FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
Q: How would you evaluate the fall season?
Mee: I was very pleased with our team’s overall performance in the fall. We wanted to establish our approach to the game, and I felt we did that. We came to the ballpark every day and played with high energy and hustle. I think you can see the aggressiveness we showed on the field, at the plate, on the bases and on the mound. That’s something we know is important for us to be successful – to play with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and really have the mindset of outworking the opponent.
The key to our spring season is going to be our ability to come out and play hard every single day, regardless of who the opponent is and where the game is played. If we can show that mindset, I believe we have a chance to achieve some great things.
Q: Last season your team advanced to the MAC Tournament Championship Game for the second time in school history. Did your team come back this fall hungry for more?
Mee: It was a great experience, making the tournament run last spring. Our guys enjoyed that and thrived in that environment. They’re hungry to get back there. One of the things that we reminded our team the first day of the fall is that this year’s team has not accomplished anything yet. We have to work hard and earn our way to that point. It’s a new year and a new team that has to prove itself every day. I believe the guys have taken to that concept, and I think it showed in our performance during fall practice that they know we have to earn our way back there. It’s not going to just happen because we show up at the ballpark.
Q: You return eight position starters from a year ago. How will that experience help in 2010?
Mee: We have a lot of experience returning in our position players. The most important thing is that they’re a year older, have another year of experience, and they’re stronger and physically more mature, which I think is obviously going to help them. Hopefully, we can be more consistent in our approach every day. I think that’s key. We have talent and we know we can do it. We did it on the weekends last spring, and we played very well in the conference. We need to prove as a group we can play at that level every day. I think this group of position players is going to be the group that’ll show us the way.
With all those returning starters, one of the aspects of our team that I’m really excited about is the lineup we are going to put out on the field. I think offensively we will be able to put a lot of pressure on our opponents, especially the pitchers and the defense. With that experience, I think we will put up good at-bat after good at-bat after good at-bat. That is going to be a big key for us. I think our team will be a tough out one-through-nine. Our goal is to wear down the starting pitcher and get into their bullpen early.
Q: Depth on the pitching staff has been an area of concern since you took over the program. This fall, you return 11 letterwinners and added five arms in your latest recruiting class. With those numbers, have you been able to address that issue?
Mee: As a pitching staff, I definitely believe we have the most talented and deepest staff we’ve had during my time here. I think we have a lot of guys with the ability to pitch for us in big games and that’s something we’re really trying to sort out right now. There’s great competition amongst the guys on our team. Having returnees like junior Matt Kuna and senior Mike Inselmann is a big shot in the arm. They have pitched a lot of innings for us, and we expect them to do the same for us this year. Then we have some other players who really pitched their way into the mix, especially sophomores Lincoln Rassi and Kyle Shaw, who had great summers and good falls as well. We also have a couple of talented newcomers we can throw into the mix. We’re going to count on them make some big contributions. Michael Hamann, Cody Umbright and Jared Locke spearhead that group of newcomers, and we expect all three to pitch big innings in the spring. That’s something we’re going to sort out through competition and through practice. I like the choices that we have.
Q: You must replace one of the best relievers in the MAC a season ago in senior Jeff Cinadr. How would you assess your relief pitching and the setting up of your bullpen?
Mee: Our relief pitching was probably my second biggest area of concern this fall after replacing Jake Oester. Arguably our most valuable player last spring was senior reliever Jeff Cinadr. He pitched a single-season school-record 30 games for us and was simply outstanding. Trying to put our bullpen together is a big priority for us, and I think we have some very good candidates. Junior Matt Zahel returns after tallying nine saves last spring. He is definitely a guy we’re going to count on. Senior Jacob Bernath is a left-handed specialist for us and did a really good job in the spring. This fall, he threw 9.1 innings and did not give up a run. He is a player I expect to have a major role in the bullpen again this season. Another positive for our team this fall was the emergence of a couple power right-handed pitchers in senior Matt Suschak and sophomore Tyler Scott. Suschak has worked very hard and turned himself into a legitimate prospect. We’re counting on him to throw a lot of big innings for us. Scott had a great summer and has really developed in the last year. Senior Rob Moffat is also a reliable situational right-handed pitcher who will be in a similar role again this spring. I think all those guys are a good start to our relief plan, and we’ll put that together over the course of winter conditioning. Two players who were not able to pitch this fall because they were rehabbing from injuries that I think are going to have important roles for our team in the spring are senior Dan Gatins and sophomore Alex Radon. Radon had a great outing in the MAC Championship Game, and he does a tremendous job of throwing strikes down in the zone, which we ask our pitchers to do. Gatins has a lot of experience, and I think that will allow him to be a big contributor as well.
Q: For your team to be successful in the spring you will need upperclassmen to step up and be leaders. With eight seniors on the roster, have they kind of stepped up and taken on that responsibility?
Mee: I’ve been pleased with the development of our players in that way. The first step to being a great leader is to set a great example. I think we have a number of guys on our team that understand that and are more than willing than ever to do just that. It’s great to see players like senior Josh Wierzba step forward in that type of role. I think our players care enough about what we are trying to accomplish. They all are going to be leaders in some way by setting a great example and helping each other perform at the highest level.
Q: This fall you experimented with players in different positions because of your team’s versatility. How did that process work out, and do you think it will benefit the team in the spring?
Mee: One of the many areas I like about this team is the versatility we have. We have a number of guys that are good athletes and good baseball players we can put at different positions. We can play a guy like sophomore Matt Delewski at first, second and third base and left field. Another example is senior Josh Johnson, who saw time at first base and across the outfield. Freshman Andy Mix played in right and left field, as well as first and third base. Junior Chris Dudics, who started in center field in the spring, played some this fall at second base and shortstop. I really like our versatility. That will allow us to get our best nine players out on the field that particular day.
Q: The infield returns three starters in 2009, including a four-year starter at second base and a three-year starter at shortstop. But in the same breath, you lost a four-year starter at third base to graduation. How important is it to have that core of players returning, and how do you replace Jake Oester?
Mee: One of my greatest concerns defensively heading into the fall was how do we replace Jake Oester at third base. He was simply outstanding last year defensively. There was great competition this fall between sophomore Joe Corfman and junior Jim Vahalik, as well as a few others. Corfman did an outstanding job and really proved that he belonged there. We feel great about having him there. He will start the spring at third base, and Vahalik will begin the spring at first. What I think Jim gives us at first base is an above-average defensive player and he really makes such a huge difference for the rest of our infield.
I feel real good about the way we will start the year in the infield. Senior Tim Krofcheck has been outstanding defensively for us throughout his career, and one of the areas I am most pleased about is the progress and the development junior Jared Hoying has made defensively. It is no secret he struggled a little bit last season in the field. He knew that, he addressed it, and worked his tail off this summer and fall. He played the whole fall season, a total of 20 games, and committed only three errors. I think he is now playing with a lot of confidence and that kind of performance is really going to help our team. With his improved defensive effort, Jared has turned himself into a legitimate pro prospect.
Q: The outfield also returns in good shape with all three starters back. You may have two of the better pair of outfielders in the MAC with Chris Dudics and Dan Sherwood?
Mee: No question about it, junior Chris Dudics had an outstanding year for us in the leadoff spot last spring. He really made our team go. He kind of sets the tone for us offensively.
Junior Dan Sherwood has continued to develop and he’ll be in right field again. The one thing with Sherwood that I’m really excited about is that he showed a consistent approach at the plate this fall. He cut down on his strikeouts quite a bit and was a very productive hitter.
In left field, our situation this spring will be very similar to last year. We have a number of guys that can really make a big contribution for us and provide us with a spark. Senior Josh Wierzba did a great job in that role last year. Sophomore Jeff Cola is another guy who really came on at the end of the fall and has earned the opportunity to see some time in left or center field. Junior Jason Edwards did a fabulous job for us in the outfield as well, and also saw some time at first base. A couple of guys who have put themselves in the picture as well are Matt Delewski, who really swung the bat well all fall. I was really impressed by the way he performed offensively. We will have to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. Then there is Andy Mix, who played his way into the picture with his power potential. I think all those guys are in the mix for playing time, and are designated hitter will probably come out of that group.
One of the biggest surprises this fall in the outfield was the emergence of freshman Tyler Grogg. He really provided the team with a spark with the way he plays the game. He brings an element to our team that is needed with his speed.
You have a couple other guys like senior Josh Johnson and sophomore Mark Lapikas that are in the picture as well for those at-bats. That is one of the reasons I like the versatility of our team. We have quite a few players who can play different positions which will allow us to get our best hitters in the lineup.
Q: The catching situation also returns in good shape with four-year starter Aaron Dudley and sophomore A.J. DeMarco returning. How will that experience help in 2010?
Mee: It feels good to have Aaron behind the plate for one more season. We can rely on his experience. It is important for him to help lead our team from that position. I think he welcomes that responsibility, and we’re counting on him to do that. It is also great to watch the development of sophomore A.J. DeMarco, who has a great feel for the game. As far as running the game, I think he does a tremendous job of that from his position. Another player who has done a great job in our program is junior Joe Wordeman. He comes to the ballpark every day with great attitude and energy.