UK Baseball Preseason Media Day Coverage

Feb. 11, 2009

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- On Wednesday, the Kentucky baseball program held its annual Preseason Media Day, located at the Wildcat Den in Commonwealth Stadium. Below is a transcript of head coach Gary Henderson and four players.

No. 19 Kentucky, winners of 122 games the last three years, opens its season on Feb. 20 at the Caravelle Resort Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., facing off with No. 23 Coastal Carolina, Troy and James Madison.  

Kentucky Head Coach Gary Henderson

Opening statement ...
"First of all thanks for coming out today and we appreciate everyone being here. We are really looking forward to getting going with this group and it is an extremely good group of kids. It is an exciting group in that we have 13 new people in our program. We also have a core of returning kids that have played well here at Kentucky right up the middle with Marcus Nidiffer catching, Chris McClendon at third and Keenan Wiley in center field. We are happy about those guys being back. We also have two returning pitchers that have pitched very well in our league with SEC All-Conference first-team in Chris Rusin, and James Paxton pitched well for us also last year. We have a lot of spots open including first, second, corner outfield, backup catcher, third starter and the entire bullpen. That will make some excitement and we will get going in nine days at Myrtle Beach. It will be one of the few tournaments in the country that you have four regional teams competing in that first weekend and that will be a solid challenge for us and we are looking forward to it."

On the freshmen so far and the expectations of them heading into the season ...
"There have been several freshmen that are playing well and we are really pleased about it. Some have been expected and others have been a surprise. Alex Meyer will certainly have a role on the pitching staff there is no question about that and Andy Burns is going to get an opportunity to play in the infield. Michael Williams has been very impressive behind the plate and Chad Wright has been better than expected in the outfield and we are very impressed with Chad and how he goes about his business. On the pitching staff we have Sean Bouthilette and Braden Kapteyn who have been very impressive as well. There have been several of the new kids that we are really pleased with."

On who is the leader for the third starting pitcher spot right now ...
"The first few weekends we have four games so what that does is it creates opportunity whether someone is ready for it or not. As you move towards SEC play and you need three starters Clint Tilford would certainly be somebody that is looking to win that spot and a couple of the freshmen that I have already named would be looking to do that as well. Those would be the probably three or four candidates at the top. It is just hard to tell right now, you give them opportunity and there are going to be games three and four the first two weekends and we will see what they do with it. It is a group that you really don't know until you get them out there and see how they respond to the competition."

On the coaching transition and how it has been for him ...
"In terms of just the transition and what you think of with a new coaching staff it has been extremely smooth. (Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator) Brad (Bohannon) and I were the ones that recruited the club and that piece in itself made it very easy. Knowing the kids that were on the club, in the program and had been there has been great. The benefit of being here for five years is that they have seen you at your best and at your worst. There is no pretending here everyone knows who everyone is and how they respond and react and it really cuts that acclimation process and the learning curve is easier. Obviously I have a different role and have to interact differently with the club than I have in the past. That has been easy and there haven't been any bumps in the road. Everyone has an idea of what I think is important and my personality and values. This has just been simple and they are great kids and do what we ask them to do."

On second base position ...
"We have four guys that would like to play there. We have a junior college transfer in Gunner Glad and returnees Chris Bisson and Neiko Johnson and then newcomer Andy Burns. I would think that within the first couple of weekends in those eight games those guys are going to get a chance to play and see what they can do. They all have certain strengths, some are better defensively, some are better offensively and some run better and are faster, things like that. What you are trying to do, in my opinion, is find the person that is going to give you the best defense, compete the best and give you quality at bats consistently. That is what we are going to be looking for and obviously we are interested in turning double plays at second as well. Those will factor into who gets that job but it is too early to tell who will get the job."

On if this team is taking more of a small-ball approach ...
"The first thing I would like to say in regards to that is that I am a huge fan of the three-run home run. Having said that we lost about 75-percent of our home runs and a lot of our production but the program is going to have some power in it. Although, as you look at the roster it looks like we will be more inclined to hit home runs a year from now rather than this season. That group of young kids is going to take a year to get used to the league. You have to conform to your personnel there is no question that we are going to have to rely on something else other than hitting 1.5 homeruns a game, that approach won't work with this group. That is not to say that we can't hit homeruns and we have a few guys coming back that can hit them. I think that we are bringing back 22 homeruns, which is just more than what Colin Cowgill hit last year. We are going to have to approach things differently there is no question. It is not out of desire or to prove a point but that is what our personnel are and that is how we will go about it."

On if there is any pressure heading into the season ranked in the top 25 ...
"I think that how you play preseason rankings with your kids is really important. I think that the program has established itself that if we do the things we are suppose to do and stay healthy we are going to be a top 25 program. We are ranked in a couple of the polls, not all of them, but that is probably a positive with this group right now. You get a bunch of kids that would appear to be in line to be outstanding players in their league but they haven't done anything yet. They haven't earned a lofty ranking of any sort. Being 19th in one poll and 23rd in the other is where we should be or a fair assessment of where we need to be at this point. They haven't done anything, they are great kids and work really hard but we need to go out and win some games and we would certainly like to improve that ranking a little bit. We will win some games first and then we will worry about that."

On what having a guy like Chris Rusin at the top of his staff does for the rest of the rotation ...
"It should give us a lot of confidence. Another thing that factors in is that James Paxton is the guy that threw the last weekend against Mississippi. He is not the guy that was growing up in the first 45 innings last year, he has turned the corner. That is an interesting and fun thing about coaching kids you never know when they are going to turn that corner but he had a nice sophomore year that blossomed into "holy cow this guy might be really good someday". Obviously, he will need to stay healthy and his back issue from last summer has healed itself and is fine. He is throwing extremely well. Now you have Chris Rusin and James Paxton that can start for you on the weekend and it should absolutely give the rest of the staff a shot of confidence. They will get to watch presence, body language, confidence, skill and all of that and that is what you are hoping that they see."

On makes Chris Rusin so effective ...
"There are several things, one is that he throws a lot of strikes. Secondly, the ball moves and moves about three ways. That is the same thing that allows a major league pitcher to be successful is that the ball moves all over the place but stay in the strike zone and Chris is great at that. The next thing that he is able to do that most kids at our level don't do, is that his heart rate stays the same. I would like to tell you that I coached that in him but I didn't, he had that when he came here. He is just a very poised and confident competitor. He has had a lot of success, expects to be successful and we are glad that we get to work with him for another year."

Kentucky Players

#5, Chris McClendon, 3B

On the offseason and the preparation for this season ...
"We started team practice on February 1st and it was exciting to be able to get back together as a team. We have been able to get on the field and that has been awesome. We see a lot of progress in our team and where we need to go. We are really fired up about going to Coastal Carolina next weekend. "

On the expectations that this team has ...
"I think that expectations for us are to go out and compete on an everyday basis. Just let the chips fall where they may. We will compete hard every day try to put a good club on the field."

On if the team is starting to gel or if that will take game experience ...
"I see us starting to gel right now. Obviously we have a lot of new guys on the team but we have some returners coming back to know the SEC and I think that is a positive. With the new guys coming in I think that it will take a few games to let them get gelled and get used to SEC games and playing at this level in general."

On the transition of the new coach ...
"It has been an awesome transition really. He brought in Coach (Brian) Green and from day one he has gelled with this team very well, hitters especially. Coach Henderson is a great manager for us and brings a lot of fire and intensity to us. He has taught us a lot about the game. He is pretty much the same coach he was last year except now he interacts more with the position players. Last year he was mostly with pitchers. It has been fun so far and we are ready to get going."

#7, Chris Wade, SS

On if he expected to lead as a sophomore ...
"I am looking forward to it, like I said last year we had a lot of older guys and this year we have some younger guys and I am ready. Coach Henderson has talked to me about it and I am ready to lead this team to win some ball games."

On if he thinks this team is starting to gel together ...
"I am, the teams that I have been on since I have been here have been great and I love all the guys this year. We lost a few key contributors last year but with the returning guys we have we will do well. We are just trying to stay focused and I am confident in the guys we will put on the field."

On the coaching transition ...
"It is real smooth. I loved Coach Cohen and I loved playing for him and the opportunity that he game me to play as a freshman but Coach Henderson is another great guy. I have been around him for two years and we know what to expect out of him and that has made it a little more easy. It is just a pleasure to play for Coach Henderson."

On the little things that Coach Henderson does that makes him a great coach ...
"I would say more of the mental aspects of the game. He is big on visualization and getting mentally prepared. A lot of at bats are won or lost before you even step in the box or on the mound, knowing that you are going to beat the other guy and being confident in yourself and your ability."

#46, Keenan Wiley, CF

On the expectations of this team ...
"My expectations are to win, that is what we are always looking to do. We are happy that Coach Henderson got the job and we think that he will do a great job. It really isn't much of a change for a lot of guys returning because he has been here since we have. I am happy that he got the job and we expect to win under him."

On how important it was that Coach Gary Henderson did get the job ...
"The good thing about it is that all the returning guys know Coach Henderson and how to take him. They know what he wants and it is a lot easier for him to get out of us what he wants when we already know him. It is not a totally new coach coming into the program that you have never had a relationship with before. With Coach Henderson being here, we all really enjoy it and like him as a coach."

On if the mindset is different heading into this season ...
"I think that it is still the same, rankings are good but I don't know how much they mean. In the end you still have to win baseball games. The whole time that I have been here we have won and the goal is to get better every day and every pitch. The goal is to win games. I think it will stay the same and we plan on winning games this year."

On if this will be more of a small-ball team ...
"I think that they beauty of this team is that you will see a little bit of everything. We have some guys that can hit the ball out of the park but we are going to win games in different ways. We are going to win every game a different way. No we aren't going to hit the home runs like we did in the past, and when you lose guys like Sawyer Carroll and Colin Cowgill you aren't going to be able to replace that right away. We have some new guys in that are talented and are going to help us. They will hit some home runs but they will also do other stuff that we need to do to win games."

#10, Chris Rusin, LHP

On how important it was that Coach Henderson got the job ...
"It wasn't really that big of a change for all of us. Coach Henderson played a big role being the assistant head coach. He was right there with everyone and Coach Cohen pretty much dealt with the position players. Things are a little different in practice and we are looking forward to getting to Coastal Carolina and seeing what we can do."

On his health and if he is back to 100-percent healthy ...
"Yes. I threw in the intra-squad the other day I had no pain. I am excited to get ready and help this team out any way I can."

On if the late-season injury last year gives him extra motivation this season ...
"Yeah, it is good to be back and the injury was a disappointment when it happened. I am not worrying about that right now. I am worried about going to Coastal Carolina and doing what I need to do to help the team. It is my senior year and last goes around and I will give it my all."

On if he is ready to be the leader of the pitching staff ...
"Yeah, I am ready to help the freshmen out and let them know what they should and shouldn't do. I am helping watch them throw and picking the things out that I think they need to work on. I am showing them how to go about doing that. I am ready to get things started out on the right foot."