TOLEDO, OH - The Toledo baseball team recently wrapped up its fall season and sixth-year Head Coach Cory Mee knows how valuable it is in laying down the foundation for the ensuing spring campaign. Mee recently took a few minutes to discuss his season.
Coach Mee’s comments on the 2008 fall season follow below:
Q: How would you evaluate the fall season?
Mee: I thought we had a very productive fall. It was an opportunity for us to go back to the basics. We focused on the things you hear that win ballgames - pitching, defense and clutch hitting. Those are the areas we really tried to address. From a pitching standpoint, we asked our guys to work ahead in the count, work down in the zone and really emphasized pounding the strike zone and going after the hitters. Defensively, we worked hard on just doing the basics well. We tried to simulate a lot of live game situations, and I think it helped us when we played our intrasquad games at making more plays and performing better. The key for us defensively is to communicate, stay under control and make the play. The last piece of the puzzle was offensively and we tried to emphasize situational hitting. We kept track of the number of times we were successful in those opportunities. We kept track of sacrifice bunts, hit-and-run, advancing runners from second with nobody out, as well as driving a runner in from third with less than two outs and driving in the tying or go-ahead run with a two-out RBI. If we can execute in those situations, we are going to be able to score runs and be successful. The last thing we tried to emphasize in the fall was base running. We tried to take the extra base at all times. We feel all those areas are going to be the formula for success in 2009.
Q: What did you and your staff try to accomplish during the fall campaign?
Mee: We tried to emphasize certain areas and kept track of our level of success. In situational hitting, we posted the results that at the end of each day to bring awareness to the areas we feel are important to win baseball games. If we can hit in the clutch and execute in those situations, we’ll score runs. We recorded and kept track of our base running times from home to first, as well as the number of extra bases we took each day, meaning the number of bases we stole and the number of times we went from first to third. We recorded those times and posted them to create a level of awareness and also put an emphasis on those areas so our players can see how important they are. We did the same thing from a pitching standpoint. We kept track of certain statistics that show how successful we can be if we do work ahead in the count and pound the strike zone. We kept track of the percentage of first pitch strikes and the percentages of the first two outs of the first three pitches being strikes. When our pitchers were able to have a high percentage in those two areas, we are very successful.
Q: This fall you and your staff evaluated your personnel and experimented with players in different positions. How did that process work out and do you think it will benefit the team in the spring?
Mee: I think we have very good depth from a position-player standpoint, and we have guys that are versatile. From a team standpoint that allows a coach to put what he hopes are our nine best players on the field. Also our depth gives us the flexibility to put the nine guys who are swinging the bat the best on the field without sacrificing defense. We did look at some different situations this fall and we moved some guys around to see how they looked in some of the different positions.
Q: Depth on the pitching staff has been an area of concern since you took over the program. This fall, you return 10 letterwinners and added five arms in your latest recruiting class. With those numbers, have you been able to address that issue?
Mee: There is no doubt we have continued to improve the depth on our pitching staff each year, and I think we’re going to have a lot of very good competition in 2009. Going into the spring, we’ve seen junior Justin Cullop and sophomore Matt Kuna pitch very well. Those two players are pretty much locked into being our weekend starters. We also have a group of players battling for that third spot, including sophomore Matt Suschak and senior Dan Gatins, as well as freshmen Ben Hammer, Tyler Scott and Lincoln Rossi. All three of these newcomers are capable of competing at a high level. We are going to have to wait and see which player rises out of that group to become that weekend starter. One area I’ve also been very pleased with is the development of our bullpen. Senior Ryan France moved there this fall and he was outstanding in that role, while sophomore Matt Zahel continued to pitch very well. So I’m very pleased with the players we have at the back end. Junior Jacob Bernath also improved and senior Jeff Cinadr is coming off a great summer. He pitched very well this fall as well. On top of all this is the return of junior Mike Inselmann, who sat out last season with an arm injury. He’ll be a big boost to our staff. I think our staff is coming together nicely.
Q: Last season the program added 11 newcomers to the roster and almost half saw extensive action. With a year under their belts now, how would you assess the maturity of that group as they enter their second year in the program?
Mee: In order for us to continue to improve the program, we are focused on the development of those players. For us to be a good team and compete at a championship level, it’s going to depend on the development of these players, and I think each player came back a better player this fall than they were last spring. This says a lot about the work they put in during the summer and the work during the fall. We need position players like Jared Hoying, Chris Dudics, Jim Vahalik and Dan Sherwood, as well as pitchers, Matt Zahel, Matt Kuna and Matt Suschak, to name a few, to be able to produce and help our team win.
Q: The infield returns starters at every position in 2009, including a pair of four-year starters. How important is it to have that core of players returning as you prepare for the spring season?
Mee: It definitely makes me very comfortable knowing the guys we’re going to have in the infield are all returnees. Seniors Josh Colliver and Jake Oester are basically four-year starters at first and third base, respectively. Sophomore Jared Hoying had a very good freshman campaign at shortstop last year, and junior Tim Krofcheck is healthy again at second base. I think Tim was probably playing the best baseball of his career at the end of this fall. He is really becoming more comfortable with his identity as a player. When you add sophomore Chris Dudics and newcomer Joe Corfman to this mix, I’m very comfortable with this group. They all come to play every single day and set the tone for our team in their approach and the way they get after it each day.
Q: The catching situation also returns in good shape with a pair of letterwinners returning. How will that experience help in 2009?
Mee: I’m very confident in our catching situation. Junior Aaron Dudley is obviously the leader of that group. He has the most experience behind the plate and he really worked hard this fall to improve. Sophomore Jim Vahalik has also improved by leaps and bounds, and I feel very confident with those two handling our pitching staff. We’ve also added freshman A.J. DeMarco, who is outstanding defensively. I feel very good about where we are behind the plate and those guys understand, the responsibility they have as the catcher, to kind of be the coach on the field. What they can provide us from a leadership standpoint will be very important, not only for our team but our pitching staff.
Q: You lost senior outfielders and four-year starters Drew Hoisington and Jake Swint to graduation in the spring. How do you replace players of this caliber?
Mee: Despite losing those two players, I think we have good options in the outfield. We have a couple players, such as sophomore Dan Sherwood and freshman Ben Hammer, who played right field most of the fall and both of them did an outstanding job. Sophomores Chris Dudics and Jason Edwards also played a lot of center field. In left field, we had a number of guys playing, such as juniors Josh Johnson and Josh Wierzba, along with freshman Jeff Cola, one of our newcomers who is very talented. Unfortunately, he had a wrist injury during the fall, but he’s going to be back and healthy this spring. We have great competition and a lot of good options. I think it’s going to come down to production, which guys produce in the spring and who is really swinging the bat, but I feel good about the options we have.
Q: For your team to be successful in the spring you will need upperclassmen to step up and be leaders. With seven seniors on the roster, have they stepped up and taken on that responsibility?
Mee: I think it’s important for any team to take ownership for what they’re doing, and I feel like we have a number of guys that really provide that good example. Players such as Jake Oester and Josh Colliver are two of the guys I mentioned before. They come to the ballpark with a hardworking approach every day and set a good example for their teammates. One of the areas I’m very pleased with is the number of veteran players on the team that have assisted our newcomers with making the adjustment into college baseball. It’s really good to see them helping show that group the "Toledo Way," which is very important because we do have a talented group of freshmen that will leave a mark on the program throughout their careers. It really speeds the development process when the veteran players take ownership and shows the way.
Q: Last season your team was hit by the injury bug and did not have the type of season you or anyone associated with your program expected. Did your players come back this fall hungry to make sure there is a not a repeat of that in 2009?
Mee: Two areas we really tried to emphasize to our team this fall is that we have to go out and prove ourselves each day. That’s what sports are all about - the competition. We have to love competing and prove ourselves every day. I think our guys feel like they have something to prove, and that’s a good thing. The other area we tried to emphasize to our players is focus on the present. What happened yesterday and what happens tomorrow doesn’t matter. The same thing applies with a game - the last play doesn’t matter and the next play doesn’t matter. Only the current play matters. We need to focus on the present. One of the areas we’ve kind of used as our motto this season is "Prove it Today." We want to prove it today through the competition.