Feb. 5, 2013
By Taylor Wright | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas – UT Arlington baseball head coach Darin Thomas addressed the media Tuesday in a press conference to preview the upcoming 2013 season.
The Mavericks open with a three-game home series against Louisiana Tech on Friday, Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Clay Gould Ballpark.
Q: What are your expectations for baseball’s first and last season in the WAC?
A: “I thought the Southland Conference was tough for baseball last season. We had different teams in the top-25 at a given time and it was a good conference for us. I don’t know a lot about the west side of the Western Athletic Conference but I know we will play on a strong side. It wouldn’t surprise me if the WAC is a three-bid league to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.”
Q: What are your biggest concerns being roughly two weeks away from first pitch?
A: Thomas, “We have a lot of new pitchers this year. We lost Lance Day and Adam Boydston and they were big security blankets for us. Baseball starts and ends with pitching and we’re losing 12 wins in Day and 25 saves in Boydston. So trying to make up for those losses will be a challenge.”
Q: Ryan Walker had a great season last year. Where do you see him contributing this season?
A: “Ryan is a unique guy. He started every game for two years and stepped into the shortstop position last season and did really well. He leads by example on the field and we pattern our team after guys like that. You can’t always recruit homerun hitters but you can always find high caliber athletes and we have that in Ryan.”
Q: How do you feel about the depth of your team?
A: “We’ve suffered some injuries on the pitching staff and are waiting on some guys to get completely healthy, specifically Zach Thompson and Keegan Hucul. If we can keep our pitchers healthy, I like our depth. Our versatility on the infield makes me feel very comfortable about our depth as well. We have a variety of guys that can play a lot of positions.”
Q: Can you elaborate on your success against BIG 12 teams last season and how that carries over to this year?
A: “We always play those schools and try to keep them on our nonconference schedule. We did have some success last season but we aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this year. However, a tough nonconference schedule will help prepare us as we get into WAC play.”
Q: How have the freshman been doing in the transition between high school and college ball?
A: “It just depends on the freshman. Some guys react well and others aren’t quite ready, which is fine. But when they’re a junior and senior, we definitely expect them to contribute. Darien McLemore is a unique freshman with his above average hitting approach. I look for him to have a good year.”
Q: Can you elaborate on what impact you see Greg McCall having on the team?
A: “He really did a good job for us defensively last season and had some big throw outs. I thought he hit into some tough luck last year but I see him doing much better this year.”
Q: How do you feel about playing TCU at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this season?
A: “Everyone wants to play in a big league stadium. Hopefully we can make it a yearly deal. Every year, you try to do something better and better [for recruiting purposes] and this is a great opportunity to do that.”
Q: How do you go about recruiting in the Metroplex?
A: “There are a lot of good players within an hour of here. We are not able to see them all but our location offers us a big advantage in recruiting. If we do a good enough job recruiting in the Metroplex, we can be successful.”
Q: Are you excited to have the WAC Tournament so close to home?
A: “This is the first time in 23 years of coaching that I can stay at home for a postseason tournament, which is great! We feel very fortunate that we can come home from our series against Sacramento State and then play the conference tournament here. It should help fan wise that the schedule is pre-set up until the championship game and it’s very close to our campus. We’re very excited about having a lot of UTA fans there.”
Q: Are you concerned about your offense given that you lost so many contributors in runs and hits last season?
A: “You always have to coach to the talent you have. We have a big park so we try to emphasize pitching and defense and small ball. It will be a factor without Preston Beck so we will have to rely more on the middle of the lineup. With the BBCOR bat you have to use a different style of play, like bunting a little more and not relying on a big swing to get you back in a game.”
Q: Who do you see stepping into the role as your closer this season?
A: “Tyler Jones is our leading candidate for the back end of the game. We’ll try to use our first 20 games to determine and dictate who will be a reliever for us. A lot will be determined on how quickly some of the guys bounce back.”
Q: What is your strategy in building consistency on the team?
A: “We have to be consistent as coaches first of all. We have to remember that everyone is motivated differently and we can’t make a guy something he’s not. We continually have to ‘talk baseball’ because there are so many different situations that you cannot cover every practice. Some guys pick it up quick and it takes a while for others. We emphasize having a short memory and not letting one error become two or taking that error to the plate with you.”