WSU BASEBALL: Big changes on the way in Year Two under Marty Lees

THIS PAST WEEK was not pleasant for Marty Less. Washington State featured only one senior on its baseball roster this season but Lees is undertaking a significant roster makeover for Year Two of his Palouse tenure, the Cougs' skipper tells

"It's been rough because we moved some kids on to find another place -- they're great kids but our whole goal here is to put kids in a position to be their most successful. We want to win. And we don't want it to take 6-7-8 years. We feel like we can win soon and in order to do that, we need to put (the right) product on the field," Lees told CF.C.

With details still pending, Lees declined to name the players moving out of the program.  He did, however, say the number is significant -- perhaps up to 10 total -- given college baseball's 35-man roster size. CF.C spoke with Lees before the draft, before incoming pitcher signee Jake Polancic tweeted he was excited to start his pro career and Trek Stemp posted on Facebook he would bypass his final year of eligibility and sign with Tampa Bay. So the number could climb higher. Junior pitcher Ian Hamilton -- an 11th round draft choice -- is perhaps another who could opt to go pro.

"We're in the process of finding those kids places and helping them," Lees said of the players moving on. "We've had conversations with them and that will all be out probably in July but I don't feel comfortable telling everybody who they are right now ... Over the past nine months we've evaluated what we need to do to win, to put ourselves into a position to be a champion."

Lees pointed to several positives from this past season: improved pitching over the season's final weeks and ranking second in the conference in steals among them.  But from a bottom line perspective, WSU went 19-35 (11-19 Pac-12) and finished last in the conference. 

"That is not acceptable," said Lees. "Not for Washington State, for our coaching staff, for alumni, for whoever is watching and affiliated with Washington State baseball.  But it will be, soon.

"We know what we need to do to win and we know what we need to do to win in the Northwest... recruiting is the absolute lifeline of your program and so the goal is not only to get the best players but kids who fit the personality of our coaching staff... I want a team (personality) that has some grit, some toughness, people who you're going to have to rip the shirt off our backs to beat us."

The top priority on the mound is to decrease the number of walks, something Lees said the Cougs did better at as the season went along. At the plate, Job No. 1 is to get more doubles.

"We were built for the 1-2 run innings. Eventually we'll be built to where we can take those runs plus a few more because we can hit the double... As far as approach in the plate, some of it is being young. Justin Harrer (.211) we think he's going to be a good player here, but he was a freshman. He shows power, and I feel he's going to be better next year. Shane Matheny was grinding it out this year and got better as the season went along. J.J. Hancock was another one who did the exact same thing," said Lees.

The primary difference Cougar fans can expect to see next year?  Depth.

"We have a lot of kids coming in this year so we'll have some depth. That's the thing that hurt us this year. We got to the end of the season and we didn't have an extra infielder or an extra catcher. We had 1-2 kids who could play the outfield but not ready to play every day," said Lees.

Still, WSU played well at times as Lees began to implement his aggressive offensive style in Year One. The Cougs took series from Oregon State and UW, both of whom were ranked this season. And WSU finished second in steals in the Pac-12 (64). 

"And we did that with the (Pac-12's) worst on-base percentage (.323)," said Lees. 

With so many new faces for next year, there will again be a good amount of teaching going on. But not as much as this past season.

"We think with the junior college kids we have coming in next year, plus with the kids that we kept, that we can be good," said Lees.

Among the pitchers Lees singled out for praise was Damon Jones.  He struggled in the beginning, Lees said, but improved and finished with six quality starts.

"And I thought Scotty Sunitsch evolved into a pitcher we could start or bring out of the ‘pen next year. Ryan Walker did what we anticipated him doing, a couple weekends where he was a little shaky but he was there when we needed him.  Chandler Greenfield got better this year... We feel good about Parker McFadden and Ryan Ward getting better," Lees said.

Some of the improvement to come will be about the process, Lees said, in a youthful squad going against Pac-12 level competition. The other main ingredient is talent and hence, the personnel changes. Lees signaled over the winter he wasn't going to be shy about making those changes when he cut junior-to-be Shea Donlin, and infielder who had played significantly for the Cougars in his first two seasons (69 games, 37 starts).

"Some of it is that you need to be athletic enough and good enough to make those adjustments (at the plate)," said Lees when asked about getting from here to there in the Pac-12. "That's all there is to it, we need to have the talent to make those adjustments. And in some areas (this year), we did not. Defensively and offensively a kid like Shane Matheny improved the whole year -- no errors in Pac-12 play at all. I've never had that as a coach... It was nice to see J.J. Hancock (get healthy) and do some good things for us in the outfield and hit at this level."

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