What did you learn about the team the first two road trips? - “We began this thing, and our immediate questions were - were we going to have enough offense? Were we going to be able to score the way we needed to? We were really excited about the depth of our bullpen, and it’s kind of been the reverse. The first two weekends we scored more runs than we thought we would and we swung the bat better in the middle of the batting order than we thought we would. We’ve been a little bit disappointed at times with the bullpen.
“So we’re still a work in progress. There’s a lot of young guys doing their thing. But I like the way we’re playing. I like our attitude and our approach. We just haven’t executed at times in the middle of the game out of the bullpen. That’s been an issue for us.”
How’s the defense? - “Our defense has been average. It could be better. We’re almost like a basketball team in terms of, you can go big, you can go small. As an example, on Sunday we knew we were vulnerable because we had a pitcher down - Alex Nesbitt had some arm issues, so we weren’t going to use him. We had the extra inning the second game of the double-header Saturday, so we knew we were thin on Sunday so we put more of an offensive team on the field to score some more runs. We sacrificed some defense.
“When we’re back here on the turf and it’s a little bit easier to defend, that can also affect who we put out there. But I think we’re very capable defensively. We just have to find the right mix and the right balance.”
What’s your offensive style? - “We talked to our guys about that yesterday. As an example, at Riverside in four games we had 53 hits, and 22 of those were extra base hits, which was a little unusual for us based on what we thought we’d be like physically. We thought it was going to be more station-to-station. We haven’t had as many runners on first base as we thought we would. We’ve had more extra base hits. We’re kind of re-evaluating whether or not we have more pop than we thought. Or are we not as athletic as we thought? Is this a good thing, is this a bad thing? I ran everybody’s statistics in our league, plus probably five others, after two weeks - we had a larger percentage of extra base hits relative to the hits we had than anybody else in our league. So that’s either a good thing or it means we’re missing too much and we don’t stay on top of the ball enough. One of our concerns is being able to get a two-out base hit through the middle or six-hole to score a run. Right now it almost seems easier for us to score four runs than one run.
“We’re addressing that and it’s a work in progress on that and trying to find the right pieces. What we do know is that we’re hitting .320 as a team, which we’re all excited about. We have the right pieces; we just have to figure out where they go.”
On spending the whole month of March at home in search of an identity - “I think it’ll be great for us. That’s one of the question marks that we have is, we lost a couple high draft picks from our roster last year, which are guys that are difficult to replace. Not saying we have to do that, but because we don’t have three or four guys that people are talking about as top-five round draft picks, we’ve kind of grabbed the mindset that we’ve got a bunch of dirtbags who need to get in the gutter and scratch and claw and be the toughest outs in the Pac-12 and manufacture some runs. That’s why we’re a little bit surprised by some of the power numbers we’ve put up and what our team batting average is.
“We’re hanging on to that identity that we’re kind of the underdogs offensively and we have to be a little bit more of the ‘scratch and claw’ variety. Yet, that’s hard to sell to your team when you’re hitting .320 as a team.”
An overview of the program, especially with the new facilities - “I think we’re in a great place. We evaluate this program on many different levels. The first two most important things to me are; where are we academically? Our kids have been fantastic in the classroom. And where are we at player development-wise in terms of the kids that come in here - are they helping us win because of the way we’ve developed them, and are they having a chance to play professional baseball when they get out the door? So we feel great about that.
“The third thing we talk about all the time is, nobody wants to put the time in like we do and not feel like they have a chance to get to the College World Series. The winning part of this thing is a huge issue when it comes to our culture, and we feel like we have those guys. We certainly have the facilities to get those guys on campus. The class we brought in this fall was ranked 15th in the country, and a lot of that is because when they were sophomores in high school this facility was getting finished. And that’s when those kids basically committed to us.
“The class we’ll bring in next year, the ’16 class, will be even better in terms of nationally-ranked. We couldn’t be happier about that, we couldn’t be happier about the kids we’re brining in. This is, in my opinion, as tough as this league as ever been. To sit here and say, simply because we’ve improved our facilities and this is a world-class education that we’re going to be able to keep kids from going to UCLA or Stanford or Arizona or Arizona State or Oregon State - that’s not realistic, so we don’t worry about what they’re doing. We can only control what we’re doing.
“Our mindset is to find the best baseball players across the country who are the best students across the country and get them on campus and expose them to our culture and get them going. And I think we’ve done that. We like our kids, we like the direction we’re going and we think we’re a few key moments away from getting back to the regionals and hopefully a super regional, but knock on the door - the College World Series.”
Is it more important in college baseball to reload all the time with guys that could be gone in a year, or with your current roster, where you now have more upperclassmen than underclassmen for the first time since you’ve been here? - “The biggest challenge for me and for us as a staff has been having the kind of depth you need to survive the losses that Major League Baseball imposes on you every June. In other words, two years ago we lost nine guys to the draft. Last year we couldn’t overcome that because we didn’t have the quality and the depth that we needed when guys had to step in that hadn’t played enough. But as each year evolves, as each recruiting class gets on campus, I feel like we’re in a better position to deal with those losses because you want your kids to go out the door.
“When you’re sitting in Braden Bishop’s living room and saying, ‘Braden, I expect you to come here, be here for three years, be as close to graduation as humanly possible before somebody drafts you in the first 10 rounds, and then you have a chance to go play professional baseball and potentially be a big-leaguer’.
“Early in our recruiting cycle, we had to over-pay kids like that to get them to come here and keep them away from an Oregon, an Oregon State, a UCLA or Stanford. Now, this place - the stadium, the ballpark - has helped us sell it in a way that, when you’re in an equivalency sport and you’re not giving full scholarships, we don’t have to overpay to get those kids to come here. It’s enabled us to spread out the wealth a little more and have a little bit more bang for our buck.”
What’s your philosophy in chasing after guys that are expected to be slam-dunk top draft picks out of high school? - “It’s such a crap shoot. We had two kids that didn’t show up in this class this fall who ended up signing; we had two kids who could have gone who ended up showing up. The two kids that showed up we thought were goners; the two kids that went we thought were going to be here. People can tell you it’s not an exact science, and even that is an exaggeration. You just don’t know.
“Our Saturday kid, Joe DeMers - people told us we were crazy for getting involved with him, that he would never make it on campus, he would never show up because he was going to be such a high draft pick. Joe wasn’t even drafted because he made it clear to every professional team what his dollar amount would be and they took him seriously and that’s why he’s on campus.
“We deal with that. At the same time we want to go to the College World Series, we want to be an ‘Omaha’ type program, so you’re going to have to take your chances with some of those guys and hope some of them show up.”
On going heavy with junior college players with this year’s roster - “That’s not something we’ve done a lot of since I’ve been here, but we had some holes offensively we were concerned about. We wanted some more experienced guys that put up some numbers.
“MJ Hubbs drove in 60 runs in junior college last year and is somebody we felt could step in right away and maybe pick up the slack for an Austin Rei, who was out the door. And Gage Matuszak led the state of California in runs batted in at Feather River (JC), a left-handed hitter and is another middle-of-the-order piece that, once he figures it out can drive in some runs.
“I want to say it’s almost ‘as needed’. If we lack a little depth because of what the draft has done or we’re just a little thin at a certain spot you can connect with a couple kids that can make a difference for you immediately.”
Is that probably the wave of the future, finding those short-term fixes for holes created by the draft? - “I think so. It’s not necessarily by design, but when you lose somebody late and you have to find somebody that can step in, that’s sometimes the more feasible route.”
How close do you think UW is to being an ‘Omaha’ program? - “I do think we’re close, and that’s the beauty of this league. You can come in first place in this league, you can come in sixth place in this league. You can be hot at the end and you can get your team to Omaha, in my opinion. That’s how talented this league is, in my opinion - especially this year. I think it’s realistic you could see eight teams from our league in the post-season this year. I really believe that five or six of those teams, if they are playing the way they are capable of playing at the end of the year, have a chance to go to the College World Series and win it.
“And I think we can be one of those teams if we’re hitting on all cylinders. We talked about that again yesterday. Two years ago we weren’t playing our best baseball at the end of the season. We had won every series of the season, if I’m not mistaken, until the last two conference series. Then we lost the last two and went to Ole Miss not playing as well as we could have been playing and still hung in there and fought.
“But the idea is to play your best baseball at the end of the year so when you get there anything can happen. We stubbed our toe a little bit at Riverside, but I would rather be playing our best baseball we can play at the end of the year. So we have some work to do, and let’s get started.”
Who are some of the newcomers fans need to pay attention to when they come to the ballpark? - “I think Joe DeMers. We talked about Joe. He’ll start on Saturday. He has been acknowledged by everybody that covers college baseball as one of the premier freshmen in the country. Baseball America tabbed him as who they believe will be the freshman of the year at the end of the season.
“AJ Graffanino was a drafted kid out of Arizona whose dad played in the big leagues for 10 years, Tony Graffanino. He has the pedigree and he’s done some things at shortstop you don’t see too many freshmen do as far as coming in and being as comfortable defensively in a Pac-12 lineup.
“Willie MacIver is a catcher that has been splitting time with Joey Morgan and has done a good job behind the plate already as a freshman. His offense is enough where you could see him work his way into the lineup in one way, shape or form.
“And the we talked a little bit about the two JC hitters (Hubbs and Matuszak) that have, to some degree already, changed the culture of our batting order. MJ Hubbs is putting up numbers and hitting in the middle of our batting order and can also run. Gage has had a little bit of a slower start but those are all guys that I think people who like our program and who love this game will enjoy watching.”
Do you think this group has the ability to make it to Omaha this year? - “I feel like this group has the ability to get to the post-season; if they are playing the way they are capable of playing when that time frame rolls around, then anything can happen. I’ll say that.”