The College Baseball Blog recently had a chance to talk to Jedd Soto of Saint Mary’s College. He is entering his sixth season with the Gaels after spending the previous six seasons with Feather River College. He led the team to four season with more then 30 victories including three Regional titles and a Super Regional Title. Soto talks about his 2009 squad and some of the biggest issues in College Baseball today.
1. The St. Mary’s Gaels are coming off a disappointing 26-26-1 season. What are your expectations for the 2009 squad?
In 2008, our team finished at 26-26-1 including wins on the road at UCLA, Stanford and Davis. Our RPI jumped 100 spots from 2007 to 2008, finishing at 95. The 95th RPI was the highest finish in school history. Our conference finish was 6th, but we improved 5 wins in conference. We are returning our entire pitching staff from last season, and starting four position players who have been named All American at some point in their SMC career. We have added a strong freshman class and are making some changes in our pitching staff; for example, Brandon Berl, our Saturday starter as a freshman and sophomore (25 college starts) will be converted to our closer in 2009. I expect our club to make another jump like we did this past season and contend for the WCC title.
2. The 2008 squad saw seven different players record a save on the year. Who do you expect to fill that important position in 2009?
Given the challenges of fitting in 56 games into the shortened season, we will see several different pitchers record saves again this season. Four pitchers will close games throughout the preseason — Brandon Berl (jr.), Tony Selden (sr.), Jimmy Munill (jr.) and Alex Schmarzo (so.). All four of these players have saved games for us throughout last year. Selden and Munill are both healthy and should add some depth to our bullpen. Whoever provides consistency will earn the right to set up and close during conference play.
3. Kyle Jensen is receiving a ton of preseason accolades. What makes him such a special player?
Kyle is a five tool player with very good plate discipline. He hits to all fields and handles off speed pitches well. At 235 lbs., he is extremely fast running a 6.6 second sixty yard dash and covers a lot of ground in the outfield. He also has a strong arm and touched 90 mph on the bump as a freshman.
4. The Gaels have 12 true freshmen in 2009. Do you expect any of them to break into the starting lineup or contribute to the pitching staff?
We have a few freshman who have shown promise. Chris Murphy has exceptional bat control, discipline and approach for being a freshman. He showed consistency defensively at shortstop for us this fall. Troy Channing, a 40th round draft choice by Seattle as a senior, also may crack the line up. He is a very good hitter who has power to all fields. Two pitchers emerged for us on the mound last fall: Kyle Barraclough and Nathan Gonzalez both sit in the low 90′s with above average curve balls and change ups.
5. Who do you expect to be your biggest challenge in the West Coast Conference for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament?
The two teams that historically present the biggest challenge are San Diego and Pepperdine. We continued to schedule teams with a higher RPI, and some polls have our strength of schedule at 22 in the nation this season. If we hold our own in the pre-season and have a strong showing in conference, an at-large bid won’t be out of the question.
6. Last season we saw the implementation of the Uniform Start Date. What are your early impressions on it? Did you think it has leveled the playing field?
I believe the uniform start date will eventually help create parity in D-1 baseball. We haven’t seen the effects of the rule change yet. However, it has created a monster in trying to keep players eligible and on track to graduate, given the number of games we have to fit in each week.
7. How will the new rules with the way the scholarships can be split on the team affect your program? Do you think it is a good change for college baseball?
The scholarship splitting shouldn’t have much effect on the West Coast Conference because the cost of attendance is higher than most state schools. It will work as an advantage for us in the upcoming years, because state schools can’t have 35 players on scholarship where as we might have 25.
8. With the removal of the one-time transfer exemption that allowed student-athletes to change schools once without having to sit out a red-shirt year, do you feel that there is more pressure on a coach to recruit with responsibility or for the student-athlete to be aware of what programs are the best fit for them?
Yes. The no transfer rule has made our lives easier as coaches. Players sometimes would commit to a school way too early without investigating roster availability, coaching staff fits, campus environments, etc. We have always encouraged players and their parents to thoroughly investigate any school they were considering and be sure it is the right fit. As coaches we are very careful of every player we bring in and what role will they fulfill for our program for the next four seasons. Sometimes we really like a kid but don’t have room for him on our roster and pass on the young man. I think it is critical for coaches to be forward and honest with each and every recruit on how they will fit into the program.
9. Final question, who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
I was really fortunate to play for two unbelievable college coaches. Skip Walker, a 1000 game winner at the College of Southern Idaho, and his staff were amazing at the junior college level. Skip is one of the best hitting instructors I have ever come across. Smoke Laval was another huge influence on me. When I played for him in between his stints at ULM and LSU, he brought with him a wealth of information about “the system,” which was developed and handed down over several generations of coaches. A few years ago I was reading _The Baseball Coaching Bible_ and there was an interesting page about how to climb the coaching ladder. It referenced a story regarding Skip Bertman: Danny Litwhiler was a coach for Florida State and Michigan State and had a youngster in the program who he mentored named Ron Fraser (who eventually coached at Miami). Skip Bertman was mentored by Fraser as the pitching coach at Miami before taking over the team at Louisiana State University. Smoke was one of Skip’s assistants at LSU before taking over the program at University of Louisiana Monroe, which is where I played for Smoke. After winning many games using “the system,” Smoke actually gave me a printed copy of the basics of the system (which was several hundred pages). It includes some of the best baseball knowledge in the world: checklists, fund raising, motivation, x’s and o’s, scholarship information, etc. I taught, and still teach, a modified version of the same system that started with Danny Litwhiler in the 60′s. Each coach along the way has added to the system to keep it up to date but it is an incredible reference guide for any coach. The system is what allowed me to become the youngest head coach (at age 29) in division one baseball when I took the job here at SMC in 2003.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Jedd Soto for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for us. Special thanks to Matt Fontenot of Saint Mary’s Media Relations for setting up the interview for us and sending us the picture featured above. If you are an SID or a Coach that would like to be featured on a future interview feel free to email me by clicking here.