"Yes, you should be thrilled about him. I know I am. He's also a catcher who has a great bat. And he's also got tremendous arm strength, which everybody knew, including professional scouts who saw him last year."
While he throws hard, he's fairly raw as a pitcher. His delivery shows that because it looks a little bit violent.
"We've done nothing with his delivery. We've been slow to get into that realm. But what we have done is change his fastball grip to a four-seam grip. And he's really picked up some immediate command on it. We also made an adjustment on his breaking ball as well. His first two times out have been a pleasant surprise."
Do you project him to be a closer type reliever?
"That's how he has been trained. He hasn't been trained for 70 pitches. We have, basically, used him once a week, one inning (per outing) during the fall and have done the same thing in the spring. So, I think he's a three to six out kind of pitcher. And usually that's when you see the higher velocities."
Another freshman that I have been impressed with is Evan Mitchell. He not only throws hard but he has a great pickoff move and is fundamentally sound.
"Evan is in that athletic category. He played high school basketball at Wheeler in Georgia and he played shortstop for them as well. Whenever you have an athlete on the mound, they are going to cover a lot of ground and get to backups. And his feet are so quick. You can see that with his picks to first base. All of that lends to him being ahead in the maturity factor. And Evan was also at the top of our pitching staff for percentage of strikes; he threw something like 64%."
Do you project him as a starter?
"Yes, I think so. But when you train a pitcher as a reliever, then try to start him, he's not going to be ready for that type pitch count. But when you train somebody as a starter and get them up to that 50, 60 pitches before the season starts, then decide they are a reliever, that's an easier transition. That will give us flexibility to use Evan where he will be the best for us."
Another freshman pitcher who has looked impressive in short stints is C.T. Bradford. Are you also looking at him as more of a short reliever?
"Yes, I think so. Watching him play baseball over the course of the last year and a half, I'm comfortable with his maturity level. I'm comfortable with C.T. going out there and going right at the opponent. When he fails I'm ok with that because I know his heart is in the right place. He has shown that he has no fear. He's just got that winning attitude. And I think that it makes everybody else around him feel better. I think our guys think we are in good shape when he goes to the mound. I have a lot of confidence in C.T. heading into the year."
I've also been impressed with freshman Victor Diaz. He had one of his best outings his last appearance.
"You probably noticed that we brought him in in a situation where he had two men on base. And he went right after a couple of strikeouts. We've been doing something that we call pattern one and pattern two where we are coming right at guys, then there are times where we want them to pitch a little bit. We've brought him in one of those situations where he had to pitch a little bit. His team was down three toward the back end of the ballgame with two innings to play and we didn't want to give up any more runs. And he really did a good job of being close enough to the zone and attacking it enough.
"Victor has shown real improvement through January from what he did in the fall. He looks more aggressive now. I think his ball has more spin, life and finish on it. He's a guy who is really coming on. He's in a good place."
I like Taylor Stark's velocity. He's another freshman that has caught my eye.
"He came out and threw 90 to 92 a little bit with a couple of hitters after not pitching for a week. Sometimes, a dual -position guy doesn't get the mound time that a pitcher-only gets. He came out and threw hard but threw pitches up in the zone. When he didn't make an adjustment, we went out and talked to him and he pitched himself out of that. Taylor just needs some mound time. He reminds me a little bit of a young Ben Bracewell. His live fastball and slider reminds me a little bit of Bracewell from last year."