Feb. 10, 2014
Tennessee Head Coach Dave Serrano
"Thanks to everyone for coming out. Obviously this is an exciting time for our program starting year three, more importantly starting the 2014 season which I have high hopes for more than I ever have in my three years here. A lot of that has to do with the players we have, how they have developed and grown up. Also, how my staff recruited and I really feel for the first time that Tennessee baseball will be relevant again in the SEC. I am not promising a SEC championship; not promising national championships but not saying we can't do that.
"I definitely believe that the talent level is where it needs to be. We just need to grow up as a group. Continue to grow up, live through the adversity that we are going to go through, know how to handle the success we are going to have. We have been dealing with adversity since day one at practice due to the weather. That won't be an excuse. We will be prepared and ready to go this Friday against Nebraska-Omaha and beyond. We will just continue to grow as a team.
"This weekend I have announced this Friday in the 4 p.m. game against Nebraska-Omaha, Andrew Lee, a sophomore will start. Saturday in the 4 p.m. game against Purdue, Hunter Martin, a freshman right-handed pitch will start. Sunday mid-day at noon against Nebraska-Omaha a right-handed freshman named Kyle Serrano will start. The 4 p.m. game against Purdue senior right-handed pitcher Nick Williams will start. That is our opening weekend four pitchers. You are going to see a slew of pitchers this weekend due to obviously pitch counts; 75-80 pitches will be what our starters are worked up to. Hopefully that will get them through to the fifth or sixth inning. You will see guys coming out of the bullpen. Drake Owenby is slated to be our closer. Drake had a little bit of soreness last week, but will throw tomorrow. He is a key component to our bullpen. He had a tremendous summer as a closer. He has probably won a job as a starter for our program, but the way I am building this staff is that it will be just as strong at the end as it is in the beginning.
"Just naming off three of the four names in this series, Andrew Lee is a sophomore but didn't throw any for us last year due to a Tommy John surgery coming out of high school. He is inexperienced. Freshman Hunter Martin is a true freshman out of Blackman, so he is inexperienced. Kyle Serrano is also a freshman who is inexperienced, but that is a great challenge to overcome because all three of them are very talented. All three have showed tremendous poise and I am excited to see their growth as we continue to go through this season.
"We will probably rely on the offense early. I think our offense is going to be a very strong weapon throughout the year. It is a tough lineup to get through for our pitchers. I think they have grown up a lot trying to go through them. We have a lot of left-handed hitters, a lot of guys who can run the bases and guys who can hit the ball over the fence. I am just very proud at how these guys have developed. There was a plan in mind. They got their ears pinned back a little bit as freshmen. But I can no longer look across the field from our dugout and see a bunch of boys playing a bunch of men in the SEC. Our boys have grown into men in a very short order."
(On difference we will see from last year)
"Definitely pitching. Pitching wins championships. Defense wins championships. That is very evident by the Super Bowl. Seattle dominated that game. I am a firm believer that defense wins championships. It is going to start on the mound. The one consistent thing we have done as a program and for sure this year in the fall and workouts has been defense. We have good athletes on the field. We have interchangeable parts. We have depth now. If a guy goes down we have a lot of depth. We are at least two deep in every position and some are three and four deep.
"It is definitely on the mound. We have been down two guys lately, Bret Marks has had a little arm stiffness and Drake Owenby has had some arm stiffness. We can go into this weekend confident that we will have some success. In the past that wouldn't have been the case where two of our top nine guys were out. We have the luxury. That is what happens when you get two good recruiting classes. You get them past major league baseball and you are able to bring them into your program. We brought in a lot of junior college pitching. That is going to go back in our bullpen which is going to make it strong. We look the part now. You go out and see us play and see our guys in uniform. We are a good looking, athletic, physical group. There is a method behind that to be in the SEC you have to be physical. I think we fit that mold now."
(On starting a young pitching staff)
"I think we're going to have challenges no matter who we start with, but great question. These young men are going to have to overcome some adversity. I've always said in recruiting their biggest leap in their baseball careers is from high school to Division I baseball. It will be a bigger jump than when they go from Division I to professional baseball. There is going to be some anxiety on that part, but I'm confident because the fact that they have faced a good lineup each and every day in our inner-squad games and for the most part, they've had good outings against them.
"It's been competitive squad games. I feel like they've passed the test, so to speak. There will be another test when another color uniform walks in our stadium, that's always going to be, whether you're a freshman or a senior, there's going to be different emotions that go on with that. The sooner our guys can realize it's about our team, it's not about them, it's about our team, I think it's going to be a strength of us, we're going to be a very unselfish group, we're going to sacrifice for one another. That's going to be the strength and the core as we move forward with this group. It is a very close-knit group that believes in one another and wants to succeed for one another."
(On the transition from high school baseball)
"Speed of the game - definitely the speed of the game. You hear that all the time - the speed of practices, the speed of the game in every aspect. I'm not just talking velocity; I'm talking just the way the game goes. It's a big jump - playing in front of bigger crowds, more on the lines. It's a huge jump to Division I baseball, then you can't discount the fact that it's SEC baseball, which is by far the best conference in the country. It's a huge jump for some of these young men that are coming straight out of high school where they were the super star and now they have to get used to being another guy on the team, so to speak."
(On pitch counts)
"One of the things that I'm planning on doing with this staff, because when you look at it - out of three of the four right now - you have Andrew Lee who is a year and a half out of Tommy John surgery which he had right out of high school, Hunter Martin who is a true freshman and Kyle Serrano who is a true freshman, is the development process for all three of those guys. With the confidence that I have and the depth I feel we're going to have in our bullpen, I could see me telling our starters, 'go pitch me a little league game - six innings - get us to the sixth inning and we'll hand the ball off to the bullpen after that, because we're going to have some good quality coming after that. For a while, that's going to be my plan so when we get to late April and May, hopefully early June, those guys don't have 120 innings. They have maybe 75-80 innings, which is going to make a huge difference not only for late in the year, but it's going to make a huge difference for their career as we go through the next two-three years of their career here at Tennessee."
(On deciding the starting rotation)
"Probably the reason I decided on Andrew Lee as the first guy, is for the most part, he pounded the zone in the fall. He's 89-91 with his fastball, signs of a good breaking ball and a changeup. He's a tone setter. I believe a Friday guy is a tone setter. I can't promise that Andrew Lee will be our Friday starter all the way through this. The players will dictate that as we go, but Andrew sets the tone by throwing strikes and he has good stuff. He has a deception in his delivery that guys don't get good swings off him all the time. He'll set the tone for us Friday.
"On Saturday, Hunter Martin has probably been our most consistent pitcher through the fall. He reminds me of a lot of a young man I had at UC Irvine that ended up being a superstar named Scotty Gorgen. Hunter is a little bit taller stature than Scotty, but Hunter is a three-pitch mix guy. He pitches down in the strike zone tremendously. He has a great changeup and a good slider and a curveball. He's a good athlete on the mound; holds runners well. Probably has earned the right to be a Friday guy in this program - he's a true freshman though. I wouldn't do that to either one of them, him or Kyle [Serrano] early on.
"Kyle will be the Sunday morning guy. Kyle has tremendous stuff - huge upside. Hasn't disappointed in the fall, he's gone through some growing pains. Obviously with my close relationship with him, I'm proud to say Kyle probably only has 100 innings of experience throughout his whole career, so he's not one of those young men that has been overused. He wasn't a travel ball kid throughout his whole life. He grew up around the game in the dugout with me. There is still some inexperience, but the upside is tremendous with him. He can go anywhere from 91 to 95, has a good curveball and has really developed a great changeup.
"Then, Nick Williams on Sunday. Nick has all the experience - 91-93 with his fastball, good curveball that he uses as an off-speed pitch and has a ton of years of experience of pitching in this conference for four years."
(On Kyle Serrano not playing travel ball)
"He was with dad in the dugout for national championship games and all that and in Omaha for regionals and super regionals. When I look back at it, I don't regret how I raised him through the game. Kyle has made himself what he is today because of what he has learned from all the great players that I have coached. It has given him poise beyond his years in a tough situation. I should probably state this now - I am proud that Kyle is in this program. I know he is proud to wear the orange. My ask to the media is that Kyle is his own person. I love him as a son and I'm sure equally, he loves me as a father, but I think he has set his own identity now and he will continue to create his own identity. I think it is unfair for him to be labeled as the son of Dave Serrano, head baseball coach. I want Kyle to be himself. That's what I've said from day one. I think he already has his niche going and as we move forward, he'll continue to carve out that niche of where it's going to take him in this game."
(On current team's baseball IQ)
"It's getting better. That's important. To be good, you have to have talent, but you have to have baseball IQ. That's a great question. It's getting better. We continue to test them every day in practice in different situations. It's about them retaining it. We're going to be there for every step of the way with them, but they can't rely on us as coaches. We have to help them. We have to teach them, but then they have to do it in those situations. Baseball IQ is huge. Base running wise, different defensive movements on the defense, all that kind of stuff is important to winning championships and the littlest things add up to the big things. A.J. [Simcox] does have those kinds of instincts. We're starting to see now - I was in a different position yesterday behind second base during our intrasquad game and I was really hearing A.J. saying some great things to the other infielders. That kind of stuff is so important in baseball - the pre-pitch talk, the anticipation of each and every sequence that can come up."
(On coaching his son Kyle Serrano)
"No, actually, Kyle called some people that had played for their dad before he made his decision. For me it's been great. I'm proud to say this; Kyle is one of our hardest workers. He would fall within one of the top five guys on our team of work ethic. That's him. That's not me. He makes it easy on me. The fact that he has some ability, that he's done a lot of things right, makes it extremely easy for me. I think it was a little hard for him early. He mentioned it to me around Thanksgiving that it was a little harder for him - he was enjoying his experience but he was having a hard time correlating between me being his coach and me being his dad. As we all know as parents, dads are never right. Coaches are always right. He was having a hard time distinguishing between the two. I think, I shouldn't say dads, parents are never right, but other people are always right in kids' minds. I think he's fought through that. It will make him stronger in the long run. The young man has some tough roads ahead of him. When we go into hostile environments, he's going to be known as the coach's boy and so on and so forth. The trials and tribulations he goes through along with our other players will be good for him in continuing to strive to be the best.
"I always wanted to coach him. The fact that I get to see him play baseball every day now and I didn't get to see that. I got to see 34 other kids that I treat as sons each and every day, but I didn't get to see my own kids do their activities. Now I get to see his development each and every day as a baseball player, so it makes me happy that I know for at least three years, I'll get to see him develop as a baseball player and see him succeed and fail at times on the baseball field."
(On coaching Kyle before)
"Never, I was always that parent that stood in the background and just liked to enjoy watching my kids play because it was my time away from my sport at the time. Not that I didn't want to but my time kind of kept me away from them, but it just allowed me to be a parent and a fan."
(On high points with Will Maddox and Scott Price)
"Well, Scott Price to me is probably the best hitter in the SEC, and I'll say that bar none. He's the top returning hitter (based on average) that's returned in the SEC. I don't think he is getting enough credit from the national media and that's probably because he is on a lower tier team in the past in the SEC, but I see him every single day and I know what umpires told me last year when we played in the SEC. All the guy does is square up a baseball every time. We expect the same throughout the year, we're going to put him in a different spot, we're going to put him in the leadoff spot this year, kind of get out of the gate with a bang, and it's been an exciting spot to see him in - he starts a lot of games off with doubles off the wall or doubles in the gap, which will be exciting for us.
"Will, I'll say this about Will, Will is probably the hardest-nose player in the SEC - all you got to do is come out and watch a game or practice. He's going to be the dirtiest guy on the field, he's going to be a guy that you recognize because he has given everything that he has on each and every pitch, it's not going to always be perfect, but you're still proud of him just because how hard he plays the game each and every day and he's going to give you his all every day here at Tennessee."
(On A.J. Simcox)
"A.J. continues to rise in our eyes as coaches; he's gotten much more consistent defensively, which is first and foremost the most important at his position. He knows that from this coaching staff that will be the difference maker in us winning and losing a lot of games with him playing the premier spot of shortstop. In so many words, I told him I don't care what your average is, I do, but I don't want him to worry about average; he is going to be a good enough hitter for us and he is going to function in our lineup, but it's about the defense and the leadership he brings defensively. A.J. is going to play in the big leagues.
"In fact, I feel that we have a few guys in our program now that are going to play in the big leagues one day and that's what is so exciting about me, is we've surrounded ourselves not only with great kids, but with some pretty darn good baseball players, and I take a little offense to it. I get the national media outlets that have their rankings and I completely understand why we are not ranked to some extent, but I guess it is just our duty to prove them wrong."
(On Christin Stewart and other Vols)
"Another guy that's scary at the plate and again I say that because I'm calling pitches against these guys that squares balls up, is a tough out, just has a hitter's mentality. We moved him to left field, he has really come on defensively in left field, has made some great plays out there, had a great summer out there. The proof is going to be in the pudding on those four guys we just talked about, those are four key guys to our lineup, and you add a Vincent Jackson in there.
"I tell you a young man that has not disappointed us, that I'm so glad we were able to get him late when he changed his mind from Georgia, is Nick Senzel. He's going to be a beast in this program, I mean he is, he's an athletic, he's like an outside linebacker that can play second or third base, he can run, he can hit for power, he's got gap power, going to be a middle of the cog guy in our lineup. Nathaniel Maggio - big left-handed hitting power guy out of Georgia is going to be at first base some so when you see us our lineup is pretty well stacked and it's a tough lineup to get through. David Houser has really returned a different individual, besides Drake Owenby, probably has made the biggest transformation. Drake Owenby's body has completely changed and I just think David Houser has grown up. He's grown up, we are only having him hit right-handed now and he's become much more offensive that way - more power and has done a good job in the workouts of receiving and throwing guys out which is important."