CBB Interview with Mik Aoki (Boston College)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         The College Baseball Blog continues our series of interviews with coaches around the nation with Boston College’s Mik Aoki. He is entering his fourth season as the head coach of BC where he has an overall record of 84-80-1. He spent the previous three seasons serving as the pitching coach for Boston College under current Virginia Tech head coach Peter Hughes. The Eagles went 34-26 overall and 14-15 in the ACC. The Eagles received a bid to the NCAA Tournament as they were sent to the Austin Texas Regional. They picked up a victory over Texas State in the opener before losing to Texas and Army.

 

1. Boston College had one of their most successful seasons since 1967 by reaching the NCAA Tournament before bowing out to Army in the Austin Regional. What are your goals and expectations for the 2010 team?

Our goals are pretty much the same each year – chronologically they are win the Beanpot, win the ACC tourney, get to Omaha, win the national championship. The goals will be the same this year.

My expectations are for this team to be better than last year’s squad, and I think this team has a really good chance to be better. We lost some important pieces (Belfiore, Butera, MacDonald, Sanchez) but I think we’ll be more diverse offensively, as good as any in the country defensively and deeper than we were last year in our pitching staff. I am really excited about 2010.

2. The Eagles lost starting catcher Tony Sanchez and first baseman/closer Mike Belfiore to the MLB Draft. Who do you expect to fill those spots in the lineup?

Matt Watson, Garret Smith, Anthony Italiano, and Jim Laufer will compete for the catching duties. Watson and Smith project to be in the lineup in some way shape or form. Replacing Tony’s defense will be a HUGE challenge. I think Watson will become an outstanding offensive player. No offense meant to any of the catchers in our program but it will take some time before we develop another kid with Tony’s defense – he could be an above average defender in the big leagues right now!

Anthony Melchionda is the guy who likely replaces Belf. He may be at 1B with Wiswall at 3B or vice versa. Belf was so good around the bag and obviously he was Aoki1 incredible for us on the mound and losing that security at the back end of a game will be hardest challenge. Melch will do a good job of giving us defense and offensive production but he can’t pitch so we’re going to need a few players to replace what Belf has done for us the past couple of years.

3. Boston College and Texas played in the longest game in NCAA baseball history during the Austin Regional in 2009. Do you think the national attention that the game received has had a positive impact on the BC program?

I definitely think it has brought us increased exposure – no doubt about it. It has provided us with a tremendous opportunity to keep the momentum rolling from last year and establish ourselves as a program with a consistent high level of play – perennial ACC and NCAA tournament berths. I also know that while all of our kids were proud to have played in a historic game against a storied program, none of our kids took some sort of moral victory from it. We all feel we could have won that game and had we done that, we all feel we would have won that regional. I really feel that game will make us a better program – a hungrier and more confident program.

4. BC returns two out of three weekend starters in Pat Dean and John Leonard. Who do you expect to fill the other spot in the rotation?

I think we will have some great competition for even John’s spot. I think Pat has proven that he will be our ace in 2010 and I think John will be competing with some great arms – Kevin Moran, Mike Dennhardt, Matt Brazis, and Andrew DelColle.

5. Have any of the incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you expect any of them to break into the starting lineup/rotation this spring?

I think we have a few that will help in varying roles: Matt Watson (C), Phil Miclat (2B), Andrew DelColle (P), Hunter Gordon (P), and Jay Jeannotte (P).

Aoki26. Mickey Wiswall, John Leonard and Mike Dennhardt each spent the summer of 2009 in the Cape Cod Baseball League. How do you decide where to send your players during the offseason?

We try to pair up kids with a league and a situation within that league that is going to challenge their skill level and at the same time allow them the opportunity to experience success. We will have a few more guys in the Cape in 2010 and I think we probably should have had about 3 more, but those guys are going to the Northwoods which is a tremendous league from both a competitive standpoint and the experience they come away with. A number of the organizations up there draw upwards of 4 or 5 thousand a night – tough to beat playing in that atmosphere.

I think it is important to send kids to situations where they are going to have a chance to develop and that means playing every day. We try to continue relationships that we have had in the past with coaches and organizations where our kids were treated well.

We have a network or coaches, organizations, and leagues where BC players have had great experiences and been allowed to really develop their skills. I know that summer leagues have been a big part of the reason that our program has such a strong record of player development. We’ve had more than 30 kids go onto pro ball in the past 5 or 6 years and of those kids only 2 or 3 had been drafted out of high school. I put that record of player development up against anybody’s and putting our kids in the right summer situations has been an important part of the player development plan.

7. With Duke moving 18 games off campus to the DBAP, has BC pursued any similar ideas of moving any games off campus?

No, we are still waiting on the politics in the city of Boston to give us the green light to start our own on-campus facility. I am optimistic that it will be pretty soon and I know from experience that an on-campus venue is much more desirable than an off-campus one. I don’t mean for that to be a shot at Duke – they’re going to play in a beautiful park but I just feel strongly that the appropriate on-campus facility is the best way to go for any program.

8. 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?

I understand the rationale behind the rule but I don’t agree with it. I totally agree with the 35-man roster limit, and I wish the NCAA had just let the coaches split up the money within that 35-man roster in any manner that each coach felt was best for their program. I don’t think it will affect our program in terms of how we perform on the field but I do think it will hurt our players a bit. I won’t be able to reward a player with an increase to their scholarship as readily. In the past, I might have been able to bump a kid $5K who had been on a small scholarship or none at all and now I have to give a kid who was not on money almost $13K to get to the 25%. I rarely have 25% being unused, but I will have 10 or 15% most years. Now I either sit on that money or increase a kid who is already getting scholarship money.

9. We have now been through two seasons with the Uniform Start Date being in effect. What is your early opinion on the rule change?

I think it has been a good thing for us and I am glad that it is in effect. I am also glad to see that we increased the number of playable weeks to 14 from 13. I hope that as soon as we (college baseball) can work it out, the 14th week will move the end of the season rather than to the beginning as it is now. It puts a huge financial burden on northern teams to have to take so many trips. It is FAR less expensive to keep the kids after school is out than it is to take almost any weekend trip out of region.

10. With the removal of the one-time transfer exception 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?

I’ve always felt that responsibility and I think the large majority of college coaches feel it as well. There will always be coaches who do not feel that responsibility and they’ve already found ways around the new scholarship rules and have actually taken advantage of the removal of the one-time exception. Basically they don’t renew aid to seniors because they know that seniors have very few options and in the case of a 5th year kid, he has absolutely no options. Terrible manipulation of the rule as far as I’m concerned, but there will always be those guys that find their way around anything the NCAA comes up with.

I hope that the prospective SA’s also feel that responsibility and do a good job researching the schools and the programs, because they are the ones who ultimately get hurt if they feel they have to transfer. I do think that removing the one-time transfer rule was a good thing; however I do think that there needs to be some common sense with it – for example if a kid is one of the 8 non-scholarship spots in a program, they should be allowed to transfer once without having to sit.

Unfortunately the rule had to be put in because of the transgressions of a few. The recruiting summer leagues, going through advisors, having players recruit other players, etc. was completely out of control.

The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Mikio taking some time out of his schedule to do this interview with us. Special thanks to Boston College Baseball SID Matt Lynch for setting up the interview and providing assistance with securing the photos. If any other schools are interested in being featured feel free to contact me by clicking here.