With the autumn practice season ending around the state, Buckeye State Baseball will take you inside each program giving you the inside scoop, providing insight only found here, and an in-depth look as to where each Division I team before practice resumes in February.
In today’s spotlight is Kent State. On the heels of a 43-17 2009 campaign, The Golden Flashes are coming off of a 2009 MAC Tournament Championship and trip to the Tempe Regional in the NCAA tournament.
There was a price to pay for the success of the Coach Scott Stricklin led Flashes. Kent State would lose juniors RHP Brad Stillings (Minnesota Twins), LHP Jon Pokorny (Milwaukee Brewers), and RHP Kyle Smith (Cleveland Indians) to the draft. In addition to the graduation of 8 seniors whose talent and veteran leadership will need replaced including 1B Greg Rohan (Chicago Cubs), INF Chris Tremblay (San Diego Padres) and OF Jason Patton (Tampa Bay Rays) who were drafted.
Buckeye State Baseball was able to catch up with Stricklin as he discusses the holes to fill, who will be stepping into those roles, the incoming freshmen class, and other topics in recapping Kent State’s fall practice.
BSB: First as the head coach, what generally do you look for, hope, and expect in organizing fall practice?
SS: We look for our returning players to have improved upon their athleticism and strength from the previous year. After playing summer baseball, we expect our guys to be prepared for the fall and make a jump from the year before. We are looking at all of our new players to see how they are going to fit into the particular roles that we have available.
The biggest thing we expect is to see the guys compete for their jobs and get better everyday. We feel like we have a very competitive atmosphere here and we want to see the guys competing and pushing each other to get better.
BSB: Unfortunately the fall season was held without freshman All-American Andrew Chafin who had Tommy John surgery in the summer. Including the mental side of staying focused and dedicating the time and effort to rehab, how is Chafin handling his surgery and recovery?
I know you and your staff will take ever pre-caution, but is there any chance he will play in 2010, is it a definite red-shirt situation, or is it more a wait and see approach?
SS: Andrew is doing very well. He is a very strong and competitive kid. He has been working extremely hard with his rehab and we have to try and hold him back from time to time. He just started throwing last week and looks really good.
If all goes well, he will be able to pitch near the end of the season. We will just have to decide if he is 100% ready to pitch. If he is, we will use him. If there are any questions, we will hold him out. Obviously, we all are hoping that he is ready to go but we will just have to wait and see.
BSB: On the front end of the pitching staff, you lost two weekend starters in Kyle Smith and Brad Stillings to the draft as well as Jon Porkony starter. After autumn practice do you have a picture of how the starting rotation will come together or is that still influx?
Is it safe to assume Kyle Hallock who started 11 games while leading your team in ERA has the inside track to being the staff ace?
SS: We did lose a lot of innings to the draft and to graduation but we feel like we still have a deep pitching staff.
Kyle Hallock will be in our weekend rotation and has a good shot to be our Friday guy. Robert Sabo, David Starn, Ryan Mace, Brennen Glass, Justin Gill, and freshman Addison Dunn all have a good chance to earn the other two weekend spots.
It’s still an open competition and all of those guys have worked very hard. We really like the fact that we have a lot of options and a lot of competition for innings.
BSB: Though you will be without the presence of Chafin for an extended time, with Jimmy Rider and Travis Shaw in the field, Ryan Mace and Kyle McMillen on the mound, it appears a lot of your team’s success will hinge on the success of your sophomore class.
Not to undermine the team as a whole and the other classes, but is this an accurate statement?
SS: Our sophomore class is our biggest class and many of the members of that class got a lot of playing time as freshman.
Jimmy Rider is our most consistent player and we feel very good about having him at short-stop. Travis Shaw will hit in the middle of our order and David Lyon will see a lot of action behind the plate. Kyle McMillen will be a two way player for us and Ryan Mace and David Starn will likely be starters on the mound.
So yes, the sophomore class will need to play to their potential in order for us to reach the level of success we all want.
BSB: I had the ability this summer to work for the Licking County Settlers, the summer team of McMillen.
With him you have a very versatile player who can be count on to play in the infield, the outfield, start a game, and come in from the pen.
He can run, field, hit for average while being a position player, on the mounds appearances it appeared he has a fastball with velocity, but is able to mix that up with the ability to throw breaking balls for strikes.
What can you attest as being a strength of McMillen? How do you approach a player with many capabilities in finding a way to maximize his potential as well as putting him in the best place to benefit the team?
SS: Kyle has really taken off since he arrived on campus last fall. He has grown a couple of inches and gained a lot of strength. We recruited him to primarily be a pitcher but also liked the way he swung the bat.
He just got better everyday during practice and even though he didn’t get a lot of at-bats or innings on the mound, we felt very good about him helping us out in 2010.
The expectations we have for him grew even higher after the summer he had in Licking County. At the plate, he continued to show more and more power and showed he can hit to all fields.
On the mound, he increased his velocity and improved his breaking ball. He is a good athlete as well and can play many positions.
With our outfield returning Anthony Gallas, Ben Klafczynski and Jared Humphreys along with a healthy Jared Bartholomew, I see Kyle splitting time between 1st base and DH.
This will enable us to utilize him on the mound without wearing his arm down and still have him in the lineup.
I would say Kyle’s greatest strength is his arm strength. It’s really impressive to watch him go through his off-season long toss drills with Coach Birkbeck. He can do a lot of things and he will be in the mix both on the mound and at the plate.
BSB: Another player who had a solid summer in the Great Lakes League would be David Starn. What improvements did you notice in Starn this autumn compared to the spring? In what capacity should we expect Starn to fill for you?
SS: David can really pitch. He will not overpower anyone with his fastball but he has great command and a plus slider and change up.
We see David as a starter for us and he is the mix for a weekend spot in the rotation. He has gained some strength over the last year and that’s what stood out most this fall. His stamina has improved and he will be able to more effective for a longer period of time.
BSB: Stepping down a class, the freshmen class for you. Can you speak to what steps you and your staff take to not only make sure they succeed on the field, but what is done to make sure they are just as successful off the field as they adjust to being student-athletes?
SS: The freshman year is a tough one for anyone. There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made on and off the field. Everything is different and more challenging and if you’re not careful they can really get overwhelmed.
Communication with our players is vital, especially in the freshman year. We need to know how they are doing and how they are adjusting to college life.
We have a great support system here that helps them with their academics and their time management. They have study table four nights a week and the structure of the day keeps them all going in the right direction. Our upper classmen also do a great job of mentoring the freshman and keeping them focused.
BSB: On the field what were your impressions of the freshmen? Did any emerge as players with potential for immediate impacts?
SS: I really like our young guys.
George Roberts and Jason Bagoly had great falls with the bat and I think both will make an impact on our team this spring.
Evan Campbell is another position player that we like because he is so athletic and can play multiple positions.
On the mound, Casey Wilson had the best fall out of the group and will see considerable time on the mound this year. He is also a very good position player that adds a lot of depth.
Addison Dunn has the best arm of the freshman class and has a big time breaking ball. He should be in the mix for a starting spot in the rotation.
Christian Lockett and Brian Taricska both showed some positive things on the mound and should also help us out.
BSB: In regards to making sure they are welcomed and truly feel as part of a team, what upperclassmen have you noticed either reaching out to the underclassmen or stepping up and becoming leaders?
SS: Jared Humphreys, Anthony Gallas and Cory Hindel were all elected captains by their teammates and they have done a great job helping the freshman get acclimated. Robert Sabo and Brett Weibley have also taken more active roles as leaders.
We tell our guys that our best players must be our hardest workers. If that is the case, the younger guys will follow them.
BSB: The 2010 season will come with not as much fanfare in the preseason as 2009. For you and what you are teaching, is it any different in coming into a season as a top-20 national team opposed to maybe a team that will fly under the radar? What is consistent year to year in how you, your staff, and players approach each season?
SS: It’s nice to know that you have a good team and other people appreciate the players you have.
However, it’s also nice to not get as much hype when we know we are going to have a good club. I know we are not going to sneak up anyone because of our history, but I do think we have a chance to not only be a good team but a great team.
The approach we have with our players every year is that we expect them to compete to win a championship. That doesn’t change. Just because we won’t have as many articles written about our team doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish our goals.
We preach that hard work and consistency in effort will give us results.
BSB: Lastly, what impressions did you take from fall practice?
SS: The thing that stood out the most this fall as a team was our offense.
I think we are going to score a lot of runs. Jared Humphreys and Jimmy Rider have a lot of at-bats under their belts and know how to get on base and make things happen.
Ben Klafczynski, Anthony Gallas and Travis Shaw will most likely make up the middle of our order and they can all hit for power and be run producers.
Our ultimate success will depend on how consistent our pitching staff will be. We have a lot of very good arms and guys who can pitch. We need those guys to step up and pitch to their capabilities.
If the pitching staff can do that, we will have a great year.
Buckeye State Baseball thanks Coach Stricklin for taking the time to sit down and give us an insight into Kent State’s autumn practice. Check back tomorrow as we catch up with Youngstown State Head Coach Rich Pasquale.