Countdown to First Pitch: 18 Days (Danny Hall Q&A)

Feb. 1, 2010

The Georgia Tech baseball team begins the 2010 season Friday, Feb. 19 when it opens a three-game series with Missouri State. With preseason practice underway, fans can check out RamblinWreck.com to find blogs, video interviews and Q&A’s by members of the 2010 squad about their lives as college students, what’s going on in practice, and their excitement about the upcoming season in the countdown to first pitch series. Day one begins with a Q&A with head coach Danny Hall.

On the Mound

Pitching seems to be the stronghold of the team this season with a veteran staff returning. What can people expect from the guys on the mound?

“We have the ACC pitcher of the year back in Deck McGuire, we have Brandon Cumpton back –who I think really improved this fall, we’re going to take Mark Pope out of the bullpen and put him in the rotation, Jed Bradley — who threw a lot on the weekends in the ACC last year is probably going to be midweek but might also be a left-handed guy out of our bullpen, and we feel like we have two freshmen who could possibly get in there and pitch some mid week games in Luke Bard and Buck Farmer.”

Junior Deck McGuire, the 2009 ACC Pitcher of the Year, opted to not pitch this past summer. Why did he take the time off?

“Nobody was more disappointed in the way we finished last season than Deck was, and I think he took this summer to refresh his body and his mind.”

What part of his game did he work on during the off-season?

“I think more than anything just controlling his emotions; certainly controlling his pitches as well, but working on the mental aspect that goes into it as well on a day to day basis.”

“I think the biggest thing that he fights all the time, because he’s so competitive, is he’ll get worked up too much and try to go too hard at it rather than just trusting that his stuff is good enough to get everybody out and just stay within himself.

He had an All-American year last season as Tech’s No. 1 starter. Have you seen any changes in him?

“I think the biggest change I’ve seen is that he’s more mature, I think he’s very hungry. I just see a more determined, smarter, wiser pitcher that we have.”

Talk a little about the bullpen that returns.

“Well you look at our pen and we basically have both left-handed specialists from last year in Jake Davies and Zach Brewster and you’re looking at one of the most dominant closers that we’ve had in a long time in Kevin Jacob.”

“Then you’re looking at a very experienced pitcher on our staff in Andrew Robinson, a senior that’s been through a lot. So I feel like we have an excellent pitching staff in place.”

You moved Kevin Jacob from a mid-week starter to a closer role. How did this come about?

“We tried to start him some last year and it was with mixed results. I think the biggest reason for that is his control wasn’t quite what it needed to be, his breaking ball wasn’t as consistent as he needed it to be, and he really struggled at times with his changeup. So we kind of felt like his best pitch was his fastball and that rather than a hitter seeing him in three different at bats, if he only saw him in one at bat then that would help him get guys out.”

“When we started transitioning him into more of a bullpen role, his velocity went up, his slider got better and only seeing him one time makes it harder for hitters to zero in on him.”

“I feel like he has two plus-plus pitches, I think he has tremendous confidence right now, and he went up to Alaska this summer and he pitched the way he ended the year last year- with a dominant fastball, a dominant slider and just a lot of confidence. I think he gives us a legitimate guy at the end of the game.”

On the infield

What returns for you on the infield?

“We kind of return the whole infield with Skole at third, Dietrich at short, musical chairs at second, and Tony at first.”

“We have three players that are capable of playing second; obviously Garofalo played a lot there last year, Connor Winn is a great defensive second baseman and swung the bat better this fall, and the guy that has kind of come out of nowhere is Jacob Esch. He has made a good bid to get a lot of playing time because he can play defense and he swung the bat well this fall.”

“Behind the plate we have Cole [Leonida] sitting back there who definitely got a lot of experience last year and will be our number one guy this year.”

Senior Tony Plagman returns at first base with lot of experience. What is his role as a captain this year?

“Tony has been here for four years now. He stepped up and has certainly earned his stripes as on of the best hitters in Tech history.”

“He has great leadership, he is very smart, and everyone on our team respects him so much. He is a guy with tremendous experience and good leadership skills.”

And what about Derek Dietrich, who returns as a two-year starter at shortstop?

“Derek has gone from being freshman of the year to maybe not having as good a season as he would have liked last year. He is a hard worker though, and I think he’s a lot like Deck McGuire.”

“He’s more mentally ready to take on the challenges of being a guy that everyone knows and they want to try to get out, and being able to accept that challenge and being able to handle it.”

Sophomore Matt Skole returns after having a strong freshman year at third base last season. Has he set any goals for the upcoming season?

“His goals are a lot like his goals from his freshman year. He had a great year for us and he hit a lot of home runs, but the biggest thing I’ve seen from him is that he’s in better shape which is going to allow him to stay healthy and ready to go throughout the whole year rather than just parts of it.”

Has he worked on his swing any?

“I think his swing is better, I think he’ll cut down on his strikeouts this year and still be able to hit some more homeruns.”

Second base was a revolving door of players last season. Has anyone stepped up in the off-season at this position or will we continue to see a rotation?

“I think all three players — sophomore Connor Winn, sophomore Jacob Esch and senior Jason Garofalo — are good enough to play there, and they’re all different.”

“Jason [Garofalo] is pretty tough and makes the routine play well. Connor [Winn] is really flashy at second base and has a lot of range and can make plays that maybe the other two can’t. He has to get a little more consistent with his bat. Jake [Esch] is a little bit of both. He doesn’t have Connor’s range but he has a little better range than Garofalo and he hits a lot like Garofalo.”

“We will play all three of them and try to decide who is going to the be the best combination of a defensive guy and a hitter.”

After serving two years as a backup, junior Cole Leonida will start at catcher. What leadership does he provide to this team?

“He’s one of the leaders on our team. I think the players all respect him. He’s had to bide some time here playing behind Jason Haniger, but now it’s his year to get in there and shine and I fully expect him to have a great year.”

With a player transferring and a signee deciding to turn pro, it makes things thin at catcher. Who will backup Leonida this year?

“The only bright bugaboo or negative is if Cole gets hurt, we’re looking at probably sticking Matt Skole back there and we’ve also put Thomas Nichols back there.”

“I was pleasantly surprised at how good [Matt] Skole was behind the plate this fall. He was a catcher until he hit high school so he definitely has experience back there.”

Thomas Nichols will also be back there. He hasn’t really caught a whole lot, but I felt like he really progressed as the fall went on.”

“Are they as good as Cole Leonida? Probably not, but they’re much better than I thought they were going to be back there. Cole is going to catch most of the games and the other two, from time to time, will get some play back there as well.”

In the outfield

You lose an outstanding outfielder in All-American Luke Murton to graduation. How will you replace him?

“As far as replacing Murton, who had a solid year defensively and a great year offensively, I’m not sure we can replace him. I am sure that we can come close though.”

“He [Luke] had a phenomenal year, but across the outfield I think we’re going to have a lot of speed with Chase Burnette, Jeff Rowland, and Jay Dantzler.”

“Chase [Burnette] kind of came into his own last year, he got in there kind of late in the year and was a DH a lot for us. This year is his chance to really establish himself in a position in right field. He has power, he can hit and is a good competitor.”

Senior co-captain Jay Dantzler may be the most experienced of the non-starters in the outfield. What kind of year do you expect out of him?

“Jay [Dantzler] played some for us last year, got hurt a little and missed some time, but came back in it late. He’s a fifth-year guy, has great leadership, great work ethic and everyone is really rooting for him to have a big year. I’m expecting him to have one as well.”

Will any of the younger players see some time in the outfield?

“I think that freshman Brandon Thomas or sophomore Evan Martin can sneak in there and play some defense, and also get some at bats out there.”

What about replacing outfielder Chris House?

“Chris [House] had his moments offensively but he was also a great left fielder for us.”

“I’m hoping Jay Dantzler can get to where he can play defense like Chris. Potentially, Jay may be able to do a little more for us. He can hit a homerun every now and then, and do some more damage with the bat because he has some tremendous power.”

Junior centerfielder Jeff Rowland is the lone returning starter. Will things be different having two new players out there with him?

“I think for Jeff [Rowland] it’s just another day. You know he’s a great center fielder, he’s a great leadoff, he’s a great competitor, and again he’s got a tremendous work ethic.”

Expectations

You have said that on paper, this is the best team since 2006, coincidentally the last time a Tech team went to the College World Series. How does this team compare to some of the great teams of the past?

“Well I think the first thing you always have to look at is your pitching, and I think the fact that we have most of our pitching back with the exception of Von Tersch, it gives us reason to have a lot of hope and a lot of optimism about our season.”

“I feel like we have an excellent pitching staff in place and we have most of our position players back.

“I feel like we’ve got a good mix of pitchers and position players, I feel like we can play defense and I feel like we can definitely score some runs.”

The last two seasons have ended in the NCAA regional final game. What does this team need to do to move on to the super regionals and make a push for the College World Series?

“I think we’ve got to pitch better. If you look at the two games that we lost, we didn’t pitch as well as we probably needed to.”

“We played poor defense and I think the teams that keep advancing pitch pretty well and play defense and they figure out a way to get some timely hits to score.”

“I honestly feel like our offense was pretty good in the regionals here last year but we didn’t pitch it and play defense good enough to win the Regional. That’s step one.”

“Two, we have to be mentally tough and mentally strong. If we do have a bad inning we have to put it out of our mind and keep plugging along.”

“I think if we do that, we certainly have enough talent to keep advancing. But the biggest thing is that we’ve got to play good for nine innings in all phases of the game.”

Do you expect any of the freshmen to make an immediate impact?

“I’d say we expect those guys to make an impact. We expect the four pitchers to push the older players for either a midweek starter spot or a setup role or something in the bullpen.”

Brandon Thomas will also push some of those guys in the outfield. In all, I expect the freshmen to make an impact somehow, some way on our team.”

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