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VIDEO: Mark Kingston News Conference
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VIDEO: Mark Kingston News Conference

Mark Kingston News Conference Transcript

– We’re excited for the new year. We start official team practice on Thursday. We’ve be doing small group workouts right now which were allowed by the NCAA before we start our 45-day window. Those have been going very well. Now I’m anxious to actually see some inner squads and see these guys some real live baseball against each other and start to figure somethings out.

– [Reporter] Mark, 17 new faces on the roster. I know it’s just the first day or the first time you’re getting together, but how do you think the chemistry will mesh with the guys coming and so many new guys?

– Yeah, its been very good. We made a point at the very first team meeting that they didn’t need to waste any time. That’s a really nice shirt by the way. I’m very distracted. Is that Jimmy Chitwood?

– [Reporter] Yeah.

– That’s very very impressive shirt today. I appreciate that. That’s a good shirt. So now you have me distracted. Yeah, we made a point of that at the very first team meeting that we needed to not waste any time and come together as a team. We had a really cool video this summer on Team USA. We had the same thing. You had a bunch of new guys that needed to form a team very very quickly before you went off to play Taiwan and Cuba and Japan and so I borrowed a video from that experience that I showed the team on day one. And the guys have really taken to it. Our returning players are doing a nice job of welcoming the new players in and I think the new guys are doing a really nice job of getting up to speed and seeing how we operate around here.

– [Reporter] Sticking with the newcomers. There’s a lot of junior college kids in this class especially on the pitching side, what made it important to go out and get some of those guys this year and how immediate of an impact do they have to make?

– Yeah. Clearly they need to make an immediate impact. If you look at last year’s team from a pitching standpoint, Reid Morgan is the one guy that we lost that pitched significant innings. But we have so many guys coming back from injuries the Carmen Mlodzinskis, the Graham Lawsons, to name a couple and you combine all those new guys coming in the JUCO pitchers, but also some talented high school guys. I’m very excited about that group. I think it should be significantly upgraded. But we do need them all to step up. Obviously, last year’s pitching was not where it needed to be, but I think the combination of guys coming back, the improvement that guys like Carmen made this summer. Carmen now is regarded as one of the top pitchers in the country. And Graham Lawson I think will be one of the top bullpen guys in the country. That’s two pretty good bookends to start the rebuild of that pitching staff.

– [Reporter] You got a couple of grad transfers in Dallas and Bryant. How did that come about? Was that a result of Luke deciding late on to go to the draft or were those just two guys you thought could have an impact?

– Yeah they were two guys, obviously, when you’re in our situation and you’re working on getting were you want to be, finding good players is always a premium. It’s always on your mind. Recruiting is a 365 day a year thing and so you use all avenues you can. High school, JUCO, grad transfers, every avenue. So we always try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on high school wise. What’s going with the junior colleges and then the new transfer portal that is kind of a new thing in our game and in the NCAA is something you check on a regular basis as well. So those were two names that we’re very familiar with and as soon as they did became available through that transfer portal we got to work on researching them, seeing if they would be a fit for us. It turned out they were. And we worked really hard to try to sell them on our program and they both made the decision that this is where they wanted their last year of college baseball to be. So, I think those guys will both have pretty significant impact on our lineup.

– [Reporter] Are there any guys, speaking of health Mark, that will be not pitching this fall or playing this fall trying to recover?

– Yeah. Actually brought a list for you guys so you can be aware. I count seven guys that probably will be limited or not pitch or play at all this fall, and I can read them off for you. Jeff Heinrich, a middle infield JUCO prospect that was drafted will miss the rest of the fall. He dove during summer baseball, drove for a ball in foul territory and hurt his shoulder so he going to have surgery. He’s been able to work up until now, but he’s actually going to have surgery this week. He will miss the remainder of the fall, but be ready for the season. Julian Bosnic is coming off of Tommy John and probably will not throw any pitches off a mound in a game situation for us this Fall. Andrews Peters is coming off of Tommy John. Thomas Farr has a hand injury, JUCO transfer another draft pick that will be good for the Spring but will probably be cautious with him. Wesley Sweatt is dealing a little bit with a knee injury right now. That’s to be determined how much he pitches this fall. Hayden Lehman will have Tommy John surgery and miss this season. And Brett Kerry, we just going to be very careful. He had an oblique injury. He didn’t pitch much this summer. So we’re going to be cautious with him as well. This fall but all of those guys outside of Hayden Lehman will be good to go for the Spring when it really matters.

– [Reporter] Guess you mentioned Carmen a little bit but just what have you seen in being able to visit with him that he’s kind of taken that next step and jumped from being a sophomore to ready to pitch to now-

– Yeah, I went up to the Cape this summer and saw those guys and the second I went and saw Carmen he was already well in to having the great summer that he did in the Cape Cod League. And he’s just a bigger, stronger guy physically. He’s a more confident guy mentally. His pitches have all taken an uptick in terms of velocity and command and sharpness of the breaking ball. He’s just, he’s really developing. And he’s what you want a guy to look like by his junior year in his draft year. And as I mentioned he’s rated now as a potential first round draft pick and that’s a really nice play and a really nice piece to put back into our rotation looking into this year. So, I just see he’s improved in every area.

– [Reporter] Yeah, with the pitching and people coming back from injuries and all the new faces, how much do you go into the fall with a wide open mindset or is there kind of a pecking order you have in mind?

– I would say obviously Carmen, we anticipate being a weekend guy. Brett Kerry, we anticipate giving the opportunity to see if he can start. He started the last game of the year at Mississippi State and did very, very well. So he will have that opportunity to potentially be a starter this year. I think Graham Lawson probably will be one of the guys you look at in the back of the bullpen. He won some huge games for us in 2018 that helped us become the team we were. Outside of those roles, I think everybody else is wide open. Shook threw a sim game to hitter yesterday and was extremely, extremely good. Was up to 93 with tremendous command. So, I just think you’re gonna see a lot of guys fighting for time. Innings are going to be hard to get and so my message to our guys will continue to be there’s a lot of guys here with a lot of great stuff. Who has the most polish? Who makes the big pitches when it matters? But I don’t think stuff will be an issue this year. I think we got plenty of guys this year with stuff. Now it’s a matter of who can get it done when the lights turn on.

– [Reporter] Guess you struggled offensively last year I know it’s still pretty early on in the process but what have you seen in the last two to three weeks to make you feel confident that’ll get back to where it was in 2018.

– Yeah, again I think it’s the type of hitters we have. I think we have guys that are hit first power second. Where if you look at last year’s team, the makeup of it, it was a lot of guys who were power first, hit second and they could be pitched to and we would struggle sometimes. But when we were able to use our power to hit homeruns we won. And when we didn’t then we were a lot easier to pitch to and it was harder for us to score runs. What I’m seeing so far is some hitters that are gonna be tougher to pitch to, tougher to strike out, be able to spray the ball around. And I don’t think our power will drop off at all. But I think we’ll have a much better collection of guys that can put the ball in play more consistently.

– [Reporter] Couple of things, I’ll ask them one by one for you. You said something about the transfer portal that just made me curious, you say you monitor that pretty closely and kinda looking to guys to see how they would fit. How many would you say you looked at over the course of the summer just to kind of get a feel for it to see if they would fit into the program?

– Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m not going to give you all the secrets and go through how many guys we do research on but I think you guys probably know and have access to the portal one way or another. That it was over 1000 players that were in the portal at one time or another. And a lot of them you can rule out right out of the gate ’cause they may not be eligible right away. For us, we were kind of keying in on the grad transfer so there was a lot smaller number of the grad transfers. Guys that were transferring that could not be eligible right away. We didn’t have a whole lot of interest in. It was the grad transfers and there much fewer of those so that’s what we really keyed in on. And I can’t remember exactly how many we ended up doing homework on but those were two of the best ones in the country and we were lucky to get them.

– [Reporter] And both of them happen to be catchers. With losing Luke and having four new guys come in with Colin and Jacks. First of all can you kind of address what Jacks will be able to do this Fall. And just how do you kind of evaluate that position in the Fall?

– Yeah, that position is wide open and they’re all capable. That’s the really nice thing. Jacks can do everything right now except throw. So he’s catching in games and throwing it back underhand or he’s swinging at full capacity, he’s catching bullpens. He’s doing everything except for throwing at full strength. Colin Burgess has opened a lot of eyes so far. This guy’s a ballplayer. Maybe a little bit undersized but he hits the ball really well. He catches well, he blocks well, he throws well. So he’s going to be a factor. And then you mentioned Bowen and Beaver, the two veteran catchers. The good thing about them is they also can play other positions. They’re not locked in to just having to catch. So Bowen is getting work at first base. He’s getting work in the outfield. Beaver is also a first basemen and has played some third base. And then we also need to mention Wes Clarke. Wes Clarke is a guy who has caught some in the past but he’s also getting work at first base and also some in the outfield. He’s a more athletic player than we was a year ago. He’s stronger, he’s faster, has better mobility and agility. So he’s also going to be a bit part of the puzzle for us as well. So I feel pretty good that position is well taken care of.

– Um, I try to even them out as much as possible. You know sometimes you’ll match the older guys, the catcher you think maybe have a better chance to catch more early on in the season, we’ll match up with the pitchers you think will have a chance to throw more innings early on. But a lot of it will just be based on who can throw. Jacks won’t catch maybe as much in inner squads because he can’t throw yet. It’s a puzzle you’re trying to put together in every inner squad. So if you want Bowen to catch, play first and play a little left field that it maybe today he does two of those and tomorrow Beaver is at first base. And tomorrow Clark is catching. So it takes som time and some preparation and some organization. At the end of the day we just need to get them all enough looks to get a good feel for what they can do.

– [Reporter] Yeah, Noah Campbell, are you guys approaching anything different this Fall because obviously he had a great summer in the Cape last year and then struggled a little bit. Had another great summer now. How are you gonna try and kind of prolong that success?

– Yeah, we’ve made a few tweaks with what we’re doing with our hitters. Last year again, we struck out too much last year. So after year you evaluate what you do in every part of your program. And so we are training our hitters a little bit different this year and I think it will help him. We’re using wood bats and awful lot now in our batting practice sessions. That’s one thing. Another thing is we’re doing a lot more fundamental work in terms of just moving runners and bunts and hit and runs and hitting behind runners and using the opposite field. So we’re a little bit more old school in that approach. Last year we did a lot of, we did some of that work, not as much as we’re doing this year. And again, I think it’s important in a program to always evaluate everything you’re doing. I don’t know how much difference we could have made last year if we had done this last year. But I think it will help guys like him who he’s not a guy that needs to worry about hitting for too much power. He’s a guy that needs to spray the ball around, hit line drives. That’s what he does in the Cape with the wood bat. He doesn’t try to do too much and he’s content just spraying the ball around. And how he’s going about his business now I think is allowing him to do that a little bit more with what we’re doing in practice everyday. So I think we’ll see a lot more of the Noah Campbell we see during the summer because of how he’s practicing everyday and what we’re doing everyday. So, again I don’t think everything we did last year was wrong in terms of preparation. I just think we need to continue to learn how to marry the technology with the old school fundamentals. And every year you learn and you evolve and grow.

– [Reporter] What did you see from Eyster this summer with his development and how big of a piece is he?

– Eyster it’s funny, Eyster was a little bit the opposite of Noah, where Eyster was good for us. He hit .300, he hit double-digit homeruns, had a lot of RBIs. And then this summer struggled. And him and Noah we’re actually on the same team. So where Noah struggled a little bit with us and did great in the Cape, Eyster did the opposite. Again, every hitter’s different. So we need to continue to learn our guys and what best makes them tick. So maybe things we do here help Eyster more than they help Campbell. That’s why we need to continue to evolve with how we’re training our guys. But that being said, Eyster struggled some this summer. But based on what we’re seeing so far with us, he’s swinging it really really well. So I anticipate him having a better year than he did last year and continuing to evolve as a hitter.

– [Reporter] Yes, what were conversations like with Josiah in your exit meetings after last year and have you seen him, I know he battled that knee injury in the summer but now that you’ve kind of gotten him back on campus what have you seen from him?

– Yeah, I mean he’s a guy we all know has talent but just he needs to get better in all facets of his game. He’s being used as a two-way player right now. So he’s pitching and hitting for us. Also getting some work at first base and in the outfield. He’s a talented guy that needs reps. So our conversations with him at the end of the season were pretty blunt in that we think you have talent but we also think you need reps. And it’s important for him to get those reps. And so we’ll continue to get him reps as much as we can. And then see where it goes from there. Biggest thing he just needs to show that he can turn those tools into production. He has the tools. Some guys take longer to turn those tools into production right now. He’s just continuing to work on that. It’s not for lack of effort or attitude. He’s as good as it gets in those areas. We just need that potential to turn into production.

– [Reporter] You mentioned doing some different kind of training from an offensive standpoint, when did you kind of come to the realization that was something that you wanted to do was that during the season last year when things weren’t going so well or over the summer? How did all that kind of come about?

– It’s evolved over time. I mean last year through the struggles, we would have a lot of conversations. We meet every day as a staff and talk about recruiting and talk about preparation and talk about practice and talk about personnel. It’s a never ending process. So I just think along the way we identified what our weaknesses were last year and you have to ask yourself, is it personnel? Is it preparation? Is it practice habits? You evaluate everything and so I just think it was a thing that we think with the players we have coming in this year. Here’s a couple of things we can adjust, not throwing everything, we’re not throwing everything out the window because again two years ago we did a lot of the same training and had a tremendous amount of success offensively. So, it’s just a constant evolvement, I guess if even that’s even a word. Is that a word guys, you would know? It’s close I’m close.

– [Reporter] Evolution. It’s a constant evolution, thank you. You keep me up here long enough and I’ll make up a word every now and then for you. It’s a constant evolution of trying to make it as good as it can possibly be.

– [Reporter] Mark you mentioned maybe using wooden bats to help you guys out, how does that help you know when you do use an aluminum bat and are you worried you might have success with wood but maybe not translate over to the aluminum?

– No, what we’ve seen so far is training with the wood has really helped the guys once they put the aluminum bat in their hands because it’s the exact opposite. You hear a lot of times guys could hit in college with the aluminum but they struggle to hit with the wood. If you can master the wood, then the aluminum bat becomes that much easier to have success with. So the wood bat is weighted a little bit differently. It feels like a heavier pieces It makes you stronger. The sweet spot is smaller. So when you put the aluminum bat back in your hand you now have a bigger sweet spot and more whip because of the weight distribution. So it makes you a better hitter. So that’s why we’ll continue to use the wood bats quite a bit.

– [Reporter] You have your full 35 on the roster. Is is 34 with Lehman’s situation?

– Yeah and then we will apply for a waiver to have a 35th member.

– [Reporter] Guess you talked a lot about the JUCO guys, but Brett Thomas and Brenan were two guys that obviously came in pretty highly ranked. I guess what have you seen from him and what are expectations for guys that come in as freshman in terms of playing time and how you want to see them develop?

– Yeah, well Brenan Malone will have a chance to be a starter for us. He’s got to earn it but he’s playing like a guy that is going to be ready. He was a Dodgers draft pick and decided to come onboard for a few years to enhance his abilities and potential. And he’s a very mature kid. He works extremely hard. And he’s very talented. So he has all the makings of a guy that should be able to play right away. Now again he still has to earn it and get one of those spots. But he’s been nothing but very very good so far for us this Fall. And then Thomas same way. Electric fastball, probably our best breaking ball and he’s got a tremendous amount of potential. Big kid, electric arm, great breaking ball and so with him it will just be a matter is he mature enough to handle big innings and how big should his role be? But he’s a guy we’re very excited about.

– [Reporter] Kind of break down Beaver and Bowen for us as hitters. What kind of hitters are those?

– Well, I’m not giving you all the scouting reports now, come on.

– [Reporter] Tell us what you can. Are they power guys? Are they more line drive hitters? Kind of what kind of hitters?

– Well if you look at the statistically they were both double digit homer guys last year. Bowen hit .340 plus and Bowen, excuse me, Beaver was also over .300. I believe they were both over 50 RBIs last year. Bowen strikes out very, very rarely. Beaver strikes out a little bit more as a power hitter. But they’re both guys who are proven. And to me that’s what was the most important. They’re proven at this level that they can get it done. But they’re both really good hitters. And again the key for us is Bowen is it’s power without strikeouts. Beaver is power from the left side and I think his strikeouts will go down from what they were last year. Just as he continues to get better.

– [Reporter] Looking way ahead but the season will be the 10th anniversary of the 2010 championship. Will you guys do a recognition like on weekend or do it throughout the whole season?

– Yeah, they’re putting plans together now to honor that team. We don’t have the final plans yet, but we’re hoping it includes a banquet. Includes a weekend, everything that they deserve. That’s one of the greatest teams in the history of our school, not just our sport but our school. And so we’re hoping to do everything we can to honor that team because they’re so important to us.

– [Reporter] What were some of the biggest takeaways from your Team USA experience over the summer? What was the best part about being back once it was over?

– Yeah, well the first meal I had and maybe I’ll get a commercial out of this, the first when I landed in the airport back in the United States and got into Columbia. The first meal I went to because people asked me this is Groucho’s on the way home. So I got a sandwich from Groucho’s on the way home. Overall it was just a tremendous experience. You’re with great coaches. McDonnell was a great head coach to have for that program. But there were also coaches from other schools. We had a pro coach there as well. So we spent a lot of time together and it was a constant exchange of ideas. Of challenging each other’s philosophies, asking how do you handle this situation? What do you do in recruiting? That part is great because it was just 24 hours a day that we were together and able to share ideas. From a player standpoint we were coaching the best 24 players in the country at the college level. Outside of a few guys that were injured and couldn’t be a part of it. But coaching 24 of the best players in the country and the one thing I took away from it is that players need to be judged based on and this may sound very elementary but a lot of players look alike in practice and in BP sessions and in bullpen sessions. The difference between the guys who are on Team USA and the guys that maybe weren’t was when those lights go on, when it’s time to play the game, they’re just a cut above. And whether it’s their instincts, whether it’s how their eyes read a pitch. Whether it’s the ability to make an offspeed pitch in a 3-2 count. They’re just a cut above when the game, in terms of playability, pitchability. And so I think at times as coaches we fall in love with batting practice or we fall in love with how a guy throws in the bullpen. But with those guys, with that group you learn he let’s wait and see what they look like in a game setting. Because they all looked very similar in workouts but when the game started that’s when you could really see the separation. Overall, it was great to go play in Taiwan, in Japan. Learned a lot by watching them go about their business. And just a great experience all the way around. I think it’s helped us in recruiting. I was able to do some facetime during those experiences overseas with recruits and so I think it was a positive all the way around. And I’ve brought stuff back that we’re doing with our team now that I think will help us as well.

– [Reporter] You’ve talked about Brett and Carmen and Graham. Any other pitchers that look like to you made a big jump during the offseason?

– It’s still too early. Again, Tringali had a nice summer in the Cape Cod League. And a lot of the newer guys I think, just we need to see them in scrimmages. I know Skylar is very pleased with what he’s seeing in bullpen sessions right now. But to go back to the point I just made, I think we need to see him against college pitchers, against college hitters with at little bit of a crowd in the stands and see how they handle the speed of the game. But I think they’re all moving in a new direction. I really do. We’ve had 13 guys throw in sim games so far against our pitchers and no one has been under 90 miles an hour yet. So to me that means, y’all can throw hard. Let’s figure out who has the best breaking stuff and the best command and the best composure. It won’t be a stuff issue this year. It’ll be a let’s see who gets the most innings based on who has the most pitchability.

– [Moderator] Are there any more questions for coach? All right.

– All right.

– Thank you.