Baseball Kicks Off 2016 with Annual Media Day

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Tickets TicketsKansas baseball held its annual media day Wednesday inside the Allen Fieldhouse Media Room, with head coach Ritch Price addressing the media with an opening press conference before individual breakout sessions with Jayhawk student-athletes. Transcribed quotes are available below. 

The Jayhawks open the 2016 season with a single game at Little Rock, Saturday, Feb. 20, before opening up Hoglund Ballpark for a two-game stint Feb. 22-23 with Northern Colorado. Kansas will then hit the road and travel to Arizona for the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge, Feb. 25-28, where it will play two games against each Utah and Oregon State.

Head Coach Ritch Price
Opening Statement:
“I appreciate everybody being here today. Across the country this is a real exciting week with everyone involved with college baseball. In the old days, you used to get to scrimmage other teams and play other opponents, but you are no longer allowed to do that per NCAA rules. One of the first things that happens is that you get tired of playing each other. Your pitchers are tired of pitching to their own hitters. I am sure everyone feels the same way we do. We are looking forward to playing someone in a different color jersey and having an opportunity to compete and take the first step forward in what we hope will be a really successful season and a great journey.”

On the injury update:
“Some of you are probably aware but we had been completely injury free up until the final weekend of intrasquad games. We did suffer two serious injuries. Brandon Johnson, the sophomore pitcher from Las Vegas, Nevada, tore a ligament in his elbow on Friday, and will have surgery during spring break with Dr. (James) Andrews in Alabama. We are confident that he will return 100 percent. He will not only miss the 2016 season but most likely the 2017 season as well because it is a 15-month rehab program. That is devastating news to our team and to Brandon. Then Sean Rackoski, who was our Saturday starter last year, was making a 1-6-3 double play feed and tripped and broke his thumb. He will have surgery Friday – we actually had 11 scouts in to watch him pitch that day. He will also be out for the 2016 season as that is a three-to-six-month rehab. The only other significant injury we have is that Marcus Wheeler will be limited the first weekend – we are seeing a left-handed starter and he would have been the designated hitter. He has a slight hamstring pull – he will be limited to pinch hitting duty. Other than that, everybody is healthy and ready to go.”

On the roster:
“I feel really good about our roster. In 2014, we were in the top-25 and went to the Louisville Regional and had six players drafted, which tied for third-most in the country. We were really young last year. You can look at the young men up here today. Even the juniors are one and two-year starters as they head into their third season at KU. Traditionally, we have had our best teams when we have juniors and seniors. That is certainly the case this year. We are going to return our starting catcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder. That is a pretty good nucleus to begin with and then Ben Krauth returns as our Friday starter and reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. We are excited about the year.”

On the schedule:
“We obviously have a challenging schedule. We are not only looking forward to the first weekend, but the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge in Arizona, hosting BYU at home and then heading to Stanford to play a perennial national power like they have been the last 30 years. The weather has been incredible. We have only been inside one day and we have actually opened our season before having never been outside. We feel good about where we are at. I think we are prepared to play and getting things going.”

On how disheartening the late preseason injuries are:
“It is a huge setback for us. Last year we lost Jon Hander who was a Tuesday starter for us his freshman year and we expected him to be a starter and we never recovered from it. We are hopeful that the progress our young guys have made will help us survive the loss of Rackoski. We try to preach next man up mentality here. It opens up some opportunities for other guys. It gives Blake Weiman an opportunity to get back in the rotation. It will open up the opportunity for the freshman Zack Leban. We are going to move on and do the best we can with what we have and move on.”

On what the starting rotation looks like the first weekend:
“It is a little bit different this weekend since we are only playing one game and then coming home to play Monday and Tuesday. We have had a lot of really good things happen to Division I student athletes with the cost of attendance going up and full meals for all athletes whether you are on scholarship or not. Dr. Zenger asked us all to play one less road trip and I was more than willing to do so with what the department has given back to our student-athletes with the sport of baseball. We were actually supposed to open in Florida and that is why the first weekend looks like that. As we move into the season, Krauth will pitch on Friday night, Hander will pitch on Saturday and the freshman Jackson Goddard will pitch on Sunday right now. We will make adjustments, performance-based as the thing unfolds. I feel really good about our rotation. It is the deepest it has been since I have been here. It is the deepest our bullpen has been. We have had the national closer of the year and Big 12 closer of the year three times since I have been here. Not only do we return Stephen Villines, Sam Gilbert is back for his senior year and he has outstanding stuff. We can use Laban and Weiman out of the bullpen. It is the deepest we have been.”

On the ability of being able to give the starters a quick hook:
“You were in our staff meeting today weren’t you? We actually had that very discussion today in our meeting. It is certainly the case. The strength of our team, other than Krauth on Friday night, is our bullpen. Our intention is to use our bullpen similarly to how the Kansas City Royals have done the last couple of years. You also have to have the right people if you are going to do that. If guys aren’t getting it done in the starting role, we are going to go to the bullpen early.”

On limitations or pitch counts early in the season:
“We never run guys more than 120 pitches. We try to keep it right around 100. This opening weekend, Krauth will be on 75-80 pitches. That will be the case through Arizona as well. Most of our guys will probably go five or six innings max based on pitch counts.”

On what it will be like playing ball in February in Kansas:
“Thank goodness for the 14-day forecast. We are going to Arizona and the 10-day forecast says it will be gorgeous on the weekend. We actually open the next two weekends at home next year so I’m hopeful that global warming takes effect in Lawrence, Kansas.”

On what he sees from Ben Krauth after last year’s success:
“I see him taking a big step. First off, I think he has a great mental makeup, work ethic and he has a really high baseball IQ. He understands how to pitch and set hitters up. He understands how to finish hitters as well. Despite coming in as the California junior college pitcher of the year, he had a rough first month a year ago. He let some leads get away in the sixth inning but he got better as the year went on. I’m expecting him to take another step forward this year.”

On what non-conference games stick out on Kansas’ schedule:
“I think anytime you’re trying to make the NCAA tournament, which is our goal, you have to have some signature wins on your schedule. We open up with Oregon State and they received every single vote but one to win the Pac 12 Championship. They are the defending Pac 12 champions and they’re ranked No. 5 in the country. If we can win one of those two games, that is a good start to getting signature wins. Stanford is the same way. They’ve got some injury issues on their staff because they lost all three of their starting pitchers to Tommy John surgery last year. Those are obviously signature wins. One of the great things about being in the Midwest is that our Tuesday games are close to home. Missouri State finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference last season, Wichita State had a bad year but traditionally they’ve been a good program, and obviously we play Creighton who finished second in the Big East. Those are six quality games that we have on our schedule and they are all on TV as well.”

On how they will replace losing 50 percent of the offense from last season:
“There is no doubt that we lost the two most physical guys in our lineup. I think we led the Big 12 in hitting in 2006 when Ritchie (Price) was on our team and we won the tournament. This might be the deepest we’ve been one through nine since that 2006 club played. We really like our lineup from top to bottom and last year we struggled at the bottom end of our lineup. We don’t think we have any weaknesses in our lineup this year and we have a nice combination of right-handed hitters and lefties. From a homerun standpoint, we probably won’t hit as many as we did last year. Owen Taylor has a chance to be a really physical guy. He has made some progress and has a chance to provide us with some power. If he can provide us with some pop in the middle of that lineup and Wright, Tinsley and Afenir all hit above .300, we will be alright with the style of baseball that we play.”

On emulating the Royals bullpen and whether it is style of play issue or personnel issue:
“That is a matter of not losing two guys to the MLB draft, which happened to us three years in a row. We have enough depth to emulate the Royals’ bullpen. I find it really unique how the swing of baseball is going with the power arms in the bullpen. If you look at the New York Yankees, they had one of the best bullpens in the country and they go and trade for Aroldis Chapman. Now you can make an argument that they have three of the best closers in baseball on the same team. People are copying the Royals style of play. We are usually second in the Big 12 in sacrificed bunts behind the University of Texas and they play in a huge ball park. We put the ball on the ground and Ritchie is very aggressive with trying to steal bases. We try to steal third base more than we try to steal second base. Some of the changes to the game are already happening in our system and the style that we play. With our bullpen, it is a personnel issue. We finally have guys who we think can get it done.”

On what they are doing to Hoglund Ballpark in left field:
“They are putting a roof and turf in the left field cages so there will be five cages that will all have turf. They will have a roof and lights so it will be a great upgrade for us as we develop our hitters.”

On which sophomore pitchers progressed the most in the off season:
“I’ll let Coach Graves answer that question. Off the top of my head I would say that Ryan Ralston has made the most progress. He came in as a very high-prized recruit and he really struggled throwing strikes. He got better as the summer went on and I think he has done a tremendous job with his body. You might not know but he was one of the top football players in America. Now he looks like a baseball player on the field. His upside is very exciting to watch. We redshirted Zach Leban last year and he will throw anywhere from 88-94 miles per hour and he is a three-pitch mix guy. He has a really good breaking ball and change-up and I’m really excited on the potential that he has. You guys will really like Jackson Goddard. I think in the 14 years that I’ve been here, he is the top freshman pitcher to come onto campus in my tenure. We were lucky enough to have another young man make the majors last year when Colton Murray got called up with the Philadelphia Phillies. Jackson Goddard has a chance to have a really long career in this game.”

On if this recruiting class has lived up to being one his best in his 22-year coaching career:
“They really have. I also really like this junior class that is sitting beside me. These guys have been special since they got here. Going around the infield a little bit, David Kyriacou will get a lot of playing time at third base. He is a left-handed hitter who really knows how to hit, he has good at bats. He is a solid defensive player also. Rudy Karre had Tommy John surgery after the state championship game in Arizona last year. He is the fastest guy on the field. He is obviously seven months behind because he is still in his rehab program. He can not only play third and second base, he can also play in the outfield. I expect him to be a really good player before he leaves our program. Then Devin Foyle, the switch hitting outfielder, has been outstanding in our workouts so far. You throw Blake Goldsberry, who is a great pitcher, and Jackson Goddard in the mix, it is a really good class.”

On who could come off the bench late in the game to pinch-run and pinch-hit:
“I think Marcus Wheeler could be really successful in pinch-hitting situations. Marcus has a really severe collision where he broke his leg and he had a pin and rod placed in his leg. He doesn’t run very well but he has very good at-bats and I think that is something he could be good at. Rudy Karre could come off the bench and steal second base on anybody. I also think these guys sitting next to me are really good runners. Ritchie’s goal for Colby is to steal 15 bases. Joe Moroney is a really good runner. Even though Michael Tinsley plays catcher, he is one of the most athletic guys in the country. One of his plus tools is his ability to run. Finally, our center fielder is a great runner too so we have really good team speed.”

Senior infielder Colby Wright
On returning two middle infielders and how it helps the younger players:
“Matt (McLaughlin) and I are from the same area from back home and we are roommates so we have a really good bond. I think we have formed a camaraderie with the infielders because we spend time after practice with David (Kyriacou) and Owen (Taylor) and we work on getting picks in, what routes to take and where we want our feeds. I think this is the best meshed infield since I’ve been here so I’m really excited to get going because I think our defense is going to be phenomenal.”
On working with David Kyriacou in the infield:
“David is a phenomenal athlete. The only thing he needs to work on is slowing his brain down, which is natural for someone coming in from high school because the speed of the game is increased. The thing you can’t do is speed your brain up although that feels like the natural thing to do. From late August to now, David has made tremendous strides.”
On if his expectations for the season are aligned with Coach Price’s:
“Yeah, absolutely. From Skip (Coach Price), to our strength coach to every player, this is the most confidence we have had going into a season. We had phenomenal hitters last season but our pitching corps was young. We are all very confident this year and we are all buying in. I think this is going to be a real special year for us. If we can get out to a hot start and we continue to buy in, it’s going to be special.”
Junior catcher Michael Tinsley
On what improvements he has made since last season:
“(Associate head) coach (Ryan) Graves and I have really been working on improving my throws to second base. One thing I have really focused on is the time it takes to get the ball from my glove to my hand. I’ve been working on that to ensure my throws are as accurate as possible while being as quick as possible. That will help give my infielders and pitchers a chance to keep people off base.”
On how confident he is with the two middle infielders that Kansas returns:
“I have the utmost confidence in those guys. They’re some of the most talented guys I’ve worked with. I know for a fact that if I throw the ball to second base, they will tag the runner. Even if I don’t make the best throw, I have confidence that they will make the play.”
On If he expects to be the designated hitter at all this season:
“Skip (coach Price) has been talking to me about playing the designated hitter role as well as playing in the outfield when I’m not catching. I’ve been working out in left and right field, and if I’m not catching while we scrimmage, I’ll play either left or right. I’ve been getting reps in the outfield but I could definitely be the designated hitter if there happens to be a day that I’m not playing in the outfield or catching.”
On how he has helped mentor some of the younger catchers on the roster:
“I’ve been focusing on trying to get them to be as comfortable as possible with being a catcher. I’m not going to take all the credit because they have all matured exponentially since they arrived at Kansas. It’s been fun to watch. I’ve seen Tanner Gragg become a better overall catcher and thrower. He already throws 90 miles per hour to second base because he has a cannon. That part of the game comes to him pretty easy. I’ve been giving him tips on catching the ball as best as possible. John Remick and I have a great friendship. We always bounce ideas off of each other and we help one another out a lot.”
On what player in the MLB he tries to emulate his game to:
“I like to compare myself to Joe Mauer when he used to be a catcher for the Minnesota Twins. He is a very athletic catcher and he could hit the ball all over the field. I try to emulate his style because he was a great offensive catcher and he was a really great team member. He was somebody the pitchers could count on.”
Senior pitcher Ben Krauth
On what improvements he made during the offseason:
“I had a problem with some walks and fastball control issues last season. I would get too late into counts so I’ve worked on alleviating that and getting ahead in the count. (Associate head) coach (Ryan) Graves and I have made some mechanical and mental adjustments to help me get to where I need to be. I need to be putting them away early instead of getting into 3-1 and 3-2 counts. I can’t be letting guys get on base with two outs because those are extended innings. We are trying to get after guys as quickly as possible and trying to limit lead-off walks.”
On what being named a team captain means to him:
“Being named a team captain is a great honor. Coach Price has had a very long career and he has had coached some great players. It shows who coach really is. Another one of our captains, Joe Moroney, has won the Mr. Hustle award I believe three times since he has been here. Colby Wright, another captain, is great. Being in the likes of those guys is a true honor.”
On what his personal expectations for the season are:
“I want us to finish above .500, something we didn’t accomplish last year. I’d like to make the Big 12 Championship so this team can experience that. That would be great for not only the seniors but for some of the younger guys on our team. I’d like for us to get to an NCAA Regional which is everyone’s goal. That would be the start of the road to Omaha and the College World Series. That can definitely happen. We have a great offense and great personnel, so I think it is attainable.”
On what being named the 2015 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year means to him:
“Being named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was good for me. As far as my team goes, it wasn’t that great of a season. It is sort of a silver lining for me but at the same time, I want to have that golden season where everyone is playing well and we make a NCAA Regional. I try not to think about the accolades too much, but it does help to build confidence.”
On if he can build off of that accolade:
“Yeah, definitely. It gives you confidence and you can either go out and use it to your advantage or go out and get beat by nine. You don’t want to be that guy, so it’s important to have that confidence.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.