The University of Louisville baseball team begins fall ball on Monday. It's first of six weeks of team practices and scrimmages for the Cardinals.
"We’ve had a couple of weeks of great individual instruction since the start of the semester, so it’ll be fun to get the full squad on the field and start fall ball," said Cardinals’ head coach Dan McDonnell. "We have a lot to accomplish this fall as we work towards our goal of winning a national championship."
As U of L begins it's quest for a third consecutive trip to Omaha, Cardinal Authority visited with McDonnell for a report on his team.
We'll continue to provide updates on player and team progress, along features on the new coaches and roster additions.
Following a second trip to the College World Series, 21 members of the Cardinals roster were assigned to play in summer wooden bat leagues. Additionally, pitcher Kyle Funkhouser spent a few weeks with the USA Collegiate National Team.
The Cardinals ranked third overall with eight players assigned to the prestigious Cape Cod League trailing only LSU (10) and Arizona (nine).
A few highlights include Logan Taylor's team-best .425 average with 21 home runs for High Point-Thomasville in the Coastal Plain League and Blake Tiberi's All-Star performance for the Vermont Mountaineers in the New England League, hitting .372 in 38 games.
In six appearances with Team USA, righty Kyle Funkhouser led the staff with 36 strikeouts. He was 1-2 with a 1.27 ERA (four earned runs in 28.1 innings) during his time with the USA Collegiate National Team.
Cardinal Authority: The guys have been back on campus for awhile now, are you pleased at how they did during their time in the summer leagues?
Dan McDonnell: You're never going to get all 21 to play like all-stars, but we had our share. A couple of award winners and a couple of championships. I was most proud because I got good reports from all their coaches on their effort, their attitude and what type of teammates they were. They know the goal that when they go off on the summer what it is they are trying to accomplish. Yes, they are trying to become better individually, but they know that they need to leave their mark as a Louisville baseball player and the expectations we have for them. Overall, I was really pleased with the summer.
CA: Blake Tiberi, an infielder from Taylor Mill (Ky.) Holy Cross, spent last season as a redshirt and then has one of the most impressive summers of the group, earning Newcomer of the Year honors. How much can that translate into success for the coming season?
McDonnell: Blake was one of those situations where he was good enough to play, but you just feel like you don't want to lose a year of eligibility for limited at bats, or limited innings. Sometimes the advantage of redshirting, and we don't get to do it with many guys because of our roster limitations, but the player or two who gets to redshirt really gets to focus on the weight room and getting stronger. They go into the summer with a lot of motivation because they are so hungry to play. We made the right decision with Blake and he's got a legitimate chance to win a starting job next year.
CA: Who else stood out during the summer?
McDonnell: Logan Taylor hit almost .400 in the Coastal Plains League. Solak and Lyman also had very good summers playing on the same team that Tiberi was on. Will Smith won a championship in the New England League, he was one of the catchers for Newport.
Our seven guys that went to the Cape all competed and that's a league where you just have to compete, handle the grind and handle getting beat up once and awhile. Those that were young enough all got invited back on their teams, which is what we are looking for, and those that are older will hopefully be ready to be drafted.
The Cardinals began individual workouts with the coaching staff two weeks ago in preparation for the start of fall ball. As the team takes the field, beginning on Monday, for team practice and scrimmages, there will be starting positions up for grabs.
CA: Did you like how the guys reported for the start of individual workouts?
McDonnell: Effort was really good the first day, but production wasn't as good the next day. That's our job though. Teaching these guys how to win each day and how to go about it. We'll go over the good and bad, the do's and don'ts and that is part of it. In one sense you have to have patience, but in another sense you have to demand a lot from these kids. You have to push them and challenge them to get them ready because there are only two weeks until team practice and scrimmages. As they know, there is competition, guys are competing to win a job.
Since his arrival at U of L, McDonnell has stressed the importance of his players finding success not only on the diamond, but equally in the classroom and they have responded.
A few days following the start of individual workouts, the coaching staff conducted an academic draft, creating multiple teams from the Cardinals roster to create a competitive and supportive environment for academic success.
CA: Your teams have achieved success on and off the field. What is the purpose of the academic draft?
McDonnell:We take great pride in doing well in the classroom. The last two years in Omaha we won the highest GPA award, so I was really proud of our teams.
What we do, with our four assistant coaches, they draft the team and they are responsible for that team's progress. It keeps the coaches involved, the kids have fun with the competition and we have a little celebration at the end of the semester with a dinner at Beef O'Bradys. We do some cool things with them just to remind the kids that the most important thing is that you are going to get a degree from the University of Louisville.
We are going to succeed in the classroom because I believe it sets your tone for succeeding in life. It's not necessarily how smart you are, but if you take your school work seriously, do you respect the professors and do everything they ask you to do like the coaches do ask you. Those kids who do that end up being successful in life, so it's important to us.
CA: How about the freshman class?
McDonnell: We had our freshmen in this summer in July for the third summer session. That's been a huge bonus for our program. Get the kids in during the summer, like they do in football and other sports, get them in the weight room and get them familiar with campus. Very productive summer for them.
The culture is there and they seem to blend in. Last years freshman class, I was so high on them because they blended in so well with the older guys. This group seems to have that same routine going on right now.
CA: With the departure of so many upperclassmen, there will be need a new for some leadership to step this season. Do you like what you've seen from the group of veterans so far?
McDonnell: That's our job as coaches. I think sometimes we expect leadership to just fall of a tree, but I've learned as a coach that it's our job to pick the right guys to be leaders and help teach them, motivate them and help cultivate them into becoming great leaders.
I spoke to those guys in the summer and I've spoke to them in the dugout recently. My four oldest hitters – Sutton Whiting, Zach Lucas, Mike White and Danny Rosenbaum. I pulled those four hitters in the dugout and put the burden on them. Those four guys will set the tone. It's our job as coaches to challenge those leaders to set the tone. With our pitching staff I feel great with Kidston, Alphin, Rogers, who stepped up last year, and of course Funkhouser, who had a monster year in the Cape.