UT head coach Todd Raleigh
Feb. 16, 2010
HEAD COACH Todd Raleigh
"We're three days away and practice has been going great. Obviously the weather hasn't been super, but we were able to go outside last Friday, Saturday, Sunday and scrimmage. I don't feel like we're behind, but I certainly don't want any more of this weather. We took yesterday off as practice day. We'll be back today, probably inside. Everything is good. We're healthy. I don't think the weather has hindered us and cost us any time. I'm not going to complain, it seems like it's like this all over the country. I feel like we're in really good shape for Friday. We're healthy and ready to go."
Do you feel like the season starts too soon? It's cold, snowy. Maybe there are other factors, but would you schedule this early?
"No I wouldn't. I would push the season back. They haven't started spring training yet and that's in Florida or Arizona. We're not in Florida or Arizona. I do think it's too early. I think we should be finishing in July, maybe starting in mid-March. Maybe go to school in the spring and summer, and not in the fall. That's been presented, but I don't know how far that'll go."
How important is this year in establishing your program?
"It's important. I think we've done a good job of building a foundation that we need to build, but obviously, with that comes the end product. The end product for us is winning some games, and I think we're poised to do that. A lot of people have different ideas on how to do it. I think what we had to do was go through the right process and we have gone through those proper channels. I feel excited about this season. We've got a tremendous team. We're more athletic, more physical, we're deeper, we're better. You combine that with the way we ended last year, the momentum we had, I feel like we're going to have a great year, I really do. We can catch the ball, we can hit and our pitching is a lot deeper. I don't see us having a lot of weaknesses. Now, obviously we play in the best league in the country and other teams have the same kind of programs. We're no longer going to be outmatched. Certainly as a head coach, before I felt like things had to go perfect. Somebody had to pitch a great game, somebody had to hit two home runs. I don't feel like that now. Physically, I think we're going to be better than most people we play."
You touched on the close to last season. Did you see that momentum carry into the offseason and the fall workouts?
"I did. I think the guys turned a corner on a lot of avenues last year. We were playing so many young kids. I felt like now we can concentrate on winning and not some of the other things that were distractions. The guys are hungry, they're ready and they want to show everybody what they can do and what they've been preparing to do. Leadership is different. Everything is different. We're just older. We're no longer playing eight freshmen and sophomores, even though we don't have many seniors, we still have a lot of SEC experience on our club."
Can you give us your thoughts on Bryan Morgado and him being your Friday night starter?
"Bryan is going to be our Friday night starter. He has one of the best arms in the country. He hasn't probably pitched up to what he's capable of the last couple of years, but he's turned a corner. He's much more of a pitcher now and not such a thrower. Before, he wanted to throw a ball 90 miles per hour but you have to hit your spots. He's really matured. I wasn't here when Bryan got here, but I think he was 17, and that's young for a college freshman. I think he's matured a lot and he's certainly as good as anybody in the country. It's good to have him on Friday night. In the past, Friday night has kind of been a mix and match type of thing, but I don't see that being an issue. Bryan is going to be our guy leading us into the weekend."
What about your other two weekend guys?
"Right now, Steven Gruver, a left hander, is going to start on Saturday. He's a sophomore. He's one of those many freshmen we pitched last year. A lot of you guys don't know a lot about Steven, but he's pretty good. He had an unbelievable summer. He's had a great fall and spring so far. He's a hard throwing lefty, he's a top prospect down the road. He's only a sophomore, but he's going to fill that role. The third starter is going to be Stephen McCray and it's been a hard-fought battle with him and Steve Crnkovich and Rob Catapano. We're going to go with Stephen. He's a senior, hard throwing right hander. He's really come on. He's developed a new cutter, his change-up is a little bit better and he's now throwing a two-seam vs. four-seam fastball. That may not mean a lot to you guys, but the ball moves a lot more. He's more of a pitcher as well."
Can you talk about some areas where there is still some competition?
"I think our outfield probably has the most competition because we've got some different looks. We can go with a little more speed, or a little more power in the outfield. We can do some left-right combination type things. So, I think there is some competition there. All our spots are open. Obviously Cody Hawn at first base, it's hard to argue that. But I do feel like we have arguably one of the top freshmen in the country right there behind him with Cody Stubbs, and he's certainly going to push him and be that DH for us. As a coach, you go out there every day and say `guys work hard, we're still (competing for starting) spots', but the last couple years, physically, we didn't have the numbers to do it. I think now that we do, it has brought the level of play up in practice. We can do a lot of different things."
Can you talk about Cody Hawn and how important is he to this team?
"When you're an All-American, you've got to play like an All-American. It doesn't do any good to be a pre-season All-American. And certainly Cody is poised to do that. Cody is as good of a hitter as anybody in the country. With him and Blake Forsythe in the middle, it certainly brings an element to a team and they have to stop that. If they're going to pitch around Cody, we got to be able to do some other things. It's important for Cody to have a great year, so if people do pitch around him, we can hurt them in other areas. Cody is just a great player. I know it's hard to build on what he did last year, but I don't see why he can't because this kid can really hit and he's a special player."
Can you talk a little about your bullpen?
"We're going to go with Matt Ramsey as our closer. He really emerged last year at the end of the year in that role. He's a sophomore, as is Will Locante. Will's a left-hander sophomore from Memphis and he's one of our most improved pitchers as well. We've never had anything that we could stop with at the end of the game. I wouldn't want to face those two guys. If our lineup had to face those two guys in the eighth and ninth, it would be tough. Not that there aren't other teams have those type of players, but it certainly gives us an edge now. If you're behind coming into the eighth inning, you're in trouble because those guys are solid."
What are the reasonable expectations for this year and what's the next step for you guys?
"I think we're a top 25 team. We're probably not getting a lot of love right now, but you know how preseason rankings work, they just take what you did last year and just insert it. There aren't any changes. I think that's a reasonable expectation. I just don't see many teams as physical as we are and as good defensively as we are. I think the question is going to be pitching. I think we have to go out and do that. It's the only unproven thing we have. Although me sitting here, compared to the last couple years, I know from what I've seen the last six months that there is no comparison. I think NCAAs are very reasonable. I think making a run at Omaha, in a three-game set, I like our chances. Especially if we can host a regional. That's what we want, is to have a good enough regular season where we can host in our great new facility. I think those are very reasonable. I'd be shocked if we're not an NCAA team. I've had a lot of NCAA teams as a coach. I won 10 championships as a player and a coach, this is a good team. The attitude is right and we're going to have a good year."
Do you think it's essential for you to have that kind of year for you personally?
"I don't look at it like that. I look at every day coming to work trying to get as good as we can. I knew what I was getting into. I think a lot of people don't realize, this isn't my first time rebuilding a program, I went to Western Carolina and took a 15-38 team and two years later we're in the NCAAs. I understand that sometimes things have to run their course, but as long as things are going right, we're in good shape and that's what we're focused on."
How is Rob Catapano doing?
"Rob is doing well. He's still coming off his arm injury. He's not 100 percent, but his 75-80 percent is good enough to get people out. I think Rob is only going to get better when the weather gets better and the more he gets out there. But he's done great."
Can you talk about the renovations to the stadium and how much that means to the program?
"I think we've put ourselves in the upper tier of the SEC as far as facilities. It looks great and it's very functional. The cage is going up. I think it puts a new aura around our program. It's going to give the fans a new way to watch games at Tennessee that they've never had before. I think it's important to do what we're doing. You can't stay status quo. We're not status quo. We moved it up, we took it up another notch and that's what you have to do to move your program forward. And I think we have. I love our facility now. It's very nice. The brick has been tremendous. I think it's going to create a whole new aura around what we do. Before, we were just outdated. It was good at one time, but we needed to go on and we have."
What do you expect from Xavier this weekend?
"Xavier is a good team. They won 39 games last year, won the Atlantic 10 and won a game in the NCAA Regionals. They have a lot of seniors on the team. They have a guy who stole 42 bases, 42 of 49. They have some veteran pitchers back, so they're going to be a good team, no question about it. I don't know how much they've been getting outside because of the weather, so hopefully we'll have a little advantage there. When you play teams like Xavier, who know how to win, who've played teams like this before, they're not going to have the awe effect, where they're big eyes here. I expect a team that knows how to win. We have to go out and execute and play our best game. It's certainly something I think we can do, but part of our scheduling was to play a team like this opening weekend that you have to go out and play well to beat them."
How important is it this season to get off to a quick start?
"Well, it's important. I think our start is key for us. Looking at our schedule, we have some tough ones. I don't want to look too far ahead, but we're going to Oregon State the following weekend and then we come back and host some tournaments. I think our start is one of our keys--it's a marathon not a sprint but last year, we didn't start the way we wanted to and I felt like we played catch-up the rest of the year. I don't feel like we need to do that this year. I think we're going to be in good shape and we need to get off playing well."
What type of player is Matt Duffy?
"Matt is pretty good. You can talk about recruiting and we've certainly signed first-rounders out of high school and all of these top picks but they're still unproven in college. I don't care if they have five stars, there's no formula for that. When you have an opportunity to get somebody who's already established in college baseball, that's the best indicator to me of success because he's already achieved it at this level. He was player of the year, he's an All-American. He's 6-foot-3 and very athletic at third base. He played shortstop at Vermont but obviously he isn't going to play that here with Zach (Osborne) there. He's tremendous defensively and he's a guy who would probably hit third or fourth in the order for most teams in the country. With him and Zach on the left side of the infield, I don't see a better defensive left side in the country. Cody Brown was an outstanding defender, probably the best in the SEC, and I would say that Matt's probably better so he's got a chance to be very special."
Can you run through your starting lineup?
"In left field, we have P.J Polk. P.J. was hurt last year. He hurt his ankle the night before our first game last year and was never the same. Speed is his game--he's probably one of the fastest runners in the country and he couldn't run with a bum ankle. He certainly brings a speed element to our game. Also in left is Chris Fritts, he's a true freshman from Texas that has been hampered by a shoulder injury. He's an SEC Player of the Year type of kid down the road. I think he can help us right now, so there's kind of a battle going on in left. In centerfield is Josh Liles. Josh played right field for us last year and missed the last 20 games when he broke his wrist diving, which hurt us. Charley Thurber probably has the nod in right field right now. He's a 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter with a lot of power. He's going to be a really good player. We can also move these guys around in the outfield. Drew Steckenrider was one of the top high school kids in America last year. He's a 6-foot-5 switch hitter and he's going to get some time in the outfield this year. First base is Cody Hawn. Second base has been a battle. Cody Grisham has been our guy the last couple years but Khayyan Norfork, a junior college transfer from Jackson State, has really improved in the last six months. He had an unbelievable spring and, like P.J., he brings a lot of speed. He brings an element we haven't had since I've been here. With Josh, P.J. and Khayyan, we could steal a lot of bases and we haven't had that option. He brings a lot of excitement. Cody Grisham probably has the nod on him defensively but Khayyan is ahead of Cody offensively. At shortstop, Zach Osborne was an All-SEC freshman last year and can really play. We have Matt Duffy and third and then Blake Forsythe being an All-SEC catcher last year certainly anchors that spot. I feel good about centerfield, shortstop and catcher and that's what you need to build your team around. Matt Hamaker has done a great job, he's a senior that can really catch and throw and he can play the outfield so I think you'll see him in the lineup as well this year."
On what type of game he plans to play
"We'll probably play `big ball,' we've got a lot of big ball guys. At our SEC meetings in the fall, we were talking and we probably have seven first round pitchers in our league, which is probably the most in SEC history. We're looking at some pretty good pitchers on Friday night and good pitching is always going to beat good hitting. Having speed gives us an element to manufacture runs that we didn't have in the past but I don't think it's going to change our style. We'll do whatever it takes to win. If we have to lean in front of a pitch, we'll lean in front of a pitch. If we have to steal a base, we'll steal a base. If we have to hit a home run, we'll hit a home run. I don't like going in trying to hit the long ball because you have to rely on wind conditions and other things. When it's all said and done, I think according to everything else, we're considered probably one of the biggest long-ball threats in the country. That's on paper, though."
JUNIOR CATCHER Blake Forsythe
Thoughts on the upcoming season
"First of all, you've all seen the stadium and the renovations. It's unbelievable. It's a place we can call home now. Coming to the park every day, I feel really at home and proud to be a part of this team and this university. Things like that are going to feed us off into a good start this year and hopefully throughout the year. I've got really good feelings about this year. This is probably the most talented team I've been a part of at Tennessee. Our depth is just tremendous and everywhere on the field is a strong point. In our lineup, we'll have two or three guys sitting on the bench that could step in and do just as well starting. Our pitching staff is going to be led by Bryan Morgado and he's going to anchor down that Friday night job and get us off to a good start on the weekends. The biggest thing this year is that our pitching depth is much better. We've got so many arms, whether we need an inning, two innings or just an out. I really have good hopes for us."
Is this team ready to take the next step?
"Absolutely. We've had talent before; we just didn't know how to bring it all together. I think this is the year that we're going to be put back on the map. We have guys that are going to be the best at their position in the league. I really think this is going to be the year for us to step back out there and prove to everybody that we belong among the top 20 teams in the nation and I think we're going to do that."
Are you ready for the season to begin?
"I'm really anxious. All day Friday, I'll probably be going 100 miles an hour. We're talking about it every day at practice, but we have to realize that it's just one of our 56 games in the regular season. You bring energy and concentration. In that first game, there's a lot of emotion going on but we just have to keep that drive throughout the season.
Did finishing strong last year give the team confidence heading into the 2010 season?
"We finished really strong last year, sweeping Vanderbilt. That was the best we played as a team last year, everybody was coming together. Hopefully, we can start off like we finished. I think everybody is coming together as a team. We feed off each other and as a team, you have to do that. One day you'll have two or three heroes and the next day they are completely different players. It's a day-to-day thing in baseball and I think everybody's going to have their days to help this team get to where it wants to be."
JUNIOR FIRST BASEMAN Cody Hawn
Thoughts on the upcoming season
"We're definitely excited about getting ready to play. We've been counting it down since we got back from Christmas break. We've been doing a lot of stuff. We finally got out on the field and did some intrasquad stuff, things we haven't been able to do since we got back. We got to see some of the new guys hit and it felt good to be back out there. We definitely have a good squad. We have a lot of guys returning from last year's team, which put up some pretty good numbers. We're going to have a good mix of new kids who are going to come in and do a lot for us. They're really going to bring another dimension to what we have now."
What are your expectations for this team?
"There's no doubt in the world that we have the talent and I think this is one of the best groups we've had here at UT. It's all about putting it together. We have a bunch of good arms and we can run. This is one of the faster teams we've had. We're also going to hit the long ball a little bit too, which everybody likes. It's all about blending and making it happen. Once we get going, I think we're going to be fine."
Being from Knoxville, what does playing at Tennessee mean to you?
"It's huge. I've been a fan my entire life and I will be even when I leave this university. It's always going to be home to me. No matter if I'm here playing or watching younger guys several years down the road, I will always want to see UT do well and hopefully we can really turn it around and become one of the premier programs in the country, starting this year."
How difficult was it to not qualify for the SEC Tournament?
"It's tough, especially when you have a bunch of friends from other schools calling you from (the tournament site in) Hoover, Ala. I've played summer ball with a few guys from the SEC and become good friends with them and it stinks to hear them talk about playing in the postseason. It's something that I really want to experience--I've wanted to since I was little and I'm hoping that we're going to get the opportunity to do that this year."
How close are you with your former high school teammate and fellow preseason All-America selection Bryce Brentz?
"I talk to him weekly. He's one of my good friends and I guess I can claim him being from my area. What he's done is incredible. I heard the other day that he was rated the No. 1 position player in the country and it's unbelievable. Growing up with him, he had all the talent in the world and you could see it. He had everything you could ask for but he was still raw in high school. Now, he's put it all together and it's neat to see what he's doing. I wish him the best of luck, unless we're playing them. If he's going to have a hitless game, that'll be the day to do it. Besides that, I hope he tears it up and it's pretty neat to say that we've had two guys do as well as we have from our community."
Does receiving preseason accolades make you feel any additional pressure to succeed?
"I put a lot of pressure on myself last year and that's a reason why I struggled early. It was my dream to be here and I got the opportunity to do it and I put a lot of pressure on myself to make things happen. It really messed me up. I was trying to do too many things. I have a year of experience under my belt right now and it's really going to help a lot. I know what to expect. I've been through it before, so I don't really feel any different now."
Can your numbers be better this season?
"I hope so. It's hard to say. The SEC is a tough league with a lot of great talent and some days, you can have four great swings and it still doesn't go your way. I have the confidence that I can but we'll see how things work out."