The following is the second part of Coach Mike Bianco's preseason baseball press conference held on Monday. The Rebels open the 2006 season Friday against Saint Louis University in Oxford.
Q: Who is your closer going to be?
Bianco: Right now we don't have a "closer." As most of you know, it's been a joke with a lot of us that that's been the most asked question at a press conference for a baseball coach. The realistic answer is we feel Lance Lynn or Garrett White early in the season, especially because they are as talented as they are. Either one could start and may eventually start for us. But early they kinda fit that role. They're power guys who fill up the zone with the ball, like to challenge hitters, have lots of the attributes you like in a closer. Certainly one of the things that they add to the role is that they have both been starters in the past, and they could come in earlier than the ninth to close. Like Stephen Head, who came in some games in the seventh or sixth or even the fifth and could pitch the remainder of the game. There are not too many closers who can do that. So in our system, usually it's a guy you can count on to close out the game, and not just the ninth. So early we will look to Lance and to Garrett to kinda combo that role.
Q: Losing as many power hitters as you did from last year, will the personality of this team change?
Bianco: I think there's no doubt. But the personality of each team changes from year to year. Even though we return a lot of kids from last year's club and we have some new faces, I think this team has to find its personality. There are different roles for different guys. Coghlan has been a tremendous player and still is. Now we want him to be a tremendous leader, which he is. We have counted on him for his ability more than his leadership. Now he's a junior and a two-year starter. Throughout the first few weeks or maybe a month, this team will have to find its personality. Offensively this club's played great through the fall and early spring. We're not too many home runs off last fall's statistics. I think last fall (2005) we hit 21 home runs and the year before we hit 24 home runs in the fall (2004). So we're not too far off of that pace. We don't have those two big bombers (Stephen Head and Brian Pettway), but collectively this is a very good offensive team.
Q: What have you seen from junior RHP Nick Hetland to allow him to move into that important second starting role on the weekends at this point?
Bianco: He's just been one of the most consistent guys, and that's what we're looking for. A consistent guy gives you the best chance to win - when a guy gets the ball, who gives you the best chance to win. We feel Tommy (Baumgardner) is our best option. We feel Nick is our second best option, and we feel he will have a tremendous year. But, with that being said, it's the first weekend and we might have to juggle things, not necessarily from an injury standpoint but from how guys perform. Remember last year we didn't count on any pitcher more than Eric Fowler as the season went on. That first weekend, he wasn't (a starter or) even the first guy in. He was just one of many relievers. The last month and a half of the season, he might have been our most consistent pitcher.
Q: Lance Lynn was a very good hitter in high school. Will he hit for you?
Bianco: No, Lance is just going to pitch for us. He's a very good pitcher, a kid who was drafted in the sixth round last year by the Seattle Mariners. He's pitched as well as anybody this preseason. He got off to a slow start in the beginning of the fall but finished the fall with a furry. And he's pitched well since then. He will play a big role in some capacity for us, including this first weekend.
Q: How has Tommy Baumgardner grown as a pitcher over his time here?
Bianco: He's grown in a lot of different areas. Tommy was one of those middle men last year, coming in real early before Stephen Head or after Stephen Head. It was a tough role in that at times he would loosen up and then sit and loosen up and sit again. That's a tough role but you need that guy. This year as a starter with a year under his belt, he's more mature and confident. His breaking ball has improved tremendously. We believe his velocity will grow as the season progresses, not that it's down, but it's about what it was last year and maybe a notch above. His command has even been better than it was last year. He's just been the most dominant guy we've run out there. He's earned it.
Q: Talk about Chris Coghlan and his development into one of the country's best.
Bianco: He's just a ballplayer. Those that are true baseball fans know that. He just plays the game. He's a tremendous hitter, one of the best I've ever been around. He's a pure hitter. He's got a knack and a lot of God-given ability. He's never had a down year. He's hit every league he's ever been in. Defensively his first year there was some transition. He'd never played third base. He struggled with it a little bit but worked really hard that summer to get better. Last year he was great and will be even better this year. Defensively he's got it all, and offensively is what most people look at statistically. Those speak for themselves.
Q: Talk about Justin Brashear and this being his time to shine as catcher.
Bianco: He had a great fall and early spring. Offensively he's off to a good start. This year Justin is in the starting role, that leadership role behind the plate. It's not an easy position to play for me, being a catcher myself. I think I'm hard on the catchers, probably harder than most. But I'll tell you one thing about Justin, and not much has been said about it. Here's a high-profile guy who was drafted out of high school and came here expecting to start as a freshman but didn't – for two years. He's been tremendous. He's got a great personality. Him not playing has never been an issue. Nobody is more of a team guy than Justin Brashear. When you're as good as him and you're 18 to 22 years old and you could play for a lot of teams, I think that can be a tough thing. So I respect what he's done over the two years, and he's ready to go this year.
Q: Talk about the new scoreboard and any expansion plans.
Bianco: The new scoreboard went up a few weeks ago and is an awesome sight. We're pleased to have it up, especially for first pitch. I think it will be a neat thing for our fans with the jumbotron and the miles per hour on the scoreboard. It's another addition in catching the stadium up to date. As far as expansion, two things we know will positively happen as soon as the last pitch is thrown here (this season), and that is the office complex that will be built in the oval parking lot adjacent to the stadium next to the ticket office. Also the Oakes Pavilion in the outfield will be expanded from left field toward center field and also some seats will be added in right field where it's become overpopulated. We are sure that the actual stadium (expansion) itself, the structure itself, will happen. But because of financing and trying to get all our ducks in a row as far as the blue prints and all those types of things, we don't believe it's going to happen with the offices (this summer), which was our initial hope. It's a tricky deal, because you want to make sure it's ready for the next season. So (the structural expansion) in all likelihood won't start this summer but will start next summer (2007) so we can be playing in it in 2008. The city's been tremendous, and it will happen. We're just trying to finalize some issues on exactly what will be built there. So it's kinda hard to start work on a stadium until you finalize those issues. But the good news is it's going to happen and it's going to be great and we're going to have it done right. So rather than rush, we felt it was in the best interests that we postpone it one more year, and not because of anything but to make sure we are going to get it done right and get exactly what we want and to spend time with the architects and the engineers to do it right.
Q: Talk about your coaching staff – Dan McDonnell, Kyle Bunn, Stuart Lake, and Carl Lafferty.
Bianco: Dan McDonnell (6th season) is our recruiting coordinator and in charge of base-running and infielders and did another outstanding job with the No. 10 ranked recruiting class in the country. Stuart Lake (3rd season) returns as our third base coach and more importantly as our hitting coach. We broke so many offensive records last year, and he's back for his third season. Kyle Bunn (5th season) continues to be the pitching coach and to have the consistency and the continuity that we need. I've read a lot of your articles and about the consistency of Coach Vaught and his staff. That helps out so much, when you don't have to replace coaches and teach them what you're trying to do as they're teaching the players. You can let them do what they do best and that's coach. It makes it a lot easier, not just for me but also for the players and for the continuity of your system. One addition this season is Carl Lafferty, who was team captain in my first season here in 2001 and was a huge part of that team. He has joined our staff as an administrative assistant, and it's great to have him aboard and somebody that has meant so much to this program.
Coach Bianco meets the press - part II
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