College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches from across the country today with Duke head coach Sean McNally who is entering his sixth season with a 145-134-1 career record as the Blue Devils coach. Last season, the Blue Devils went 29-27 overall while going 8-22 in ACC play.
CBD: Duke finished last season with a 29-27 overall record. How do you feel about your team’s performance last season and what are your early expectations for this year’s squad?
While we were satisfied in a sense to have had our fourth consecutive winning season here at Duke, last year was disappointing in some aspects as well. We have raised the bar of expectations during my tenure here and had followed a steady climb up the last few seasons. Our talent level was certainly impacted by losing seven core players, including two incoming freshmen to the MLB draft; however that is a reality of building an elite ACC program. We have a very young, exciting club this year that we think has some players with the potential to be very special.
CBD: The Blue Devils return their top three starting pitchers from last season in Dennis O’Grady, Eric Pfisterer, and Marcus Stroman. Do you see these three starting the season in the rotation?
We have had tremendous competition within our program this fall on our pitching staff, and those battles for roles will continue throughout the preseason. The experience on our club is on the pitching side; that should benefit us tremendously, especially in the early part of the season.
CBD: Marcus Stroman had one of the best summers in the Cape Cod Baseball League this past year while finishing second in the league with ten saves and not giving up a single run. What makes him so good on the mound? Do you see him focusing on pitching or continuing to be a two-way player?
Marcus had a terrific freshman year (ACC Freshman of the Year) and kept that momentum going up on Cape Cod. He is a terrific talent who also has a lot of room to improve both on the mound and as a position player. We plan on continuing his path as a two-way player through this season and will assess whether or not it makes sense to focus on one role at the end of the year. He pitches with great confidence and has quality stuff as well.
CBD: With the loss of two of your top hitters from last season in Jake Lemmerman and Jeremy Gould. Who do you see filling into their roles this season?
SM: Jake and Jeremy were two solid, accomplished players for us throughout their Duke careers; both are performing well at the professional level now. They will be tough to replace, but we certainly have players in our program with the talent to make up their production. The pre-season will be critical to determining who fills those spots.
CBD: 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?
SM: Our freshmen class collectively had a very good fall practice and individual period. We have a variety of types of position players in the group and some interesting arms as well. They understand the work that it takes to be a good player at this level and have shown a genuine love for the game, which is great to see. We will definitely have some freshmen on the field every game; how quickly they grow up and perform at this level will have a lot to do with how our season goes.
CBD: This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?
SM: The bats will have a huge impact on college baseball; they are like hitting with a flat tire. We used them this fall and they will
certainly change the way the college game is played; small ball will be emphasized much more. I certainly think safety of our players is critical, but I hope after this season we can find a middle ground; they have deadened the bats too much in my opinion.
CBD: Duke just completed renovations to historic Jack Coombs field, installing Astro-Turf and making other upgrades. How will that impact the program and will you continue the relationship started last year with the AAA Durham Bulls, playing your ACC series downtown in their park?
SM: We are very excited about the new field on campus; it has already made a great impact on our player development program and our recruiting as well. To have a home field on campus that performs great, looks great, and requires minimal maintenance helps a great deal. The relationship with the Durham Bulls and playing at the DBAP will continue as well. It was tremendous to play down there and instantly gave us the best facility in the conference to play our ACC series. Both venues serve as a strong statement by our university and our athletic department that we want to be a competitive ACC baseball program year in, year out.
College Baseball Daily would like to thank Coach McNally for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Special thanks to Duke Assistant SID Chris Cook for setting up the interview and sending us the photos. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email.