Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones excited for 2014 - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones excited for 2014

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NEW ORLEANS, LA. (WVUE) - It's been a long six years since the Tulane Green Wave made an appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament.

Coach Rick Jones discussed the expectations for this team as he enters his 21st season uptown during Media Day Thursday.  The following are Jones' comments, as transcribed by Tulane Sports Information:

Opening Statement…

"This is my 21st year, and I will start off by saying that we have a lot of new faces on our club this year, with 16 of the 19 new players being freshmen. Our coaching staff is intact and returns Chad Sutter, who is Associate Head Coach now. He's been with me as a player and a coach for almost 15 years now. Jake Gautreau, who is the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach for me, as well as our infield coach this year, is in his fifth season with me. We brought in a nationally ranked recruiting class this year according to the national ranking services. Shooter Hunt returns for his second year as a volunteer assistant, and he will again coach the outfielders and pitchers as well as coach first base. Lastly, we have made one last addition within the last week due to a career-ending chronic hip injury that he had. Briggs Barrios will move into the role of student assistant this year. He is a senior from Jesuit high school who is a legacy here, his father played here, and we are excited to have Briggs be a part of the coaching staff.

"The coaching staff is still intact, but there are a lot of new faces and players from last year's club. Last year obviously was a disappointing year for us, in the fact that we were 30-28 and missed the NCAA tournament again. But it did not have anything to do with the effort that we had from those seniors that left us last year, or the commitment they had to the program. I can't tell you how proud I was to be around those guys daily. I just felt so badly for them because we didn't have the year last year we wanted to have for them. We had some injuries, along with some guys who just didn't have as good of a year as they had the year before, and if you remember, the year before, we were in the top-20 in the nation in offense and top-10 in the nation in defense, as well as leading our conference in team batting average and team defense, along with having the lowest team ERA we had in about 15 years. We had some great numbers coming back last year, but they just didn't materialize, and at the end of the day that falls on me. The goal of this young talented group is to try and get back to the NCAA Tournament and try and have the kind of year that our dedicated fan base is accustomed to."

On what he feels about the way the game has changed and how it affects this team…

"The way the game is being played now, if you look at the comparison we've made, even in 2012 when we were one of the top teams in the country offensively, we scored 353 runs, and it paled in comparison to the 90's, because of the difference in the bat and ball. The way the game is played now is a speed oriented game, and the numbers that we put up in the league two years ago, even though they were some of the top in the league, paled in comparison to the teams we had back in those days. By looking at our stats back in the 90s, you can see the huge differences from then to now, and you can attribute that to the fact that the game is simply played differently. The College World Series is probably the best example I can give you of that. There were three home runs in the entire World Series; eight elite teams and only three home runs. Do I like the way the game is being played now? No, but it's adapt or die, so it's got to be more of a speed-oriented game. We've gotten a little bit faster. We recruited to that position-player wise, but you've got to be able to do some things to win now in close, low-scoring ball games that we weren't able to do enough of last year. One of the things that you have to be able to do is treat 90 feet almost like a run. If you give up 90 feet, you need to get an out in return. If you get 90 feet without giving up an out, you're ahead of the game, so you have to steal bases, avoid the double play, etc. Your pitchers have got to pound the strike zone and understand that you have to throw it over, you can't give away outs, you can't give up walks, and you can't make errors. You need a shortstop that's able to shorten an inning by being able to get to that ball that maybe somebody else couldn't, and instead of that inning being extended and taxing your starting and relief pitching, you shorten that inning, and you take the other team out of it. Those are the things that UCLA did last year, and that's what we have to be able to do this year, and I think we have some guys who are more capable of doing that. With that being said, we are pretty youthful, and we're going to make some youthful mistakes, and that's just part of it, but we are going to learn on the job. I'm excited that we are more of a club that is adapting to the way that the game is being played now with the balls and bats being different. We hit with Major League balls in batting practice, and we hit balls out of the ballpark right and left, but the college ball doesn't go like that. It has high seams and it's much softer."

On Ian Gibaut not being at full strength currently…

"We think we'll have him back in the first weekend a little bit, but we are planning for Conference play, knock on wood, if everything goes according to plan. It'll be more of a vote-by-committee type deal, but obviously Andrew Garner will have more of a role there, and you're going to see Emerson Gibbs help out some as well. We've also got three local pitchers that are freshmen who've had some really good preseasons. J.P. France, out of Shaw, will be in a starting role for us. He had five no-hit innings in his last outing, which was Sunday, and he hit 92 on the gun with a good change-up and slider. Corey Merrill, out of Lutcher, has pitched very well, and he had a good outing on Friday of last week. You'll see him somewhere in a starting role, I would imagine on the first weekend. Who has really stepped up recently, because he was out most of the fall, is Tyler Zamjahn, out of Brother Martin. He really has looked good in his last couple outings, so you may see him in the back end some too, by committee, until we get Ian back to where he was."

On Tyler Zamjahn's pitching style…

"He's going to throw about 87-88 mph, but with a plus changeup and plus, 12-6 curveball. He hammers the strike zone, and he's just one of those guys who's going to eat up a lot of innings, especially in this day and age where the ball doesn't travel a whole lot. Our ballpark has played bigger than the old Greer Field at Turchin Stadium, because we don't have a six-story dorm to knock down that north wind that stretched all the way across right field. The wind is blowing in a lot more, and again we've seen some balls that we think would be out of the ball park, just like you saw in the College World Series last year, that didn't even make it to the warning track. If you've got strike throwers, let them hit it, and let's see if we can run this thing down."

On possibility of Tim Yandel pitching…

"You will see Tim Yandel on the mound this year. He has not thrown as hard this spring as he did in the fall. He's been in the 86-88 mph range, but he's got a good breaking ball and he can hit the strike zone. You will see him in a dual role this year, as he swung the bat really well for us in the preseason, but in that situation you would see him as a back end of the bullpen type of guy. He will have a more prominent role on the mound."

On the weekend rotation…

"Right now, the guys that we are looking at that have the best chance include Randy LeBlanc, who's getting back to where he was prior to his Tommy John surgery three years ago. Now, Randy still has to do a good job of commanding his off-speed pitches. His fastball has been very good, up to 94 mph, but he needs to get a little bit better command of his off-speed, because that will help determine whether he is a Friday night guy or maybe a Sunday guy. Right now, we would love to have him on Friday night, but we're not quite sure where he's going to go. Tyler Mapes is coming back off Tommy John surgery, and that's been a very pleasant surprise for us because he's only about 10 months out (from the surgery). We had him up to 90 mph on the gun with a good slider and changeup, and he was really commanding the strike zone. You should see him on the weekend as well. In addition, you will see J.P. France, Corey Merrill, and after that, the fifth guy - if we have to go five guys - could come from a lot of different guys. It could be Emerson Gibbs, who is throwing much harder than he did a year ago. It could be Tyler Zamjahn if he's not in a relief role. You may see him in a starting role also, but you're going to see some freshmen and some local guys pitch a lot for us, because they've earned that."

Also, Alex Massey has come off of surgery, and he has thrown the ball back into the 90s. We are still working on his command, but he is certainly in line to be in the starting rotation if all continues to progress as it has so far. Alex is making very steady progress. Along with his 90 mph fastball, he is starting to feature a good breaking ball, so I feel good about our depth and the talent of our pitching staff, and yes, I did say this about our staff last year. One thing that we did change is that we only have one week where we play five games. Everything else is four game weeks, which will give our pitching staff a chance to get a little bit more rest and possibly give us a little bit more depth."

On Kyle McKenzie being used as a starter or reliever…

"Kyle has really thrown a lot of strikes (in the spring). He's thrown the ball really well, and I've been excited about the way Kyle has thrown so far, but he has been better for us in an early to middle relief role, and that's where we have him today."

On most important games of the season…

"Any time you go on the road, you help yourself a little bit with the RPI, but you hurt your season ticket holder base, and we have to pick one or the other. As a rule, we try to have over 35 games a year at home because we are a revenue producer. We always have been, and we need to be at home to do that. However, the RPI gets impacted more the way the NCAA has structured it. If you win on the road it helps and it hurts you less if you lose on the road. You are always at the mercy of the other teams in this state, and what kind of club they have, for your in-state RPI, or your weekly RPI, because, for the most part, that's who you're playing. We have some of those great in-state schools that do really well in their conference, and we go on the road and play them. Obviously that helps you, so we are going on the road a little bit more to do that. We took a four-year hiatus on our West Coast trips after the economy crunch, and we are back into doing that now. We are going to a tournament in San Francisco with Cal-Berkeley - who was in Omaha two years ago – San Francisco – who was an NCAA Tournament team the last two years – and the University of Arkansas - who was a Super Regional team and has been a World Series team in the past. That should be a really good RPI weekend for us. In addition, this trip will get us more exposure on the West Coast where we have recruited so well. Next year, we will open the season at Pepperdine. This year, we have our open weekend really helping us, with Wichita State, who is the Missouri Valley Conference champion, coming in to play us, so I think that will certainly help us on our open weekend."

"Unlike years past, now that Conference USA has expanded so much, we have 30 conference games across 10 conference weekends. Again, you're at the mercy of how good those teams in your conference are, but we play more conference games than we ever had. In the second week of the season, we are playing conference games at Louisiana Tech. Next year, in the American Athletic Conference; we only have eight baseball playing schools, so we're going to play our natural rival Houston twice, home and home. Everybody else we will play three game series with, so it'll be a 24 game conference schedule. This year there are 13 Conference USA baseball playing schools, and we'll play them all with the exception of Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion, because everybody skips two schools, and those are the two they have us skipping. We'll see how that goes. Again I can't really tell you about a lot of those schools in the conference just because we haven't gotten into the scouting reports yet."

On how this team will fare offensively…

"It's going to have to be a team that really puts the ball in play and in motion. We need to make sure that we have good at-bats in quality situations. You see how the game has changed, and it's not unique to Tulane. (The ball) doesn't travel as much, and so you have to be able to play that short game. We are going to have to be able hit and run, bunt, run, and we are going to have to be able to hit really well with two strikes. If you get a runner on third base with less than two outs, it's going to have to be crunch time for us to get that ball in play and get that run in. If we get a runner on second base with nobody out in a close game or in a game where we want to stretch the lead, we have to be able to get that ball to the right side. That has been our point of emphasis, whether we've been on the field, in the batting cages, or wherever, is doing that consistently. We have a lot of youth, and a lot of these guys were never asked to do that in high school because they hit third or fourth in the lineup and their job was to knock in runs and hit homeruns. It's a little bit more of an adjustment because this is the way the game is played. UCLA hit .250 last year and won the national title, and so we are going to try and do everything we can action-wise this year. But if you get down three runs in the sixth inning, it's like being down eight runs and 10 runs five to 10 years ago, which takes away some of the things you can do action-wise. One thing that hurt us last year is that we got hurt a little bit on the mound, and we were behind early in some games, which took away some of the things that we wanted to do. We wanted to run a lot more, but there were certain situations where we couldn't run, or couldn't bunt, because we didn't want to give up outs at the time. I've said this repeatedly, but I coached probably 20 years, and I can't remember running or defending -unless it was against a West Coast team - the first and third safety squeeze. Nowadays, if there's a runner on first and third with one out, and a guy bunts, he's got a chance to score a run and move a runner over to second base. ‘Gorilla ball' is gone. Some teams are going to hit more home runs than others, some parks are smaller, but small ball is what you have to be able to do now. I run it and I defend it all the time now, because that's how the game is played now.

"With that being said, I do think we are going to have some pop in the lineup. It will depend on what ball park we are in, what the wind is like, etc, but I do think we are a little more physical. The key here was to become more efficient and be able to run better, and I think we definitely have got some guys who can play that short game really well, and a lot of them are going to be useful."

On the ball changing again and how that affects his recruiting…

"It's going to be different next year, and it's going to be different in the College World Series this year. That's something I couldn't understand quite frankly. How do you play with one ball all year, and you get into the national championship and suddenly you're playing with a different ball? I don't think that has anything to do with more than TV ratings and publicity, and the fact that it wasn't a very high powered College World Series last year. I do think that we have some guys, that if they were hitting with that Major League ball, would be producing more power offensively, and I'll think we will adapt to that just fine come next year. In 2001, we had some pop in that lineup, but we could run too. We had Jonny Kaplan and Andy Cannizarro and Matt Groff. Guys like that that could run and had some pop. I think we are moving towards that again, and last year we just didn't have that kind of lineup."

On what to expect from Richard Carthon…

"I'm looking for him to have a really good year. Two things I would say there; he doesn't get the reps in the fall because he's playing football, but fortunately, Coach (Curtis) Johnson lets him go 100% for baseball (in the spring) which allows him to catch up more quickly. If you watched, during the second half of last season, he really became a catalyst for us, but I expect him to hit in the leadoff hole for us and play in the outfield a lot and also be a leader for our club in a lot of ways. I think what he gained from last year, experience-wise, will serve him well. He's a guy that will put pressure on the defense every time he goes to that plate. He has become a much better outfielder, and he's throwing a lot better too."

On how the team looks defensively…

"We've taken care of the baseball pretty well (this spring). We had one day last Saturday where we didn't handle it too well, but overall we've had the plays we are supposed to make and put the ball where its supposed to be. Innings cannot get extended because you're trying to get more than one out at a time, but we have some younger guys out there, although we have some great freshmen if you go around our infield that will really shorten innings for us, such as Hunter Hope and Stephen Alemais. Every shortstop I've had here has played professionally, and four of them have played in the major leagues. Alemais is in that talent group. You've got to have that kind of guy who can shorten an inning for you and can all of a sudden take a club out of an inning. Garrett Deschamp, who's a junior college transfer, can play a lot in the middle. He can play shortstop and he can play second. Jake Willsey, who's a freshman, from Massachusetts, who can do the same thing. We have a couple guys in the outfield in John Gandolfo and Grant Brown, who can really run, and I think you're going to see a lot of those guys.

"Of course, a name that everyone remembers and you will see a lot of and had a really good preseason is Lex Kaplan, who was a Missouri high school Player of the Year. Bowen Woodson has had a lot of time at first base. He's played a lot of time over there along with junior college transfer Tyler Wilson, and you'll see both of those guys in those roles. Bowen runs really well, and has had streaks where he's hit the ball really well at the plate, but I'm excited about him playing over there some of the time. You've got to have a really good defensive first baseman. I think you judge the first baseman more on the amount of bad throws from the infield than you do anything else, because the better that first baseman is, the more confident guys are throwing the ball. The height of a first baseman is not nearly as important to me as being able to dig the ball out of the dirt, and that's why Steve Garvey was a pretty good player at 5' 10". Bowen's going to bring that to the table for us if he plays some first base, and Tyler's been very solid for us as well.

"Behind the plate last yea, it really hurt us that Blake Crohan missed about 80 percent of the season, and we had to catch Cameron Burns, a freshman, most of the year. Cameron did a great job last year, but unfortunately he has a stress fracture in his back that sidelined him all fall, and he's still coming back from that. A freshman catcher that we brought in though, who is highly touted and has a chance to be one of the more special players we've had here is Jake Rogers, who's out of Texas. He had a great fall and swung the ball really well, and I think he was 21 of 22 in throwing runners out from behind the plate, so I think that's going to help us out there."

On discussion of making the NCAA Tournament…

"We talk about what we have to do to get there. There's no question in my mind that when you look at some of the guys on my club last year with the quality of people they were, they pressed so hard because that was on their mind every day, and we had the exact opposite result. Saturday night, we are going to honor my first club, which will be their 20-year reunion. Now, I inherited that team when it was 23-31 the year before, and really the only recruit was Jack Cressand, who wound up being a Major League Pitcher, who was a freshman. They lost Mike Romano, who had been pretty much been their ace. There wasn't a whole lot expected, but it was the same type of guys and they treated their days the same way. We went 41-23 and went to a Regional that year. Those guys played as happy and loose as any club I've ever seen, and it's still one of the most fun years I've ever had coaching. I thought that was going to happen last year with our guys. It just didn't happen; I'll remember this like it was yesterday; when we got to the regional in Baton Rouge in 1994, a reporter asks one of my guys why they thought we were having such a good year? He replied, ‘Well, all these other guys on these big teams are worried about going to pro ball. We're worried about going to softball. This is it for us, and we're going to have a good year.' They played that way. I think we pressed too much (last year), and I don't want that to happen this year. What we do need to do is hold ourselves accountable. This is the way the game's played now, and we have to be able to play it that way."

On how things have changed over his 21 years of coaching Tulane baseball…

"It's changed because the game has changed quite a bit, and the fact that you're asking that question just means that I've been pretty fortunate to be a head coach at a baseball program for this long, and that's not lost on me either. At the same time, accountability is as important to me as anybody else. We need to have a good year. That's it."

On the youth of the team…

"When you have a very young club, there's going to be some concerns about adapting. The two things that I think we've spent more time on are situational base running and the short game. Guys that played in high school are not always asked to bunt, and so those two things we have to offensively spend more time on. Those are the things you are concerned about, in wondering if we are going to do that well and are they going to be able to do what they need to do for us to win games. You have to win games in different ways, and again, you have to adapt or die."

 

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