Jan. 27, 2012
ATLANTA – Entering his 19th season on the Flats, and 25th overall as a head coach, Danny Hall has been a winner in every sense of the word. Riding a streak of 24-consecutive winning seasons, Hall embarks on the 2012 season just 13 wins shy of 1,000 career victories. RamblinWreck.com sat down with Hall to preview his silver anniversary season.
On the goals and expectations of the 2012 Georgia Tech baseball team>>>
“Our expectations are always extremely high and we expect to be good every year. I think the history of Georgia Tech baseball and the tradition is that we are going to be good every year.
“In saying that, the goal never changes: we want to get to the College World Series; we’d love to get to the National Championship, but we have a lot of things that we need to take care of to try to get to that level. I think that first and foremost we need to try to finish as high as we possibly can in the ACC and try to win the ACC Tournament, which is one of the most difficult tournaments in the country, and then get in to the NCAA Regionals.
“It is definitely a process we have to go through but our goal is always to get to Omaha at the end of the year.”
On losing Mark Pope, Jed Bradley, Jacob Esch and Matt Skole to the MLB Draft last season>>>
“First and foremost, to lose Mark Pope, your No. 1 pitcher, and Jed Bradley, your No. 2 pitcher — two guys that were not only good pitchers but also logged a lot of innings — is hard to replace. I am definitely concerned about guys that will fill those two roles.
“Also, Jacob Esch and Matt Skole were two very good players on the left side of our infield. Skole, in particular, has been a great player and great hitter for us, hitting in the middle of our order for three years. Esch was just one of those guys that kept coming each and every year, getting better. I feel like we have a lot to replace. Even though we only lost four, I think it was four really important cogs for our team.”
On replacing those four>>>
“In looking at shortstop, we started last year with Mott Hyde at short then moved him to second base and put Esch at short. I thought that really made our team gel, so Mott’s going to get the first crack at shortstop and Connor Winn will definitely get a chance to play either there or second.
“There is a pretty good battle at third base between Chase Butler and Alex Cruz, but in the preseason I think Chase is definitely ahead of Alex. I feel like both those guys are capable of being good defenders. Mott played everyday last year and I think he’s a much better hitter; Cruz had a great summer in the Florida Collegiate League, so I think we have the ingredients to be good on the left side of the diamond.
“If you look at our pitching staff, Buck Farmer, who won the most ACC games last year of any pitcher in the conference, will go to Friday. Buck’s a great competitor, he’s got great stuff, has really been a workhorse for us for his first two years here and will now lead our staff as a junior. I think Matthew Grimes, who pitched on Tuesdays and did a great job pitching those Tuesday games for us last year, will go to Saturday, and Sunday is to be determined. I think we have four great candidates to see who is going to pitch on Sunday and who will pitch on Tuesday. It may be Dusty Isaacs, DeAndre Smelter, Jonathan Roberts, or freshman Cole Pitts. I think two of those four will get a lot of starts.
We will need a fifth starter right out of the gate because we play four games the first weekend at Winthrop, then go to Georgia Southern, playing five games in six days. We will have some answers by the time we start conference play on who needs to pitch on Sunday and who needs to pitch those midweek games.”
On the backend of the bullpen>>>
“It starts with Luke Bard. We really debated long and hard on whether we were going to put Bard in our starting rotation, but I just felt like in the second half of the year last year he was one of the dominant closers in our league. I fully trust him to come in and get the job done late in games and I think it’s important in college baseball that you have somebody that can come in and close those games out and I think that guy is Luke for us. I’m very excited about him being there.
“I think the other guy you might see a little bit towards the end of games would be Zane Evans. When we recruited Zane out of Roswell High School, he had pitched a lot in high school and pitched a lot for the East Cobb Yankees in the summertime and we felt like he could really help us as a pitcher. We thought he could help us catch and hit a bit, too, but last year he was the only catcher we had and we had to ride that horse almost the whole year. This year we have more catching depth so I think I’ll be able to use Zane, but since he’s our No. 1 catcher I don’t think it’s a case where we can use him a lot, just from time to time to close a game for us.”
On the right side of the infield>>>
“You’ve got Jake Davies coming back at first base. Daniel Palka played a lot of first base in the fall and I feel very confident both those guys could play there and play well; both of them are excellent hitters. We’ve taken Sam Dove from left field and moved him to second base. He was an infielder coming in here and ended up winning the left field job for us last year, hitting very well for us. His natural position, however, is playing in the infield so we’ve got him at second where you could also see Connor Winn playing; he’s certainly going to battle both Sam and Mott for playing time in the middle.
“The other guy is Evan Martin; I have taken him out of the outfield and put him in at second, so I feel like we have some depth there and you’ll probably see a case where we’ll try and play all of them at some point in time.”
On the outfield depth>>>
“We have Kyle Wren coming back — certainly one of the best center fielders in college baseball — so we’re excited to have him back for his sophomore year. We have Brandon Thomas who is our most viable position player as a pro-prospect and will be starting for his third year. He got a lot of playing time as a freshman, played everyday last year, had a great summer in the Cape, and I really expect Brandon to have a breakout year. I am probably going to move Brandon from right to left and try to utilize his speed in left field more. Then in right field, Paul Kronenfeld is probably the guy that I thought had a real good fall and a pretty nice summer. I think you could see one of our freshmen, Charles Sheffield, out there, or even have Palka go out there and play from time to time.
“Right field might take us awhile to settle on who is going to play there but I do feel like we have some very good candidates, not only to play well defensively but to also give us some offense from that position.”
On the improved depth at catcher>>>
“Zane was a warrior last year, but we have Mitch Earnest back and Mitch has really made some great strides. He walked on last year, made our team and has made a lot of strides defensively and offensively. Then we have two freshmen — Connor Lynch from Pope High School here in Marietta, is a real good defender with a good arm and catches well and A.J. Murray, a kid out of New Jersey, who I really like. He is a tremendous competitor, his brother played college baseball at Wake Forest. A.J. can really swing the bat and is a real good, tough kid. I think you’ll see some mixture of all three of them getting some playing time just to spell Zane, and we’re excited that for the first time in two years we have some depth in that position.”
On the DH role>>>
“I think it could be, depending on what we do at first base and right field, the guys I mentioned earlier that would fill in at DH. If you look at right-handed hitters, if Evan Martin is not playing, he has a chance to get in there. Sheffield’s got a chance, as well as Murray.
“If you’re looking for a lefty bat, Kronenfeld could be a DH if he’s not playing, as well as Davies or Palka. I feel like we have plenty of options, but it’ll just come down to whoever is hitting good at the time.”
On which freshmen may make the biggest impact>>>
“I think the two pitchers, Pitts and Josh Heddinger, are going to definitely help us. Pitts had a little bit of a tender shoulder in the fall and we didn’t get a chance to see him a lot, but he did get in there towards the end and threw the ball very well. Heddinger, who played at Buford, pitched them to the State Championship last year, has a good arm but also a real good feel for his breaking ball.
“Then if you look at those catchers, I think that Murray and Lynch can both help us. Sheffield is the guy that we need to look for a spot for him to play; he has tremendous power and a great throwing arm. A real good defender in that class is Michael Hodorowski who can really play center field, so we could use him to defend and maybe use him in our short-game offense as we move forward.”
On who emerges as the leaders>>>
“Davies is a senior and I think he is the guy that keeps everybody loose and is the guy that everybody knows has played a lot of baseball. I think guys like Luke Bard — every guy on our pitching staff respects him — and they all respect Buck Farmer and how hard he works and competes. Sam Dove is a guy who walked on to our team here and has earned everybody’s respect, so you hope that they are all capable of leading.
“It always starts with your upperclassmen and even though we will start a lot of sophomores, the upperclassmen will have to lead our team.”
On the effect of the new bast last year and what may change this year>>>
“The bats definitely caused a significant change in the game. Home runs were literally cut in half and it is definitely more of a pitching, defense, short-game offense. I’m sure the bats are improved a little bit this year but I think the standard that they put in is something that, even though the batting companies can come up with more cutting edge technology, I don’t think it’s going to drastically alter the way the ball comes off the bat.
“It is much more pitcher-friendly, harder to hit home runs, you have to do a good job of manufacturing home runs, and your infielders have the chance to make many more plays just because the ball doesn’t shoot through the infield like it used to.”
On the challenging non-conference schedule>>>
“We always try to play a tough, midweek, non-conference schedule and try to find some teams we can play early that are good. The first weekend is going to be a major challenge. We play four games, including a double-header on the first day at Winthrop against Kent State, who took Texas to the last game of the Regionals in Austin. Scott Strickland has worked here for me and I coached Scott at Kent State. He has one of the best programs in the Midwest and their team has perennially been a Top 40 team.
“Tommy Riginos, the coach at Winthrop, was at Clemson and is now in his second year at Winthrop, so I’m sure they will be a lot better this year than they were last year.
“I think that’s a tough challenge, but then Ohio State comes in, a good team out of the Big Ten whose coach also played for me at Kent State, so I would say that’s a program that’s going to be on the rise.
“We have Rutgers again and Georgia three times, as always. Georgia Southern is probably the sleeper team. They have two kids on their team, one pitcher and one outfielder, that are projected as first-round picks and both those kids are tremendous players. UNC-Charlotte was in the NCAA Tournament last year so it doesn’t get any easier for the Jackets and I think the interesting thing about baseball in the South and Southeast is that a lot of those midweek games, whether it’s Georgia Southern, Mercer, who beat us twice last year, Kennesaw State, or Georgia state, are not easy games and we will have to be up to the challenge when they roll in here.
“We were not good last year in those midweek games, other than against Georgia, so we need to definitely do a better job.”
On the Atlantic Coast Conference>>>
“I think the ACC just keeps getting better and better, and even the teams that people think are down near the bottom seem to be getting better players and some new coaches, so I know they are going to make those teams much better.
“I think it will be a dogfight, day in and day out. It’s not easy to finish in the Top 8 just to get in to the ACC Tournament, but that’s got to be a goal: to play well in the ACC and get in that tournament up in Greensboro.”