It’s a brand new season and the Florida Gators are eager to get back in the hunt for an NCAA playoff berth after last year’s disappointing results. Gator Country’s Mark McLeod sat down with Coach Pat McMahon to discuss the prospects for the 2007 season.
Mark McLeod: Coach we talked a little bit yesterday about rotating these guys and giving them a look. Is there a general time frame or is it something that will just have to work itself out?
Coach Pat McMahon: “You know, I think it’s a great question. I think that in most programs out of respect to returning players, if there’s a question that you want to give a returning player that’s in good status with the program, that’s worked hard on and off the field- you want to give them an opportunity. Now, therein lies part of the question. Do they take advantage of the opportunity? Performance is a huge part of the success equation as we all well know in the world of sports. So, as a result, that is what I have always tried to do. Then, you get into match-ups and the best opportunities of who can be an asset or fill a role within the club. That’s when you start to move into different player and younger players. If there is no clear cut answer, whoever wins the position is the bottom line.”
MM: You recruited one of the top classes in the country. After having the same line-up for two year, how much fun is it to have so many new faces and seeing these guys compete?
CPM: “Well, to me recruiting is so much the lifeblood of the program. We constantly continue try to make improvements from within, so your talent levels continue to improve from within and that’s very important to me. We work very hard at that aspect of it. Obviously, one of the things in baseball is that what’s on paper, what shows up via the draft is also a big issue. You have to catch that break in this sport. It’s a big part of it. Once a class is on campus, you have the team and start building from within. That part of it to me- I love teaching, I love coaching, and coaching to me is teaching. To fit into our system and it’s somewhat of an intricate system and see how these guys grow and mature and develop is a very exciting process.”
MM: So much was made of the loss of (Justin) Tordi, who was such a dynamic defensive player. It hurt last year. Word is that you’ve got a couple of guys this season who are really competing to fill that shortstop position?
CPM: “Well, we do. It was such a huge loss to our ball club with the timing of the loss. And that’s the hard part of it. You don’t look at it as an injury, but it’s a day before school starts. No excuses, but can’t recruit through that. You don’t build, so the dynamics of that to the chemistry of the club and also from a leadership perspective. What hasn’t been really noted is that he had been through that very difficult draft year. He understood. He could have been a key cog, as far as, helping a junior class understand you move through the process. But, you learn from experiences as everyone does. That’s in the past. You address today and move forward today.
We’ve got four young men in Cole Figueroa, Jon Townsend, Clayton Pisani, and Avery Barnes competing for jobs. Clayton is overcoming a hernia and mononucleosis from a year ago, who we didn’t have the services of last season. He has performed well. Avery Barnes is in the middle at second base, but also can go in the outfield. So, you’ve got four quality players all competing for jobs and again seeing how they step up and how they perform is certainly going to be exciting for us.”
MM: So, we’ll see them rotating this weekend?
CPM: “We’ve thought a lot about that. This is their first outcome. VMI returns seven starters. They’re left-right-left is who we think that we’ll see. So there again, that adds a few combinations to that match. Our lineup depends an awful lot on who we see whether it’s a left or right handed batter. It is exciting, but at the same token a question and I don’t like questions in this regard. One of the very important things in baseball is to be as strong as you can in the middle of the field, be it behind the plate, be it at short and second, and be it in the center field. There’s a good chance that you’ll see all new players in each of those positions. So, how they respond and how they continue to develop is going to be very important as to how our club goes.”
MM: Moving to third. It appears the odds-on favorite is Bmac (Brandon McArthur). Can you talk about his development since last season and some of the other challengers?
CPM: “I’d be happy to. Brandon returns and has worked hard in strength and development. He continues to make improvements daily. He has really worked very hard. Clayton Pisani has also performed well there. Austin Pride is such a key player on our ballclub. He can play third, left, right, first, second, and go behind the plate. He is such a huge part of our club and he’ll play a lot of those positions. Jon Towsend can move over there also. So, we do have some flexibility and depth. We’d rather have guys go in and clearly win the job and solidify positions.”
MM: The catchers are going to have their hands full. You’re replacing Brian Jeroloman at catcher, who was such a tremendous defensive guy.
CPM: “Well, I think that Brian Jeroloman is a catcher that really all college baseball players can look up to and I think that he’s going to have a wonderful professional career. We wish him the best in every way. That opens up a spot. Cody Neer came back to us in great shape. He has worked extremely hard. He has a physical presence. Dustin Bamberg is a junior college player who can really swing the bat. And a young freshman named Hampton Tignor. Although, you’ve got a Teddy Foster, a Brett Bentley, a Brett Smith, and Chris Schaffer are all in the mix wanting to play and perform there also. And they’re key guys on the ballclub. But, the top three guys would be Tignor, Neer, and Bamberg.
MM: It certainly appears that you have a lot of options at the DH. Moreso than last year, would that be fair to say?
CPM: “Clearly. Clearly. Obviously, catchers we’ve just mentioned. Bamberg, Jared Kubin returns healthy and can also play in the outfield. Bryson Barber is swinging the bat for the left side well. Those three guys and Austin Pride are probably the choices. Although, his (Pride’s) flexibility defensively is also an asset to us too.”
MM: What about speed? I know that last year was a disappointment running the bases. Do you feel as though you have the guys that allow you to do some more things on the bases?
CPM: “That’s a key area to me that we tried to improve through the recruiting process. We do have some young men who can run. In our workouts in the sixty on pro scout day, we had nineteen guys run a sub seven, which is very good. That doesn’t always translate into first step quickness or thirty yard sprint base stealing, which is the read of a pitcher plus that part. But, hopefully we can equate to be a more aggressive better base running ball club, because that is a key component in pressuring defenses.”
MM: What about the pitching as we wrap up?
CPM: “The pitching under the development of Ross Jones is a key part. I think that any coach will tell you that you’re only as good as you are on the mound. It is a good sign that Bryan Augenstein returns to us and is healthy. Stephen Locke is back from the injury. He pitched in some big games as a freshman. We missed him a year ago. He’s worked and has continued to improve. Then, you’ve got an array of freshmen and returning players. J.K. LaCoste along with Stephen Porter, Josh Edmondson, and David Hurst who will shore down some bullpen work.”