We interviewed Irish head coach Paul Mainieri before practice on Monday, but decided to stop by to see what all the buzz was about. Mainieri was excited about his freshman class, and we could see why.
"I'm in love with my two infielders," Mainieri said. "Brett Lilley and Ross Brezovsky are really playing well and showing themselves to be really good players. In fact, one of our pitchers we recruited, Tony Langford, is showing that he can do a good job in the infield if needed. He's going to work on pitching now, but Langford impressed us as well in the field.
"Lilley and Brezovsky have shown they're really ready to contribute. They're pesky hitters. Lilley in particular reminds you of the kind of hitter that Steve Stanley was. He uses the whole field, bunts a lot, and can create havoc on the bases. I'm really happy about that."
Watching both Lilley and Brezovsky, the two middle infielders had the smoothness that every coach loves to see at short and second. Both players have excellent range and quick hands. While neither could replace Steve Sollmann completely, we expect both to be mainstays in the middle for a long time to come. Lilley looks more likely to end up at second, while Brezovsky has the slightly better arm which likely means he'll end up at short in the future.
Mainieri wasn't finished talking about his freshmen, however. He's also been impressed with his rookie pitchers as well.
"The first outing that the freshman had on the mound, all three looked great. Wade Korpi, Joey Williamson and Dave Gruener all showed that they're going to be able to help us a bit also.
"Wade Korpi probably doesn't throw as hard as the other two, but he's probably more of a finished product. Gruener and Williamson, when they learn to corral their stuff, they're going to both be very, very good."
"Matt Bransfield is going to be connected to Matt Edwards' situation," said Mainieri. "If Matt Edwards' arm comes back and he can play third base, Bransfield will shift over to first base and we'll see if he's good enough to do it there. We're also working with Bransfield behind the plate. He and Steven Andres are backing up Sean Gaston there."
We also asked Mainieri if he felt anyone had surprised him so far this fall.
"I think Craig Cooper is going to be one of the best players in the conference this year. He had a good summer and swung the bat well for us last year. It's really nice to see Cody Rizzo swinging the bat without pain. He hit a home run in yesterday's intrasquad game. He looks real good."
Junior closer Ryan Doherty has also been impressive so far this fall. Mainieri said they've been working with Doherty on his other pitches besides that devastating fastball he possesses.
"Ryan Doherty threw yesterday and looked absolutely great, just absolutely great! We're approaching this fall practice with Ryan Doherty like professional baseball would approach instructional league," Mainieri said. "We're not really concerned with the results as much as we are with him getting on the mound and using that slider and using that changeup. We're giving him chances to throw them a lot so hopefully he can develop those pitches".
"We've decided to shut Dan Kapala down for the fall because he pitched all spring and pitched about 35 innings this summer," Mainieri said. "He threw one outing this fall. He looked real good and we just decided to shut him down.
"I have decided to cut one week of practice," Mainieri continued. "October 1st will be our last day. The Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday will be our Blue-Gold series prior to October 1st.
"I just feel like with as thin as we are, and as many veterans back as we have that it's just not really needed.
"Tom Thornton is shut down, Kapala is shut down, Jeff Samardzija is playing football, (Jeff) Manship and (John) Axford are not ready to pitch competitively. So when you start crossing off all those guys, it leaves your pitching staff pretty thin."
The Irish do appear thin in practice as the field is sprinkled with walk-ons during the intrasquad games. However, we did get to see some impressive hitting on Monday.
Matt Bransfield and Craig Cooper hit some very nice balls and look to be on their way to solid seasons. We were very impressed with Lilley and Brezovsky both in the field and at the plate. Both players appear to have the skill to take the ball the other way and are lefties at the plate.
We also saw Derik Olvey throw a few impressive innings on the mound in his first action on the mound in the fall.