All around the University of Cincinnati there is evidence of the great change and the "progress" this institute of higher education has undergone in an effort to solidify its position as one of the finest all-around institutions this country has to offer. Nowhere is that more evident then the Athletic Department. A new University President and Athletic Director are helping to break ground on new training/playing facilities and offices for most of the athletic programs, and, to top it off, a rebirth in one of the nation's premier athletic conferences the Big East.
However, with great change often come a great number of questions. In the case of the Cincinnati baseball program that is exactly the case. Losing several key members of last years squad to graduation such as frontline starter Brad Maynard (and in the case of Josh Kay and Mark Haske to the Major League Draft), and having to learn the ropes and the playing style of the Big East playing style/players will hinder the success of this year's squad. However, possibly the most daunting obstacles for the Bearcats will be the unexpected season-long loss of two key UC bats, the insertion of unproven youth into the Bearcat lineup, and three new starting pitchers, as well as a new arm(s) at the end of the contest will help make this as enigmatic a season as possible for the Bearcats.
With the utter chaos and disarray that seemingly faces the program from the bottom up, UC is lucky to have a lynchpin of continuity, familiarity and security at the top of their up-and-coming program. Head Coach Brian Cleary, who became UC's second all-time winningest coach last season, will lead the Bearcats into the fray of their first Big East season during
Here is part 1 of a three-part interview with Coach Cleary about the 2006 Bearcat Baseball team.
On the Mound
Coach, could you talk a little bit about your pitching staff this year? You guys obviously will be dealing with the loss of a lot at both the start and close of games, losing guys like Maynard and Kay. How do you try to get around those losses, and what will your pitching staff look like this season?
Pitching is where we are really going to have to look for answers this season. We have some guys returning, but we are going to have three new starting pitchers on the mound and a new closer, so we are going to have to have guys step up for us this season and do some things they maybe weren't asked to do last season. Blevins, Kyle Rapp and Glen Simon will be our three starting pitchers to open the season (started the first three games against #1 ranked Florida). In the bullpen we are going to have Sean Munninghoff make the switch to the bullpen for us. We have a lot of youth and a lot of uncertainty toeing the rubber for us this season, but these guys are all very talented and we expect them to do the job for us this year.
Coach, could you talk a little bit about Kyle Rapp. Do you see him as primarily working on the mound, or do you see him getting some time in the outfield as well?
Kyle is going to primarily be used on the mound. As of right now, he is our number two starter. Kyle can certainly swing the bat, and we are a little short in terms of depth right now, so he could very well see some time in right field for us and get the chance to swing the bat a little bit for us. However, being a pitcher, it is important that we monitor his arm and don't end up hindering his success on the mound by playing him too much in the field.
Rapp played at a "smaller college" the last couple of years before coming to UC. How much do you think that experience will help him in his transition to major college baseball?
While you certainly can't call him, or any of our other JUCO or smaller college transfers, freshman, as they've played a couple years of college baseball, or all intents and purposes they are. Division I baseball is a "whole new ballgame then what Rapp and the rest of the guys are used to. While it will certainly help that he has had experience pitching and playing against pretty good players, it still isn't the same thing as playing in the Big East.
Glen Simon seemed to have a lot of success before suffering his injury at Florida State, and then sort of was lost in the shuffle when he returned. How healthy is he right now? Is he 100% back?
For the first time in a couple of years Glen is completely healthy. It is going to take some time for him to get back to the pitching form that made him so successful a couple years ago, but in terms of being physically healthy, he is back.
If he is able to stay healthy and get back to the form he showed at FSU how much of an enigma or maybe a "hidden gem" could he be for your team?
Certainly, when Glen is healthy he is very talented player. He has a strong arm and he knows how to pitch. The biggest challenge with Glen is going to be how we recovers from all the time he has had off. He has not really pitched a whole lot the last couple of years, so he has a lot of rust that he has to shake off. Seeing him pitch at the early part of this season he really lacked any control on the mound, and that has really been his biggest hindrance in coming all the way back. He really lacked a true consistency and control of the ball at times when he was on the mound. However, as we started practice a few weeks ago he started to get some of that control back, and he really started to throw the ball pretty well. We expect a lot from Glen this season. We see him as playing a big role for us this year as one of our starters, and we really need him to fill that role guys like Maynard.
As with any pitching staff, it is important that they have someone they trust in behind the plate. You guys have been really hurt with the loss of Jim Olds to graduation, and then Dustin Alvey and …to injury. How does your catching situation look this year?
Obviously, we went from a pretty good catching situation behind the plate with Maragas, Dustin Alvey and " " to pretty much a paper-thin or fragile situation behind the plate. We had two injuries this off-season, both look to be season-ending, and they are to two of our catchers. You can't prepare fo that and you really cant expect anything like that to happen it just does. Nick Maragas will be our starting catcher. He is our only "true" catcher that we have right now. He was a very highly rated kid coming out of Junior College, that is how we heard of him and why he at UC right now. Josh Harrison (freshman right fielder/utility man) is our back-up right now – and he's never played the position before, but he's working hard and doing what he can to help the team.
Olds was a very good offensive catcher for you guys last season, but he struggled at times defensively. What is your impression of the defensive ability of this year's group?
Nick will do a solid job for us defensively. We struggled at times throwing out base runners last season, and we should do a better job in that department this season. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws, and he seems very comfortable behind the plate. We are going to ask a lot of Nick behind the plate, and he knows that. Obviously, he is not going to be physically able to play every inning of every game for us this season, so Josh is going to have to play some back there. Luckily, I think we only have one scheduled double-header, so that will not come into play much, but Josh is going to have to play some – and he knows that.
You obviously cannot judge his overall ability behind the plate based on practice alone, but how would you say Harrison has looked wearing the gear right now? Would you say he is an "adequate" backstop right now?
I mean, he can make the throw to second and he can catch the ball, but as you said you can't really get a feel for how good he is going to be right now. Will he be solid behind the plate over time, he very well could be. He has never played the position before and we are asking a lot of him, but he is a very talented kid and he wants to win.
Are you at all afraid that you have a completely new starting rotation and a new set of catchers that maybe there will not be a cohesion or comfort level between one another yet?
I don't really think that will be an issue. We didn't get the chance to play an exhibition games and we didn't get a chance to practice for all that long, but Nick had the opportunity to catch every pitcher we had. He may not know the ins and outs of every pitcher, but I think he is comfortable enough with them that there shoudn't be an issue with "knowing" the pitcher or them feeling comfortable with him.
The pitches are signaled in from the dugout in college baseball, so catchers maybe don't need to worry about pitch-calling responsibilities, but how important is the relationship between a pitcher-catcher in college baseball? How important is there to be a cinergy between the battery?
I mean, it is important that there is a certain comfort level between a pitcher and a catcher, but I don't think our guys will be lacking in that department. We are really limited on much work we can do as a team in the off-season because of the limitations the NCAA places on us and also the weather, but I think we'll be fine. In actuality, I think we are as prepared, not just as far as pitchers and catchers go, but as an entire team coming into the season. The new baseball facility gives us the opportunity to do a little bit of stuff off the field, and when you mix that with the weather that we've had this winter we've really had the opportunity to do a lot things –not as many things as I would ideally for—that we hoped to accomplish before the start of the season. So, we'll be fine in that department.
Look for In the Field and The Changing Face of College Baseball at UC (and Nationally) in coming days only at BearcatInsider.com