Talking Baseball With Brian Cleary Part 2

Part two of Casey Weldon's sit down talk with University of Cincinnati baseball head coach Brian Cleary. Casey and Coach Cleary look at the new players and the direction of the team next season with so many new faces.

Could you talk a little bit about your six-person freshmen class. 

 

Sure.  I think that our freshmen are really talented kids.  They are also committed to being quality players and part of the University of Cincinnati baseball team - and that is a really important thing.  We wanted young men that wanted to come here and fit in to our baseball philosophy and the rich history of our program.  I think that is one of the major characteristics that you want in a kid when you decide to offer him a scholarship.  You want a kid with the right mindset. 

 

 

Could you talk a little about some of the difficulties of recruiting high school kids?

 

Again, there is so little you can predict about a player.  There are kids that are going to be stars that you never would have expected to even play for you, and then other kids that just will not match their potential the way some had predicted.   Judging how high school talent will transfer to the college is (in some ways) even more difficult to discern then the move from college to the professional game.  Kids are still looking to develop a position and really find a niche.  The best player on a high school team will play pitch, hit clean-up and play shortstop.  At the college game that kid could be hitting eighth and playing left field.  There is just so much of an unknown about all of these kids I cannot really tell you what to expect. There is just so much unknown surrounding the recruiting, that is why the best programs all recruit well.

 

Now that you have talked about the class as a whole, could you talk a little bit about your general recruiting philosophy?

 

In today's game we look for kids with athleticism and bat speed. Those two skills seem to tell you a lot about a player and what they could become.  Obviously you need speed and athleticism in today's game. The days of 40 homeruns and pure slugfest baseball are gone.  Today you need guys that can steal bases and play defense, especially at a ballpark like we have.  The field is huge and the field turf plays fast, so we need guys that can run down balls in the outfield and that have range.  Even if guys aren't great hitters, solid defense and chasing down balls in the gap the way LaFringe did for us the past two seasons can save a team a run or two per game.  You also have to look for guys that can utilize that speed on the base paths.  Speed isn't only for stealing bases, it is about putting pressure on the other team. With bunts, hits to the gap, or stealing a base, we need guys that can get into scoring position on their own.  If a kid doesn't have athleticism he needs great bat speed.  If you can find a kid with good bat speed then you are set.  You can have the most muscle-bound kid in the world, but if he has a slow bat he isn't going to hit consistently for power.  Like speed, you can develop around bat speed. 

 

Aside from that, you need a kid with the right mindset. As I said earlier, guys need to feel attached to the UC program and have to want to be winners.  We look for kids that are mentally tough and that don't want to come here and sit on the bench for four years.  Guys that have a competitive fire but don't let that get in the way of fitting into a team concept are the ideal future Bearcats.  We are looking for the best fit for our team, not necessarily the best player available.  If the best player out there is not a player that we need or doesn't fit into the UC style, we cannot drop what we are doing in order to find a place for him.  If a kid doesn't fit what we are doing then he won't "fit" in our program.

 

How do things like region and scholarship limitations affect your efforts as a recruiter?

 

Those are obviously two of the major issues that affect every program.  In fact, given UC's situation I think they are pretty much intertwined.  Baseball is a different sport than football or basketball.  We do not give every person on our team a full scholarship.  They have placed a cap on the number of scholarships schools can give, which has had a drastic impact on the game.  There is an obvious parody developing in the sport, you can see it every year at the College World Series.  Now, teams are limited to 11.7 scholarships.  I thank UC for deciding to utilize the amount allowed, it shows the commitment they have to the program.  However, what that cap means is we have under 12 scholarships to pool between 33 players.  That means that you are going to have most players receiving about a 1/3 of a scholarship, with some getting more than that and others not any at all.  That really plays a lot into how UC has to recruit, and I think it really affected our performance in Conference USA.  Cincinnati is really expensive in terms of out-of-state tuition.  We were recruiting against top-Southern schools like Southern Miss that have much lower prices than UC does.  It is hard to convince some kids that they should come to a school when they are going to have to pay a lot of money out of pocket.  Now, playing in the Big East, we are dealing with similar schools that face similar cost issues.  If anything, UC is one of the least expensive schools in the conference.  We are now recruiting a different type of athlete then we ever have before.  Kids are coming to UC for visits that never would have before. 

 

Is that cost still effecting how you recruit?

 

I think that is pretty evident, given the fact that 21 of our 33 players come from Ohio. In-state tuition prices have had a major impact on how we recruit.  Ohio has always been a great place for baseball.  Ohio has some obvious weather-based difficulties so kids don't get to play all year round, but it has always been a great place for talent.  On top of that, I think we have done a great job of recruiting the area over the past few years.  I will tell you that there is not a player in this region of the country that we have not seen. 

 

I know talking to some UC fans that there are some questions as to why the Bearcats have not recruited the Cincinnati area stronger. Why aren't there more Queen City kids on the roster?

 

I don't really think that criticism is fair.   First of all, we aren't just looking to field a roster with kids from Cincinnati.  We want to make this a great program with recruiting ties all over so we want to add the player that makes UC better, no matter where they come from.  In addition to that, a lot of guys that are going away to school either want to get away from home or some are looking to go South to play baseball.  And then, finally, I don't really think Cincinnati has had that many top-Division I recruits the past few years. Traditionally, Cincinnati has always been a great place to find talent.  There are a lot of good players in the region but I don't believe that a lot of major college programs have found a lot of D-I talent over the last couple years. So, to answer that criticism, I think that for many reasons there just hasn't been that great a pool of players to pick from.

 

Before I thank you for your time, I was wondering if you could give me a couple comments about your feelings regarding the state of the team?  I know it is very early, but how do you feel your team is shaping up, based on the talent you brought in and the pieces you have from last year coming back?

 

We return a lot of guys who are very capable ball players with a lot of talent - and experience.  Parker and our seniors are going to be difficult to replace in and out of the lineup, but I think that guys like Brian Szarmach and some of our younger players are ready to step up their games.  I think we are going to be a team that relies very heavily on pitching and our team speed and defense. It is funny how things change, though.  Not too long ago we were a team that was very slow of foot and needed to hit homeruns and now we are pretty much the exact opposite. While those guys are young, they are hungry to prove that they can do it when they are expected to.  The funny thing about baseball is that nothing is guaranteed. Past success doesn't mean you are going to have success in the future, and visa versa...but I think we have it in us to do it again and improve.  I don't know if that improvement will translate in the standings but I think we will definitely have a great season. Because there are so many unknowns surrounding this team there is going to be a lot of competition.  That can do nothing but help us.  Competition is good and the best players are going to play.

 

I know I told you "last question" but I have one more.  Is Kyle Rapp coming back? There were rumors surfacing that he wasn't happy about last year and was looking to leave.

 

Well, that is news to me.  I talked to Kyle not too long ago and the topic of him leaving never came up.  He was a bit disappointed at his performance last season but that was largely due to injuries.  I know he wanted to play the outfield a little more and get a chance to swing the bat but because of the makeup of our team we needed him on the mound and really couldn't get him the at-bats he desired.  We didn't want to risk injuring him further by playing him in the field and he could never pass Jack for playing time at DH.  Kyle understands that and he is ready to come back to have a great senior season for us.


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