Conversation with Coach Bianco Part Two

Coach Bianco talks about individual players during the second part of this exclusive interview.

Can you talk about the catcher position?

Both Basham and Henson are doing well. They had a good fall, offensively and defensively. I thought they had a silent but good fall in the sense that no one talked about them. That is usually what happens, kind of like the offensive line. When they are really good, they still don't get a lot of credit. Balls didn't get by, and the catchers handled the pitchers very well. Kyle is the better hitter, and Bash is the better thrower. Both of them receive the ball very well.

And 1st base?

Cullan has improved a lot defensively from last season to the fall. It wasn't a good statistic fall for him offensively, but he hit three home runs. I thought Matt Smith did very well there considering he has never played it, at least for us. He got some innings at first during the summer and high school and seems to be adapting well.

What is the difficulty in juggling offense and defense at first base?

At this point, I just don't know. People ask that a lot, but in November, I can't answer it. Other factors play into that decision because of the line-up needs on that particular day. Overbeck will play some at first most likely. Smith and Cullan will both get shots. It just depends on what is happening at the time. Who has gotten off to the best start? Do we need a left-handed or right-handed bat in the lineup? Who is at the other eight positions? It is just too early to tell.

There is depth in the middle infield. How pleasing is that to see?

They have all done well even though some had better falls statistically. Zach Miller struggled numbers-wise, but he had a great freshman year. Tim Ferguson was impressive for a freshman and got better everyday. Some guys make big gains just by getting acclimated to being here and getting bigger and stronger. Ferguson adjusted well to the speed of the game. Button and Stuyverson were both terrific and played as well defensively as you can hope for. Button had a tremendous offensive fall with eight home runs. We have a lot of options. Something to definitely be pleased about. They could both start at second and short or short and third if Overbeck moves over. There is a lot of depth there.

How is Logan Williams doing?

He has to get better defensively. I think he is better than he showed. He is a great athlete with a good arm and hit around .300. He just needs to attack the baseball in the field.

Overbeck started slow but really picked it up.

Picked it up is an understatement. He was tremendous and as scary a hitter as we have ever had there at the end. He is playing with a lot of confidence and even swung it well early on when the numbers didn't show it. He played a good defensive third base as well. That is good to see because he did the same thing for most of last year before making a handful of errors during the playoffs. That sometimes happens, and it was good to see him snap back into good form.

Do you see that depth in the outfield as well?

Yeah, the positions are all pretty similar, and several guys can go in the different slots. Power had a solid offensive fall and always does a good job defensively. Jordan just had an OK fall, but some of that had to do with the early shin injury and being very conservative with him for precautionary reasons. But still, an average fall for Jordan is better than most peoples' best fall. I thought Guerrero had a good fall, kind of up and down though. Sometimes he didn't swing it well and sometimes he did. He has a good shot for a lot of playing time, and he is a great defensive player considering he is just an average runner. He gets good jumps and has great instincts. Michael Hubbard is probably the best defensive outfielder we have. He takes great angle but was just OK with the bat. I thought Fuller did well the last few weeks and has a chance for playing time in the field or at DH. Matt Smith is also a factor. There are a lot of options.

How is Lance doing?

He has been jogging. He is doing well and should be 100 percent by the time he gets back from break.

Has Bukvich began bullpens yet?

I wouldn't call it bullpens. He was off the mound at about 50 percent. Just working on the motions. And that is throwing protocol, it doesn't mean that is as hard as he can throw. He says he feels better than every before, and we are just conservative because there isn't a reason to rush. There is plenty of time to get ready and he will be when needed on Opening Day. The throwing program picks up and it is amazing how much work he will get once it gets heavy. He will be throwing more than the healthy guys.

Who stood out on the mound?

I thought Rory and Phillip Irwin did well the entire time. Matt Tracy really rebounded after the first couple weeks. For a little bit, he had a tough time finding the zone because I think he was too adrenalized. He has great command but just struggled some. If you had asked before the fall to name the best control guy, we would have probably said Matt Tracy. But he rebounded well. It is hard to look at the numbers and say anyone looked good. Most of the ERAs are from four to seven. No one pitched shutdown baseball, but Baker and Rory had the lowest averages. Guys that haven't thrown much like Jake Morgan and Matt Smith did a good job, and then Cryer and Bittle both looked as strong as ever.

What does it mean for Bittle to shake off last year's criticism.

The criticism was really by people who don't know baseball. He could of course helped himself by pitching a little better, but when I say better, I mean locating better inside the zone. He wasn't super wild. You could have put his numbers up against anybody. His ERAs and strikeouts were just tremendous. He has a lot of bad fortune, and I believe that everything comes around, and he will have a large amount of good fortune. I'm proud of him for what he did because I am sure it was tough to be out there at some points. I know he felt responsible, but we were all responsible. Instead of always being up 2-1, we should have been up 4-1. We missed a lot of plays defensively, and it wasn't just Bittle. Satterwhite struggled at times, and he was the best our country had to offer over the summer. It was one of those years where we lost confidence in closing games out. It wasn't just the pitchers. It was the team as a whole. That is the biggest reason we didn't win the West or the SEC Tournament or go to Omaha. We were very good, but we seemed to always come up short. There were plenty chances to be critical. Just take the Arizona State game. Should I have put Satterwhite in or left Kline in? It was a coin flip, but there were times in that game where we didn't score. That should have been a 7-1 game and an afterthought. We didn't play defense in key times either. Not just out there, but every game. When you look at it, there are reasons for it. We can say what we want, but we just weren't good enough. You don't lose that many one-run games and be good. There is a reason for losing that many. We had three walk off losses to Vandy alone. Maybe if we were mentally stronger, then we win those games and we are the No. 1 seed. The good news is we were very close to being very good. The bad news is we were very close to being very good. Close doesn't count in this game.

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