is 6'1" to 6'3", tall, slender right handed; they're all the same guy. I don't believe in that. I'd rather not have that. Just from a gamesmanship focus, I think it helps you. I don't think there's any question. You've got left handed with action and a second pitch, maybe a third pitch. You've got right handed velocity, and you've got another guy that's got two pitches, one of them that sinks hard.
Well, actually all three of those guys can throw three pitches, which is why they're starters. I think it's a real advantage. I think if you can do that as opposed to run the same guy out three nights in a row, I think it's an advantage.
Q. Can you talk about Alex Meyer's development in the off season and how important it was that he developed a change up?
COACH HENDERSON: I think any time you're talking about a starting pitcher it's important, there's no question, because when you roll that lineup around the third time, unless you are extremely good at switching sides of the plate, that third pitch is going to be a real advantage. When you have legitimate velocity in baseball, the change up becomes a very, very valuable weapon, and that's what it's done.
Alex has been interesting with his change up development. For whatever reason he has real calm and real peace of mind when he throws it. He and I have spoke on many occasions about trying to get that same confidence with the fastball, and that just comes with maturity and experience, and he'll get that. But the change up has been extremely good for him and is going to continue to be a real pitch.
Q. Talk about Brian Adams and what he brings to your team. What is his big asset and what he brings to the team?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, it's not one thing. He's got a few. One would be he's an extremely good athlete. Two would be he's a very good defensive baseball player. Three would be he's not scared. So those are three pretty good things. He's a high level competitor. I think our kids like him as a person. I think he's a kid that even though he was playing football, I think our kids felt that he was part of our group. There wasn't a line drawn or a distinction, he's somebody else doing something different.
The biggest challenge I'm going to have with Brian right now is getting him to understand that last year he wasn't really much of a factor for us until after spring football. The blood clot, the entire blood clot situation kept him out until sometime in February, I'm not exactly sure when, but he had months of BP before he was really playing with us. And right now he's out there facing Meyer and Rogers and Cooper, and they're kind of giving it to him pretty good.
He's just got to play. He didn't have a fall baseball. He did not play baseball this fall. He was out on the football field, and it's going to take a little bit of time. He'll get it, there's no question in my mind he'll get it, but it's going to take a little time. And what you're really talking about specifically is managing frustration, and he's going to have to do that early on. I've shared that with him.
The three things I listed is what he brings, and he's a very good defensive outfielder, and it's a no brainer. It's obvious, and as long as that frustration from the hitting doesn't get carried out to the field, he's going to do a very good job for us.
Q. Do you have a longer leash with Brian because he didn't have a fall baseball? If he gets off to a slow start hitting, do you let him work through it a little bit?
COACH HENDERSON: If he manages the frustration, yes, and that will be exactly what I tell him.
Q. How do you deal with spring football with him? Will you spend more time over there?
COACH HENDERSON: All my talks with Joker have been great. If he's playing, then he can play baseball, and if he's not then he's going to go do football practice. That's in my mind a very reasonable request. Again, we'll see where the season goes. I'm certainly not penciling anybody in 56 games in a row, but I think Brian will get it figured out. That would be my suspicion.
Q. Talk about the job at second base. Obviously it's a pretty close race. Do you tend to side with defensive part of it or the offensive side of it when you're trying to pick a winner there?
COACH HENDERSON: You know, again, to me, it's going to be the guy that can turn double plays and pick up the groundball, no question. You're talking about a reduced bat, you're talking about fewer runs, you're talking about closer games. We're going to play defense here. Let me rephrase that. We're going to do everything I can to play defense here (laughter).
But again, if you put a kid out there that's playing defense and that's his main strength and he goes into a slump at the plate, as long as he continues to play defense but what happens so often with kids that are 18, 19, 20 years old is they start carrying that frustration and that disappointment becomes a distraction defensively and then they lose that part of the game. I'm really, really interested in guys that can pick up groundballs and turn double plays. I think it changes things. I think if you look at our club in '06 and you look at our club in '08, it's an absolute no brainer that we had real bullpen and real infield, middle of the infield defense.
And sometimes that gets lost in the home runs and all the rest, but we were second in the league in home runs last year. We led the league in stolen bases, and those things are all good. But when it came time for post season we were home. You've got to play defense and you've got to pitch out of the bullpen. Those are constants.
And so to answer your question, I'd love to have a guy that was outstanding defensively that led us off and hit about .380. Now, short of that we're going to go with the guy that can play defense.
Q. The last few weeks (of 2010), the way you played against South Carolina here going on to win, the way you played against LSU, do you think that'll carry over? Do you think your guys will feel like we're right there?
COACH HENDERSON: What I think is any time you invest as much in freshmen pitching as we did last year, I want to get a return on my investment. And I think that's what I look at. When you look at what Jordan (Cooper) did, what Taylor (Rogers) did, what Walt (Wijas) did. In '05 we led the league in freshmen innings pitched and finished last, and in '06 we got that ring. And last year we were second in the league in freshmen innings pitched, and what I'm expecting is to get a return on my investment. That's what I expect, and that's why you do that. And when you're getting beat early in the year, in the middle of the year, sometimes it's hard to see the benefit in that, and certainly if you can do something else you would.
But I expect those two guys, along with Alex's development, are going to put us in a spot where we pick up where we left off. Any time you sweep the defending national champion and you beat the national champion two out of three, that's a pretty good couple weeks. I expect that we'll be able to carry that forward.
Q. Have you had any discussion at all with (former UK quarterback and potential outfielder Ryan) Mossakowski?
COACH HENDERSON: Yeah, Ryan was out for a couple weeks, yeah, and he came in. He handled it as well as any 19 or 20 year old kid I've ever been around when he came in. I talked to him for about 40 minutes in my office. Very impressive. I guess that's kind of the general feeling of that kid in our community, but I just can't say enough about how he handled it. It was really impressive.
Q. Taylor got to a lot of balls last year and made some nice plays. How is he going to be better? Where do you see the improvement?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, I think the biggest thing that I think of is lower half strength and arm strength. Those are the two things. The other thing, I think you're right, but those first 22 games weren't very good. We've had that conversation. He didn't invent that. Taylor Black didn't invent that phenomenon. That's called I'm in a new environment, I wonder if I belong. We have that in our work life, we have that in relationships, and he had that.
He knows he belongs. He knows he's going to be as good as any shortstop in the league, and I think that security, that confidence along with the increased strength he's worked hard to get a stronger body, and I think the lower half strength is really going to help him, and the arm strength for a shortstop, that's obvious how that plays into the game.
But those would be the things that I think. I think the confidence will be as big as anything.
Q. How do the new rules affect you as a coach in terms of the new bat? Does it change the advice that you give to your pitchers? The new time limits, does it maybe reduce the number of pitches that are called from the dugout, that type of thing?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, the game calling won't be affected. That part, I think that shouldn't get in the way, that piece of it. I think it does a couple things for you. It puts the runs at a premium. And again, I don't have a crystal ball, I can't predict what it's going to look like. But certainly the feel is it's going to be much, much tougher to go get a five spot when you've just given up some. I think that to me as a coach, that's what I think of. I think you've got to be able to throw strikes, you've got to absolutely do whatever you can to keep the freebies to a minimum.
I've never been a guy that was concerned about hitting guys when we were pitching. To me about a quarter of the time or a third of the time, it's a positive.
But I think you're going to have to manage the number of times that you put guys on base with a walk or an HBP. I think you're going to see tighter games. And so that's how I think the bats are going to be affected.
I'm really hoping that the 90 second clock is a non issue. The real issue about Birmingham (site of the 2010 SEC Tournament and the first test of the clock), in Birmingham the time was being regulated on the field, so that gave an umpire the ability to utilize common sense and go, you know what, we're close here, horn is not going to go off, nobody is trying to take advantage of the rule. Let's just play through it here; we don't have to have somebody coming out or complaining or spending more time than it would be to not recognize it.
But now it's up on the board. So I mean, it's going to be an issue. That's the biggest complaint that the coaches have and the umpires. It now puts the umpire in a position where he's got one more thing he's got to worry about. I think you're going to see that, and obviously I'm going to be talking to (UK baseball SID) Brent Ingram about who's running the clock and how about a little common sense up there, Brent, and like that, and he's going to say we got the rules from the conference office, so we'll just see how it goes.
Q. Beyond Taylor Rogers and Jordan Cooper and Alex Meyer, who are potential starters if someone should go down?
COACH HENDERSON: Well, the first two guys that come to my mind are Corey Littrell and Alex Phillips because of the secondary stuff, but we've got some right handed guys that can throw strikes. So if someone takes a line drive off the leg or somebody gets the flu or whatever it is and they've got to miss some time, you know, Corey and Alex would be the next two options in my mind just because they've got secondary pitches that they can throw for strikes.
And then the next question is if you move one of those guys to a weekend, who's got your midweek games, and that would be Trevor and Jonathan Paquet, Trevor Gott and Jonathan Paquet. Keep in mind sometimes those guys don't do what you think they ought to, and then you go and you say, "next." You just go to the next guy.
But those four guys are going to be able to throw strikes. I'm really confident in that. Now, how well they compete and how it goes with guys on base and all that, I don't know, but we've got four real options of guys that are doing a great job of filling up the strike zone beyond the three guys that are going to pitch on the weekend.
Q. Will we ever see the mic'd helmet on the catcher like we do in pro football? Will we ever see that?
COACH HENDERSON: I don't know. I'd rather have it with a guy on the mound (laughter). I've never thought about that. Sometimes they have that camera in some postseason or big league games, they'll put a camera on the catcher. But I don't know. That would be a good option. I'd rather have something in a pitcher's ear to control his thoughts a little bit (laughter).
Thanks to everyone for coming.
UK Player Quotes
#30 Braden Kapteyn, RHP/IF, Jr.
On the NCAA rule change with the bats and pitch clock in 2011 ...
"With the whole bat thing, I think it plays into our favor. With the time, that is not so much of an issue, I think it's just staying in a good rhythm, and keeping a good tempo. That should never be an issue."
On if he expects lower scoring games ...
"Definitely. I think you are going to see a lot more small ball. You're going to see a lot of teams stealing bags now. That's got to be the name of the game now. You can't live and die by home runs anymore."
On wood bats compared to the new NCAA bats ...
"I don't know. I want to say that there is a certain percentage in which the ball pops off of the bat, I guess it's like 15 percent better than wood. I want to say it's like 15 percent or something like that. It shouldn't be too bad."
#5 Taylor Black, SS, Sr.
On the new NCAA bats ...
"There are going to be a lot less home runs this year, but I feel like it helps our team. We are a speed-oriented team. We like to pitch and play defense, so I think it's in our favor. But it will change the game."
On if he has spent a lot of time in the offseason practicing with the new bats...
"You know in the fall we used it. You can tell a big difference. Before, guys could hit home runs whenever they wanted in batting practice, and now you really have to get into a ball to get it out. I mean, yeah, it's going to make a big difference, but I feel like it's not going to be too bad."
On the new pitch clock ...
"I don't think the 20 second clock is going to be a big deal. I just feel like the in-between innings (clock) is going to impact the game. There is going to be a lot less time for pitchers to get ready."
#24 Chad Wright, OF, Jr.
On UK's returning weekend rotation of Alex Meyer, Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rogers ...
"There are three different kinds of pitchers. We have Meyer who is a power pitcher, who has a lot of good off-speed pitches. Then you have (Taylor) Rodgers who has a lot of power and can spot up. He has good command and works ahead. And then you have (Jordan) Cooper who has a lot of movement and spots up. He has the attitude every time he goes out that he is the best pitcher."
Importance to have three legitimate weekend starting pitchers ...
"Yeah, I mean, you just have to have guys that go out there and are confident. They have to go out there, be confident, and expect to win and aren't afraid to make a mistake."
On what it's like facing junior Alex Meyer ...
"Yeah, it's definitely different. The ball hits you a lot faster because he has that long arm span. It's definitely a disadvantage if you're not used to it."
#17 Alex Meyer, RHP, Jr.
On being a leader this year ...
"I feel like I can come into that role. I think I return the most innings of anyone on this staff. Those young guys are going to look up to me and I think I am going to have to help them as much as I can."
On developing more consistency in the zone ...
"Yeah, that's the main thing. I'm confident in my stuff, I know that it's going to show up. You know, throwing strikes is the big thing. With these new bats, too, it opens things up for me too and gives me more confidence to get strike one."
On his body continuing to grow as he learns how to pitch ...
"It's been tough. I'm not going to use that as an excuse or anything. I've grown an inch every single year and then this year I stopped. It's been somewhat tough for me trying to stay coordinated but I feel like I've done a good enough job and I think I'm well enough coordinated that I can do that."