Baseball Media Day Interviews

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Inside Carolina's coverage of Tuesday's UNC Baseball Media Day includes interviews with Mike Fox, Ben Bunting, Levi Michael and Patrick Johnson.

MIKE FOX
(10:49)

Sounds like pitching and defense is the mantra again for the Diamond Heels this season?
"Good, is that what you heard from everybody else? [Laughs] Good, they were listening! Or that was what they were told to say. You must have talked to nothing but the pitchers. That is always the staple - all you have to do is to look at the teams that are playing at the end of the year. They are always up there in pitching and are great defensive teams. Certainly that has to be the case with us. The new bats are going to be a factor in everyone's offense this year. So I think that is going to be what I am most interested to see is certainly how we pitch and can we play defense at a high level to give us a chance to win. I think that runs will be at a premium especially when the other team runs a really good arm out there."

Will the depth of the pitching staff make up for the lack of a definite ace on the staff?
"We certainly hope so. I think what it does is it gives you a lot more options and a mixture. It will make sure if nothing else that you will run a fresh guy out there every time that you need to put him on the mound. Not someone that is tired, not somebody who threw 50 pitches two days ago and tells you that he is ready to go but physically he is not. So we like the fact that we have a good mixture. We have some lefties but we have some different types of lefties. We have a power lefty and a funky lefty; we have this and we have that. I think our staff is really, really hungry because they don't know who is going to pitch opening day - somewhat by design, but somewhat the fact that we don't know either. I kind like that and we have some guys battling for innings and we do have some depth. That depth could shrink now because we do not know if some of these guys have what we call ‘white line fever' - they look good in practice but when the game is on the line how will they go and perform - but so far we have been pretty pleased with our pitching."

... So you don't have the weekend rotation set up so far?
"Not in order. Obviously in Los Angeles we are playing four so four guys will get a start. We have a pretty good idea who those four are but we don't know yet what order they are going. Patrick Johnson, Michael Morin, Chris Munnelly and Kent Emanuel - those are our four guys that we are looking at as we start one of those four games."

How important is Levi Michael to this team this season?
"The biggest thing about Levi is can he be consistent playing short - that is going to be the biggest key. Because he is going to hit and he has got talent if we can protect him a little bit and he does not try to do too much and take his walks. If our guys will understand about the bats and themselves and just stay within themselves the biggest question is that. He is so athletic - he made a play yesterday during a scrimmage that was one of the best plays that I have seen in my 13 years. He went into the hole and threw a guy out and I almost dropped my clipboard. It is those kind of plays but he has to make the steady plays - he has to be Steady Eddie a lot like Ryan Graepel was. Not being flashy but just getting the guy out."

How important will be utilizing the speed on the roster this season?
"We have emphasized a lot of our baserunning, advancing on a ball in the dirt and going from first to third. We lost some speed and if Sean Coyle had made it to school - he is a 6.4, 6.5 runner. If, if, if - I shouldn't say that. But when you look at the speed on our team at the bottom of the order we may not have any, at the top of our order we may have some. That will be a real key. It is not so much in stealing bases but speed a lot of time shows up in playing defense. We want athletes on the field to make plays. We are not going to steal 100 bags I don't think. We might surpass last year but pitchers have gotten so good and umpires don't call balks anymore so it is hard to run like we used to."

Looks like it will be anther walk in the park in the ACC this year?
"Piece of cake. Obviously those are the 30 most important games no matter what you say about the other non-conference games you play. Those 30 games can put you where you want to be or put you not where you want to be. Our league is good once again with some really good players coming back and obviously our division is always really good. We have to go on the road to play at two of the tough places that we always have difficulty - at Georgia Tech and at Florida State. We have to find a way to play well down there and you have to take care of business at home and we did not do that last year. We did not make the ACC Tournament last year because we got swept twice. You cannot get swept in this league. We don't get swept in one of those series and we are in."

BEN BUNTING

What is it like getting your senior campaign started?
"It is exciting but it is kind of sad that it has gone by so quick. Very anxious to get this new season under way. Looking forward to a lot of good things this year."

Can you discuss the newcomers to the team and how they are doing so far in practice?
"The freshmen I feel like are going to be very good for us this year. We have a lot of new faces and a lot of new talent which will gel well with the players that we have brought back this year. Senior year I am just trying to enjoy it and have fun while it lasts."

What is your opinion on the national media's low expectations in pre-season polls for this team?
"I feel like we are going to sneak up on a lot of people this year. All those polls that people talk about that we are ranked this or we are ranked that. We are not really worried about that and are going to try to play each and every game as hard as we can and take care of business on the field and let the polls and the media work themselves out."

Which of the freshmen have impressed you so far in practice?
"Brian Holberton has had a really good fall for us he has played very well. Parks Jordan and Tommy Zengel are swinging the bat very well and playing good defensively. I think they will be a lot of fun to watch this year."

Which of the pitchers has been the toughest to face this spring?
"Chris Munnelly has been very good and freshman left handed pitcher Kent Emmanuel has done well."

LEVI MICHAEL

Can you discuss your outlook for the coming season?
"All the guys are real anxious to get going. I know it is coming up sooner than later but really we are ready to get going. I think we are going to have a good season this year - the guys are real competitive. I think it will be a good year for us."

What did you work on this off-season?
"My main emphasis this off-season was making the transition back to shortstop and I really wanted to get locked in because I am going to have to be real solid for us defensively for us to be successful this year."

Can you discuss the new BBCOR bats this season?
"I don't think there is much of a learning curve, I mean it is still the same game but the bats are definitely going to make a difference. They don't come off as good as the old bats but I think to be honest with you it will be to our advantage because we have never really been a team to drive a lot of balls out of the ballpark and we have been more of a bunt and hit and run, move the baseball kind of team and we have a lot of speed and this will help us utilize that speed."

What's the defensive outlook for the team based on practice this spring?
"I think we are going to be real solid all around the infield this year both up the middle and on the corners. The transition for me going back to short was not for me personally as difficult as going to second or third as they both were new positions for me but I am excited to be back this year and hopefully I will have a good season."

Can you discuss the leadership on the team this season?
"It is definitely a big part of the team keeping the guys together and keeping the guys on the same page. Guys like Bryant Gaines and Jimmy Messer, our academic team leader, they do a great job of keeping everybody together and on the right track."

PATRICK JOHNSON

What is your outlook for the team this season?
"Personally I think that we are going to be better than we were last year. I think we will be able to stay in games this whole year and hopefully this year close them out in the end."

How is your rehabilitation coming along?
"To be honest this is the best I have ever felt in my life. Since I have come back from my surgery and thrown bullpens I have had no pain and my arm feels great and stronger than it has ever been so I am excited."

How is your stamina coming back?
"My last two times out I have thrown 85 pitches each time and I could have went more but we kind of shut it down."

Coach Fox mentioned in an interview for our magazine that there was a possibility that you could move to the closing pitcher role, have any roles been decided or discussed yet?
"Nothing really has been decided yet, but we will see what happens in a week."

What is the team's feelings about heading west to open the season?
"It is exciting. Any time you get to go to California and play the first weekend and getting to play against Cal State and USC - I think Cal State is ranked 8th in the country or something. It is exciting and you get to see what you have right off the bat."

Can you discuss how the freshmen pitchers have been doing so far this spring?
"I have to say I am pretty impressed with all of them with how they have come in. They have all pitched well and I think we will have a lot of freshmen that pitch a lot this year."

Which of the position players have been swinging a hot bat this spring?
"Well, Parks Jordan personally - he has a couple of hits off of me. Tommy Coyle has been swinging it. Levi Michael. All those guys - we have been really consistent. They have all been swinging it pretty well."

What is the opinion of the pitching staff on the new BBCOR bats?
"I think we all like them. You don't have to be so fine with your pitches. There have been a couple of balls hit already in the spring scrimmages that last year would have definitely been home runs and they ended up being long fly balls."

Can you discuss the state of the defense this spring?
"We are going to be strong especially up the middle with Levi [Michael] and Tommy Coyle and our outfield will be fast as always. It is just nice knowing they have your back and will run balls down the gaps and it gives you a lot of confidence on the mound."


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