Oct. 31, 2011
The University of Michigan baseball team recently wrapped up fall practice at the Wilpon Complex/Ray Fisher Stadium. We recently sat down with head coach Rich Maloney to talk about the fall, some new hires to the coaching staff and what to expect from the Wolverines in 2012.
Q: What are the key things you guys work on during fall ball?
A: One of the key things is getting the new guys acclimated to the team. Some years, you have a bigger class than others and this particular year we had a big class. Therefore, when you have that many new faces, you've got to fit them into the team concept that you have in your program. Part of it is team building, another thing is evaluating talent. You have to evaluate where you are at your positions as people are trying to win jobs. The more competition you have, the better chance you have at having a good team. I think it makes your team stronger when there are other players competing for positions than when it's a known fact. The fall is partly competition, it's partly team building with that camaraderie hopefully, evaluating and thinking in your mind as a coach, kind of placing people in your mind where they might be able to fit in to help your team win. So I think that's kind of all going through the fall practice. The fall also leads to going into your strength and condition phase when you're not with the players as much kind of honing in on certain things that can help each individual be better over the next two months that you basically have -- you're only with them for a short period of time. So you've really got to hone and think "What is this kid's need?" What can I do to help him and help our team the best by doing such-and-such. I think that's what the whole fall semester is about.
Q: How important is strength and conditioning in the fall season?
A: I think it's huge. You get into the playing season and you're more into a maintenance phase. From the time the boys have gotten here, we put aside time even within our practice time that they would begin lifting, especially since we had so many new guys. We wanted to build a good foundation so that when fall practice was complete -- meaning the 20 hour portion of it -- we would be able to move into more of a power phase of really hitting the weights hard and really gaining strength for a number of our players so we thought that was pretty significant with this ball club. I think strength and conditioning is vitally important to this program. When you play a lot of young guys a lot of times their bodies aren't as physically mature yet so the quicker that you can mature those bodies, the more bullets you can say you're giving into their arsenal. If they're not very strong, then physically they can be over-matched at this level. You don't want to be so physical that you're not flexible but you want to be as physical as you can be while remaining flexible.
Q: How did the freshmen handle their first fall?
A: I was very encouraged by several of our freshmen. In general, I think it's a very solid class. I think it's a group of guys that are taking care of business both in the classroom and on the playing field and I think their work ethic has been solid so that's been pleasing. When you have that many players--I think we had 14 something new players--that's significant. I think it's a good group. I think some of the guys who stood out to me were Dylan Delaney, the shortstop/second baseman from California. He hit the ball well, hit the ball hard all fall. He sometimes didn't get the result but boy, he showed some bat speed. He made all the routine plays and that's what we're looking for. He was very consistent which was encouraging. So I think Dylan stood out. I think Will Drake played really well. Will actually hit a pretty high average this fall and did what he needs to do to be successful, spray the ball around the field and run the bases. He played a decent outfield in the left using his speed which complements Patrick Biondi and Michael O'Neill very well out there. I thought James Bourque pitched well this fall and really opened our eyes to the potential and giving us some quality innings this year. We were encouraged by that. Hopefully he'll continue and get better and be able to make an impact. Mat Ogden from Colorado has an outstanding outpitch which was really nice to see so I thought he did a nice job. I thought Ryan Gallagher showed some signs and Kevin White from Virginia showed electric bat speed and strength so that was encouraging. And then for me, one of the real dark horses in the whole class was Zach Zott. This kid was going to go play football at Butler and really late in the process decided to become a recruited walk-on for us. He was starting to blossom and he really opened my eyes. So that was encouraging. Several of the freshmen showed well and we're encouraged by. The way Eric Jacobson can turn something something really quick--that's very, very encouraging. I think through all that, that's some of the names that kind of stood out for me this fall.
Q: Any veterans or position groups stand out in the fall?
A: I would say this: I thought John Lorenz came in the best shape of his career. He really came on a mission. I thought he played great defense and he started to swing the bat like he could. That was encouraging. I though Patrick Biondi was our leading hitter in the fall. I think his Cape experience really helped him and I think he's ready to go, which is awesome. I think Derek Dennis, the last two weeks when he was finally healthy, started to play very very well and that's very encouraging. I believe your stars have to play like stars. It's time for Derek to be the star he wants to be and we need him to be. It was encouraging to see him take some steps that were really favorable. We started seeing a more consistent approach at the plate that I hadn't seen before so I'm encouraged by that. I think Michael O'Neill is just an outstanding player. Those are some of the highlights for me in the fall as far as those veterans go. I think Brandon Sinnery just kind of took off from where he was last year. He looks pretty good right now. Bobby Brosnahan seems to have recovered from last season really well and now in the fall looked pretty impressive. Alex Lakatos started to come out...we're putting him more as a pitcher to really let him develop and, man, if he can raise the consistency level he could be outstanding. We're still waiting on some of our injured guys that are rehabbing still from last year so that's just a process, part of the journey. But we expect to have those guys back. So, overall, I just felt like it was a pretty solid fall and the guys are really excited, the team is really working together and holding each other accountable to high standards and I think the guys really want to get back in the thick of things. They're determined to redeem themselves.
Q: Steve Merriman had his first fall as the team's pitching coach. How do you think the staff responded to him?
A: I think the staff adjusted very well to Steve. Steve's a no-nonsense guy, he doesn't pull any punches. He's a get-after-it kind of guy. I think he did a great job in the fall and I think the guys responded well to him. This fall was a joy having him here and the job that he's done, it's refreshing. I'm really glad that Stevie is here and he's going to make a major contribution on this team.
Q: Jeff Kunkel also helped out as the volunteer coach in the fall. Talk about Jeff's experience and what he brought to the staff.
A: Jeff was a great, great player and a great leader here. He pulled that 2006 team, it was really his team, and he led us to the first championship that I had since I've been here. That was pretty special to be able to have Jeff help us out in the fall was outstanding. The catchers just loved him. He pushed them, he's tough. But he knows what it takes to win at that position. Those guys got a learning session with a guy who really knows what he's doing. Jeff's a special one. He did a great, great job for us in the fall and I think the catchers surely benefited from him.
Q: What will you guys work on from now until the start of team practice in January?
A: We're really going to be hitting the weights hard, conditioning and trying to get faster, stronger and more flexible. The pitchers are doing a long-toss program that Coach Merriman has implemented which, after the holidays, we should reap the benefit. They're honing in on specifics, in the little bit of time they have left there outside of their throwing programs, paying attention to certain things that happen during the game that the pitchers are going to have to be successful at for the team to be successful. So that's what they have going. A lot of our guys are hitting. We're watching video of them hitting and trying to become better hitters. This is a time of preparing your mind for what's ahead. This is the one time in the season when you have more time on your hands than normal. Because once you get after January, that's full-throttle ahead for the next four or five months. It's non-stop, pretty much seven days a week. You had better be ready for the grind. I think the training we're doing now is going to pay dividends later.