Talking Baseball With Brian Cleary

Casey Weldon sat down and talked indepth with University of Cincinnati Baseball head coach Brian Cleary about his program and many of the newest Bearcats that will take the field in the spring of 2007. This is Part One of Two.

Coach Cleary, could you possibly open with a few remarks about last season?

 

Overall, I was really pleased with our performance.  We had some ups and downs last season, we saw some guys have some stretches where they really struggled and other times where guys seemed to carry us, but overall I was really pleased with how we played.  I think our guys played hard all year and never gave up, even when things were going tough.  I think a lot of that had to be credited to with our newcomers, but mostly to our seniors. Logan Parker, Jack Nelson, Jon DeLuca, Mark Muscenti and LaFringe Hayes, I think it was those guys that did so much for this program last year and during their tenure at the University of Cincinnati.  They helped to make this team better by constantly trying to make themselves better, and I think that has helped us in the Big East.  Along with our first-class playing facilities and a renewed commitment to baseball by the University, the kids making up the program have really helped to elevate Cincinnati baseball.

 

 

You alluded to the production of your freshman class and the new faces at UC, how much has that helped lift a program with a lot of holes last season.  Can you just talk about their role with the team last year and what they showed you last year?

 

Well, we knew we had a lot of talent last year.  We knew that in the field and on the mound, freshmen were going to have to play a large role for us.  You can never really predict anything from baseball players before the season, it is such a streaky game.  Even the best players are prone to having an off week, month or even an entire season.  Streaks and rhythm are apart of the game.  That unpredictability is magnified when it comes to freshmen - and transfers, too.  We thought that [Adam] Yeager and [Josh] Harrison were really athletic kids that could really play defense, and those skill sets are generally translate easier. However, we didn't know what to expect at all at the plate.  We certainly did not expect Josh to be maybe our second-best hitter all season, and Yeager really showed us a lot with his bunting ability and how he really caught fire after some early struggles - particularly against lefties.  And, of course, you cannot speak enough to the job that [Steve] Blevins did on the mound, and to a lesser degree Dan Osterbrock.  They really were the aces of our staff, especially down the stretch.  They really seemed to give us a quality start every game. That is almost impossible to get from a senior, let alone a pair of teenagers.  

 

And, then, you cannot forget the transfers.  We expected those guys to come in and be leaders and major contributors, even though in a lot of ways they were freshmen in their own right.  Kyle Rapp was our horse early-on until he met some injury troubles and Nick Maragas was a rock behind the plate.  He really handled the staff well and gave us some offensive production, too.   I just cannot say enough about that class and how well they performed individually and how important they were to us having as much success as we did when a lot of people were not expecting a whole lot.

 

While you'll have those guys at least for next year and probably beyond that, you did lose a lot of guys.  Can you talk a little about their collective loss and what that does to your program?

 

I think the biggest thing about those guys is the leadership they brought to the field everyday, and their work ethic.  Sure, we will miss Parker and Muscenti's clutch hitting, the defense of DeLuca and Hayes, and Nelson to closeout the game.  However, I think that finding guys to step up and take control of this team next season is going to be the biggest hole that we need to fill.  I think that we have some guys that can do the job of leading - either in the locker room or by example - but it will be the willingness of those guys to accept the role that will tell us a lot.  I think we will find out a lot about how is likely to fill those roles during the off-season.

 

It seems like the leadership will work its way out as the season progresses.  And I assume it will be some of the veterans that inherit those leadership duties.  But, I think a lot of our readers have a lot of questions regarding the "new guys".  Could you talk a little bit about your incoming class?  Could you begin with some comments about your most resent recruiting class overall?

 

I am really happy with our class overall; we have a lot of talent coming in.  However, I think if you ask any college coach about his incoming recruiting class, I think you would get a similar answer.  If not, they are probably in store for a long season. I do think our class is a little larger than normal, and maybe a little bigger than what is ideal.  It is one of the biggest that I have had in my tenure. We currently have 33 guys and were looking to add maybe one or two more - but it doesn't look like we will now.  However, I think after last season we really had no other choice.  Last season we were really hurt by our depth at times.  Because of some of the options we had on the bench [because of injuries and the talent level], we were forced to play guys that were slumping or maybe a little beaten up.  Ideally we would have liked to give some of our guys a rest to get healthy or to clear their head but we just had nowhere to turn.  So, I think that the collection of guys that we have, even though not ideal in size, offer us a lot of options that we didn't have last season.  Also, as I said earlier, you never know what to expect from freshmen. 

 

Despite the uncertainty, what we were looking for was athleticism to add to our position players and depth for our pitching staff.  I think we got both of those, especially from our position players.  We added some speed and some overall good athletes. Even the guys that aren't the fastest guys in the world are very agile and posse's great bat speed.  The goal was to land guys that could get to second base on their own.  Either by stealing bases or hitting a double, they have to be able to get into scoring position on their own..  In terms of our staff, I think we had some versatile arms that should help us get from the middle of the week to the weekend.

 

Now that you talked a little bit about the incoming class overall, I would like you to get a little more specific about the newcomers.  The largest part of your 13-person class is made up of transfers and JUCO kids.  Could you talk a little bit about bringing in that type of kid and what you expect from them?

 

In my opinion you have to be really careful with transfers and kids you are brining in from JUCO.  I've always looked at these types of players as kids you need to come in and play right away.  We generally only make offers to kids that we think are going to play right a way.  I mean, if you are going to bring someone in to ride the bench you might as well have a kid that will be at your school for four years and you can see him develop over time. There are some situations that are different that would cause me to go away from the philosophy, like where you need depth or a kid that wants to come home after spending a year at another school, but generally that is the rule I live by.  Their job is to come in and fill a void for us that we don't feel can be met by any of our freshmen, at least in the short term.  We want guys that will come in and fight for the job.  Those guys are a little older and generally want the chance to prove themselves.  Freshmen may come in and be a bit more resigned because of how overwhelming the college experience can be.  JUCO kids or kids from other school have been there and done that, so it is generally an easier transition for them.

 

While transfers are obviously a major part of the modern college game and a lot of schools have seem to fall in love with them, there appears to be some potential negatives that can come along with them.  For instance, they may have a "hired gun" mentality.  How do you get guys that can come in for a year or two to buy in to the UC system and maybe not play for themselves, maybe even cause a disruption if they don't get the playing time they thought they would right away?

 

While, that's a good point.  However, like I said, we generally have a pretty good idea when we bring a transfer or a JUCO in that they are going to play for us right away.  In terms of the "play for themselves" mentality that you bring up, I don't really think it is that big a deal.  For instance, when we brought in a coveted guy like Logan Parker, who could have gone to any school but ended up at UC after some red-tape issues, you see that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.  What is good for Logan or any other kid is also for us.  Their personal success helps us as a team.  We want guys that will be good club house guys, guys that will be positive assets to the program.  So, when we bring in these new guys to fill gaps we want to make sure that there is no tension because they are going to maybe take playing time away from somebody that was already here.  Anyone, transfer, JUCO, freshman, or veteran, if you aren't committed to us and what we are trying to do, then we are going to pass on you and don't want you as a part of this program.  In the end, the guys that are here want what is best for UC baseball.   I think we landed that in our two JUCO kids coming in.  Both Ryan Baker and Spencer Goruk are great leaders on and off the field, as are three of our older transfers in Michael Baird, Michael Obyc and Billy Welsh (both juniors).  We also have two younger transfers, a pair of sophomores that really fit our program well.


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