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Oct. 29, 2009

Coach Tanner – Part 1
Coach Tanner – Part 2

Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina head baseball coach Ray Tanner met with the media on Thursday to discuss the team’s fall practice and his thoughts on the baseball program heading into the 2010 season. Below are some of his comments from today’s press conference.

(Opening statement)
“I’m optimistic about going into the spring with this team. I think, like most coaches, regardless of the sport, when you are in your offseason and in your preparation, you try to be optimistic. But, compared to how we were last year at this point, our depth situation is much better on all fronts. I feel a little more confident with this group going into the spring of 2010. I was extremely proud of our team last year for getting into a position to very nearly make it into a (NCAA) Super Regional with a team that did not have a lot of proven players going into the season. We had to finish strong to get there but we were able to do that. This team has a lot of those guys back with a recruiting class that I feel very good about.”

(On moving Jackie Bradley Jr. to center field and Whit Merrifield to right field)
Whit Merrifield has been our starter in center field for two years. Jackie Bradley, Jr., as you know, is an outstanding player. When we looked at our team, I think it became apparent early on that there was a possibility that Whit could end up in the infield either full-time or on occasion. As we sit here at this time, I think it is going to be on occasion. Because of that, we didn’t want to have to make more moves than necessary. If Whit was in center, Jackie was in right, then Jackie has to move to center, have to put a new right fielder in, it just causes more of a domino effect. I think Jackie is very good in center field as Whit was and I talked to Whit about it and he understood why we made that move and I think he will probably show up at third base sometimes, and possibly even at second base. He’s a well-conditioned athlete and he will be fine. He was an infielder by trade (in high school), I’m confident with wherever we have to put him. He can play third, he looked good over there for me in the fall, and he can play second (base) as well.”

(On the second base and third base competitions)
“I think when you look at second base right now, you have two very good players there in (Scott) Wingo and (Adrian) Morales. Morales is potentially probably a little better hitter than Wingo, although Wingo out-hit him by a little this fall. I think it is going to be a decision decided in the preseason. They are good players. Morales could end up getting some time in third base. If something happens to (Bobby) Haney at shortstop, Wingo probably will be (the backup). He can play over there; we gave him a little bit of time over there in fall. That second base situation is still to be determined. (Christian) Walker at third base, he was everything we thought he would be and more offensively. He swung the bat extremely well; he ended up leading out team in hitting this fall, over .400. I think the next closest guy was 40 or 50 points behind him. He was impressive. Not only a guy with some power, but he used both sides of the field, a great two strike hitter. It is obviously very early in his career, but as a true freshman entering in the fall, he was one of the best hitters that I have coached. Defensively, it is a work in progress. He made some strides. In the last couple of weeks, he made a couple of backhanded plays, slow roller play, pretty good forehand play but he does need to cut down on his miscues. We just need to get him a little more polished defensively and he understands that and is willing to put forward the work necessary. If he is not starting defensively, he is going to be the DH. He made that kind of impact offensively. That’s not the way we are trying to go. What we are trying to do is have him on the field. He is capable of becoming a solid defender. It is going to take some time but that is what we are trying to do.”

(On potential designated hitters)
“Parker (Bangs’) average last year against lefties was impressive. Certainly that is important to us. Jeffery Jones, had a great fall, he swung the bat very well and is much stronger than he was a year ago. He spent the summer here conditioning and lifting, so he’s trying to get some opportunities as a senior. Brison Celek, although he is a true freshman, he had a couple of runs in the fall. Thursday night, the first night of our Garnet & Black (World Series), he had two home runs into the bleachers. He is an extremely strong young man. There have been some guys that have made some noise, all those are the reasons that you don’t want Walker to be the DH, you want someone else.”

(On the left field competition)
“I would say as we sit here today, it is going to be a preseason battle between (Robert) Beary and (Adam) Matthews. They are both good players. Beary is good enough to provide some depth for us behind the plate. He hit 17 homers (one year in junior college). He had screws in his wrist but he got back on the field in the end (of the fall) as Matthews did. I told them when they got back, what you do in the rest of the fall, doesn’t count, we are just glad to have you back out here healthy. They are both good players. I think the talent that Adam Matthews has and brings to the table; it’s hard to think that he might not get a chance to play. He finished the season for us in a big way in 2009 but Robert Beary is a good player too.

(On potential starting rotation)
“I think last year, sometimes our lineup and pitching staff was somewhat settled. We didn’t have enough guys necessarily to choose from. Today, I feel real good, if Sam Dyson is healthy, he and Blake Cooper are guys at the front. Beyond that, it is going to be a battle. The preseason is going to count. Jay Brown finished strong for us. I really was impressed with what Tyler Webb did in the fall. Ethan Carter made some noise. Steven Neff had a bad outing his last time out but he is healthy. Jimmy Revan did not have the kind of fall that he expected to have and he led our team in ERA. That shows you a little bit about his ability to pitch. He walked to many guys this fall but he still led our team in ERA, he stranded them, so that counts for something. There are some choices down there. I don’t know how it is exactly going to shake out. Then the guy who started all the time (last year), Nolan Belcher. Is he not good enough to start anymore? Of course he is good enough (to start). But we want to try to plug guys in to help us be most successful. Who is going to pitch late? Don’t know yet. John Taylor had a pretty good run. He got hit a little bit at the end of the fall but he had a pretty good run there for awhile.”

“Some of the guys I am really excited about haven’t thrown an inning (in the spring) yet. I like Webb, I like Carter, I like Taylor, I like Jose Mata, and he gives you a different look. Having Neff healthy for the first time is important. Parker Bangs, he could emerge as being one of the best bullpen guys we got. He is in the low to mid 90’s with a pretty good slider. He has had some command issues at times but he has also shown that he can be dominant. We have to plug these guys into the right spot. Matt Price, didn’t have a great fall, but very capable. Until he got hurt last year, he looked like a very promising newcomer. There are some choices. There are some battles. I like that. It is important what they do in the preseason.”

“(Michael) Roth had a pretty good fall offensively. It is going to be hard for him to get at bats right now with Nick Ebert in the lineup and some other guys. Michael Roth is going to pitch. He is very competitive. He is a situational lefty with his arm strength better (than last year). He is going to be in there and is going to make some appearances.”

(On the outfielders, Beary, Bradley, Matthews, and Merrifield)
“I think you would be hard-pressed to find (a faster outfield in the country). Those guys can go get it a little bit. They are talented and can run. Jackie, probably in a 60-yard dash, would finish third. But his jumps off the bat, his game speed is as good as any player that I have ever seen. It’s incredible. Robert (Beary) gets good jumps in left field as well. It’s a very capable outfield.”

(On the potential of the 2010 team)
“I think unlike a lot of sports, baseball is a sport that sometimes, the best team doesn’t always win. I think in some other sports, the team that is most talented, the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, is going to win most of the time. Baseball is not like that. Last year, we had the chance to be in a Super Regional and quite honestly, I don’t know if we were that good, but we got into a position to almost get there. This team is certainly talented enough to be playing at the end of the year. How far or what will happen, I don’t know, but I personally will be disappointed if we are not playing at the end of the year.”

“And there is a lot of factors. Health is a factor, how this team will gel, all the intangibles that come in to play that makes a great team. Guys that are willing to put the team first, instead of trying to be on the first team. There is a lot of things that we have got to get to. It’s a good team. Bobby Haney, an extremely underrated player. I probably didn’t give him enough respect last year as a player but I do now. He’s a good player, has shown some leadership skills that I didn’t see last year. He has improved offensively. I didn’t think he liked the weightroom when he got here last year but he has made some strides there. He’s a good player. Kyle Enders, a fifth-year guy, he said from day one this fall that he was going to be a better on-base percentage guy, strike out less than walk and I think he had two strikeouts on the fall. He’s a mature player now. He would be (the starter at catcher), he earned it. Brady Thomas, certainly, narrowed the gap though. Brady Thomas was a guy I thought going into the fall would be our backup catcher, I don’t view him that way (now). He’s a left-handed stick that has shown his skills are better behind the plate. I certainly feel better about our catching situation.”

(On Sam Dyson & Nick Ebert returning despite being drafted)
“I know that I handled the summer pretty good because I was looking at (drafted signees), Wil Myers, Chris Owings, Brooks Hall, and losing those guys, you take a shot there but every day I was able to at least feel optimistic on getting Dyson and Ebert back. So the tradeoff was pretty good. That makes us a lot better. Ebert had two homers the last scrimmage, five RBI as well. Dyson, I don’t think a lot of people understand about Dyson, how hard he works. As a matter of fact, he was just on the warning track, when we came in here today, he was on the warning track when we came in here today, doing some rehab throwing. He is poised and driven to have a tremendous year and pitch on the road, like he did at home. That makes you a lot better. It’s one thing to have (some seniors) but its another thing when you have good seniors. Sometimes you have a team that has seven or eight seniors that means they were not really good juniors. In the case (of some of our players) we have good seniors.”

(On Carolina Stadium)
“I’m still giddy about this facility. We really didn’t get in here until January (of 09), completely. We did practice here in the fall (of 08) but our offices and locker room and everything was not complete until January. It has made a tremendous impact on recruiting. We always felt like we could get involved with some of the best players in the country, based on our program. We always felt we could get involved. Now, it is even better. We can get visits, the internet and the photo (galleries) they can see on the website, we can get visits out of almost anybody that we want to visit. It has made a big impact in signing players.”

South Carolina owns the longest current streak of NCAA Regional appearances among the 12 SEC schools with 10 straight trips to the tournament dating back to the 2000 season. In that span, Carolina has seven NCAA Super Regional appearances (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007) and three trips to the College World Series (2002, 2003, 2004). South Carolina is one of only seven schools in the nation to make at least seven NCAA Super Regionals in the last 10 years and one of only eight schools in the country to have reached the NCAA Regionals every season in this decade. The program’s 10-year total record of 468-201 is the fourth highest win total among NCAA Division I schools.

South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner is entering his 14th season at the helm with the Gamecocks and his 23rd year as a collegiate head coach. Tanner’s career record is 975-439-3 (.689) with a 580-266 (.686) mark at South Carolina. The .686 winning percentage is third highest in SEC history.