Ole Miss baseball preseason press conference

The following are comments from Monday's preseason press conference featuring Coach Mike Bianco and players Will Kline, Justin Henry, and Zack Cozart.

Ole Miss Head Coach Mike Bianco

First off, I want to thank everyone for being here today. As you all know, we open up the season on February 10th, which is this Saturday, against the University of New Orleans. I don't remember a season as a head coach or even an assistant coach where the enthusiasm and energy for the start of the season was ever as high as it is for our program. Certainly we are very excited as coaches and players as we have been for a long time. The program has had some changes since the last time we held a press conference. Certainly the most important changes we had are some coaching changes. Dan McDonnell has left to become the head coach at the University of Louisville and Stuart Lake went on to become the recruiting coordinator and head assistant at The Citadel. The summer was a busy summer. We have had the same staff here for the last three seasons and we certainly thought that was a huge positive and one of the reasons for our success. So over the summer we had to make some decisions and I think we certainly hired some great people. One was Rob Reinstetle from the University of South Alabama. Those that know Rob and have looked at his bio know what kind of coach he is. As the search began I was really just looking for a recruiting coordinator. Rob's name was at the top of everybody's list. Just a few days after Dan left, Stuart decided to take another opportunity in South Carolina, so that opened the hitting coach position. So it was kind of a neat fit, almost like it was meant to be since I am not only looking at Rob Reinstetle as the recruiting coordinator, but I know what he did with the offense at the University of South Alabama and the College of Charleston. His last three teams have ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in batting average. Certainly we are excited to have him aboard and he has done a great job since he arrived. Hiring Rob enabled us to move assistant coach and long-time pitching coach Kyle Bunn up to the full-time role. That enabled us to move Carl Lafferty, a former team captain that was here last year as our director of baseball operations, back into uniform and move him into a coaching position on the field. That also allowed us to bring back another one of our former players in Matt Mossberg and make him our director of baseball operations. Sometimes I think you worry about when you lose guys like Dan McDonnell and Stuart Lake because of what those guys meant to our program, but I couldn't be happier not only for those guys, but for Ole Miss as well with the way things worked out and seemed to fit back into shape. I know coaches talk all the time about continuity of staff and the positives it brings, but I think that are positives in change too. I think with all the success we have had over the six years, but certainly the last three years with that staff, it would have been a much easier summer and certainly a more relaxing summer had there not been any changes. But the changes made us jump up and go to work immediately with July 1 recruiting and this fall with the new coaches. I think they have energized the program and it was a win-win situation for everybody involved.

Some other changes in the program are to the stadium. The expansion has started in left field and right field. They have added more of the cobblestone and now the seating in left field goes all the way to center field. The seating in right field now goes all the way to the fight field foul-line. They have also added a few rows down on both sides. It looks terrific and if you don't pay too much attention, you wouldn't even notice that it is new. It looks great and the job that has been done is outstanding. This summer, we start with the rest of the expansion. When that happens, you will notice because the stadium will look totally different.

Talking about this year's club, we remember everybody saying last year that this would be the year for one having one of our best teams. I think last year's team definitely surprised a lot of people, but not us. Not the players, the coaches, and the others people in the program. I certainly think this year, we are as good as we have been any other year. We are just a different club. We are very similar to last year in that we return about the same number of position players. We lost some kids that had terrific careers here and played some significant roles for the last few years in our success. We also return some outstanding players that will break a lot of records and put their name on the program once they leave. Looking at Zack Cozart, I don't know what the definition of a consensus All-American is, but in every publication I have seen he is a pre-season All-America. We return our team captain from last year in Justin Henry at second base. When you look up the middle and see two guys of that quality return. Add C.J. Ketchum, who is a lifetime .350 hitter in our lineup, and Logan Power and this team reminds me of last years team in the athleticism and the ability to play defense.

The difference between this year's team and last year's team was that the big questions were on pitching. Although we had another great recruiting class, we weren't sure of their ability and if they would be able to produce so early in their careers. Certainly, many of those guys like Cody Satterwhite and Lance Lynn produced as freshmen. This year, we have those guys back. We are much more experienced, not only in the Southeastern Conference, but also in postseason. The main stable of the staff is Will Kline. At the end of last year's season, he was our most dominate pitcher, either out of the bullpen or as the starter. To have your ace back from last year, that makes the staff much better. Last year, we weren't sure of the ace going into the start of the season. This year, we have a guy that has done it in the past and that makes you feel good. Going around the field, Cody Overbeck will start Saturday at third base. Cody had a tremendous fall offensively. He played outfield mostly for us last year and in a limited role played DH and pinch-hit for us. We actually moved him when he first got here. He is actually a true third baseman, but we moved him to the outfield because of Chris Coghlan and we knew what kind of offensive player Cody was. We were trying to get him some at bats in his redshirt freshman year. He seems to have gotten more accustomed to playing third base again and should have a terrific year there. At shortstop, obviously we have Zack Cozart. In my mind, he is the best shortstop in the country for a lot of reasons. He is the total package offensively and defensively. He is a great competitor and a great leader. At second base, we have Justin Henry. Justin is going into his third year as a starter and his second as a second baseman. He is just as solid as they come. He is a great leadoff hitter and a guy that can run and do it all while bringing a lot of energy to the lineup as a base runner. He is a great hitter and a great defensive player. I don't think there is a better double-play, second base-shortstop duo in the country. Just look at what we have been able to do defensively and to be ranked in the top 15 in the country and to know you have the top two guys the middle return says a lot about our defense. At first base, we have Andrew Clark and Peyton Farr. Both had great falls. Both look to play this year. At times we will play some righty-lefty combinations. We will start Clark this Saturday against UNO's right-handed pitcher. Peyton had a good fall. He can come into the game defensively and can also come in as a DH or pinch hit.

In the outfield; in left field, Fuller Smith will start. He is a junior college transfer. Fuller has had a tremendous fall and he just a lot of fun to watch. He plays the game like coaches like guys to play the game. He plays very hard, has a lot of awareness on the field, is a good base-runner, can hit for average and power. He is just a lot of fun to watch. In centerfield, we moved Logan Power over to center. He started in left year. Logan is our best defensive outfielder, and the transition of moving from left to center has been relatively smooth. We are excited about having him back. In right field, this is the first time this has ever happened to me in my coaching career. We have brothers on the same team. Jordan Henry, Justin's younger brother, will start opening day in right field. Jordan is another newcomer that had an outstanding fall. He might be the fastest guy we have had since I have been here. To have that kind of speed, and to have him start. We have had fast guys in the past, but to have them start day-in and day-out, it brings another dimension not only to the defense, but certainly to the offense. When you look at the outfield, it will be by far the best defensive outfield we have ever started with.

On the mound, Will Kline will start on Saturday and Lance Lynn will start on Sunday. Certainly, because of how early it is in the season, several guys will throw. Brett Bukvich will throw on one of those two days. Craig Rodriguez will throw on one of those two days. Scott Biddle, a junior college transfer, has done the best on any newcomer we have on the mound. He will throw in relief on one of those two days. Nathan Baker, a true freshman from the Memphis area, will throw on one of those two days. In those 18 innings, we are hoping that we will be able to throw six to seven pitchers.

Q: Who do expect to replace the power that you lost from last season?

A: Last year, we weren't really a power club, although we hit 60-plus homeruns. In the SEC, that makes you middle of the pack. When you look at the lineup, we don't have a guy that you can look at and say that guy is going to hit 15 to 20 homeruns this season like you could at Mark Wright or Justin Brashear. But, I think we have plenty of guys in the right year to hit double digits. I think Zack Cozart hit last 10 or 11 homeruns. Fuller Smith has that ability. Andrew Clark has that ability. I skipped our DH's, Kyle Mills and C.J. Ketchum, who will DH on opening weekend. Logan Power has that ability, as does Cody Overbeck. So we may not have the one guy that in a great year can hit twenty, but I think we have several that can hit double digits.

Q: Will see evidence of the speed in the calling of the game?

A: Last year, I thought we were pretty athletic on the field. We lead the SEC in stolen bases with 95 stolen bases. We are certainly going to be able to do that this year. There are enough guys in the lineup that can steal 15 to 30 bases in a season. So I think we will be as athletic or more than we were last year.

Q: What about the catchers?

A: I skipped that too. Brett Basham will be the starting catcher, backed up by C.J. Ketchum and Alex Kliman. Brett has been terrific all fall and early spring. We knew that he could throw, but he has become more of a leader. It's tough coming into our system and knowing how demanding I am of the catcher's, it's tough coming in as a freshman. I thought he struggled his freshman season in the fall. But a year in the system backing up Justin Brashear, and he started some SEC games. So he did get his feet wet last season, but I think he is ready for this opportunity. He has caught as well in practice this season as anybody we have had.

Q: Talk about the lineup.

A: Starting on Saturday, Justin Henry will be the lead-off guy. After that, it will take a few mornings and several pots of coffee and paper to figure out the lineup. And the amazing thing about that is the lineup can change day-to-day. We have to find the right lineup that seems to produce. We went several games with Chris Coghlan in the three-hole, and when we moved him to the two-hole, his numbers really improved. You hope as a coach you make that right decision. We will just have to try some different things.

Q: Talk about the pitching over early part of spring ball.

A: We are ready to play somebody else and see how we respond. Up until last weekend, we had not pitched great. But last weekend, we really dominated on the mound and showed consistency. I think that the question marks we have are who are the guys that are going to step up? Every year you have guys that step up, whether it is newcomers or guys whose roles have changed. I think that as a coach, you try to figure that out and put your best nine out there. That is what we are trying to do over the first month of the season, so that when we start conference play we have our best nine out there.

Q: What is the status of Cody Satterwhite?

A: Cody had an MRI done a couple of weeks ago. The good thing is that it came out negative. He starts to throw again on February 9th. He is on some anti-imflamatories. He won't throw on opening weekend. He may not pitch much the second weekend. Our hope is that since we were going to have come out of the bullpen anyway, there is not a huge panic to get him out there anyway, is that once he is at full strength, he can pitch when we need him to for one to two innings of relief.

Q: Talk about Kyle Mills.

A: It has been a tough year and half for Kyle. He was the national junior college player of the year. In the beginning here, he has been battling through some injuries and trying to get healthy. He has been healthy since November, and physically he is fine. The tough part is that he hasn't seen live pitching. So he hasn't gotten a ton of hits in the intersquad games. He had a great day yesterday. He hit a home run, and two more that were right on the noise. He has power, but I also think he can hit for average. We just need to get him some more live pitching action.

Q: Talk about the expectations and turnaround of the program.

A: Outside the program, you can see the excitement with the season tickets and the expectations of the fans. We have talked about raising the expectations of the fans for years and certainly they are at an all-time high. I think that when you have those types of expectations, it makes you better. It makes you work harder and strive to do more. I think it is better for all of us. Inside the program, I think it helps with recruiting. I was amazed at how many people around the country saw the Texas Super Regional. I was at a high school class reunion in Florida with people I haven't seen in over twenty years that said that they watched the Texas-Ole Miss series. I think that being on that national stage can only help your program. Even deeper, I think that the positive and negative can only help to raise your expectations. We have had the same goal since day one at the press conference when I was named the head coach. Certainly now, the players are reminded that to win 40 regular season games, to win the SEC championship, to host a regional and super regional, and now the bar has been raised. This team has the sense that we must go further. We must take another step forward.

Q: Talk about the conference.

A: When you look at the conference last year, with Kentucky winning the East. This year, Vanderbilt being ranked in the top 10 in the country. Georgia getting to the College World Series twice in the last three years. Both Florida and Mississippi State being ranked #1 in the country last season and don't even make the conference tournament. When you look at all those things, there is no doubt that by far, this is most difficult conference to play baseball in. That is a good thing. To be in a league where you know that if you don't play well, you will lose. There are no free weekends, no days off. This is the toughest gamete of games, the toughest ten weeks of any baseball program could be a part of. We play in the nicest stadiums, in front of the largest crowds. It is certainly difficult, but it is also why a lot of people come here. It is great to be a part of, knowing that you are competing with the best.

(Will Kline)

Q: How different is your approach this year knowing that you are the ace?

A: It has just given me a chance to take a deep breath and understand what my role on the team is this year. Last year, I went into this season not really knowing what to expect. This year, everything is more written out. Coming off a year we had last year, and knowing that the pitching staff played a large role in that. Coming into this season with such high expectations, it has made it a lot easier on me know how to prepare myself. We have a great team and a great pitching staff. I'm ready to start the season.

Q: Have you worked on any new pitches?

A: No. We worked a little in the fall with a cutter. But not anymore. We have just worked on trying to make the pitches better. I think that most good college pitchers are three-pitch pitchers. If I can just get better at throwing the pitches I throw, it will make the team better.

(Zack Cozart & Justin Henry)

Q: What makes Will Kline such a good pitcher?

ZC: He throws all his pitches for strikes. We have faced a lot of good pitchers, and he by far has the best change-up in the country in my opinion. It is just one of those things were he has confidence out there, and when you know your pitcher has confidence, it makes you better.

JH: I think that since Will got here, he has had the stuff. We all saw flashes of it. But after the Mississippi State game in Jackson last season, you got a completely different look at him on the mound. You could see the confidence dripping off of him. You can tell that there is no doubt in his mind that we are going to get every batter that comes to the plate out.

Q: Are there any new pitchers you have faced in practice that stands out in your minds?

JH: I think that, of the new guys, Nathan Baker has the stuff. He is impressive. I think he has done well in terms of knowing how to pitch. He is still learning, but he has impressed me so far.

ZC: I think you know about Scott Biddle after this year. He is going to have a good year. He has some nasty stuff, and a lot of the hitters on the team don't want to face him. We are looking forward to see what can do against our opponents. I know that when we face him, it is not a good thing.

(Justin Henry)

Q: What is your assessment of your brother?

A: It has been since high school that I really got to see him play. He has really impressed me with his hitting. When you are a freshman, you are really not ready to see the kind of pitching you see in high school. I am just amazed at how well he is able to swing the bat. Also, his adjustment to playing outfield. He was a shortstop in high school. His speed has helped, but I am amazed at how well he has adjusted so quickly.

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