Nov. 21, 2007
Fullerton, Calif. - From his office atop Goodwin Field, first-year Titan skipper Dave Serrano, sat down again with Sports Information Director Mike Greenlee to give his thoughts on Titan Baseball for fullertontitans.com. The interview took place the day before the Titan's final scrimmage on Nov. 16, 2007.
Thanks for sitting down with us again Coach. Let's talk recruiting real quick. Now that the final paperwork is starting to come in, what are your impressions of your first recruiting class as the head coach of the Titans?
The coaching staff has done a fabulous job of bringing in the right kind of young men, with the right kind of ability. We have secured some high-end pitching, and have filled some other holes we needed for the future. The Titans are obviously coming off two very highly-ranked recruiting classes by the former regime, and Coach [Sergio] Brown, who heads up our recruiting, along with Coach [Greg] Bergeron's assistance, has backed that up with their first class in `09. We feel this is a very strong class, not just in terms of statistical numbers, but in terms of quality young men. I am very excited with what the future holds for this program.
As we speak, we are on the eve of the final fall practice and you have had at least a month with the team on the field now. How would you rate this team's fall workouts in terms of its intensity, execution and the team's overall skill level?
Well, you are asking me on a morning when we are coming off a D+ practice, but overall, as a coaching staff, we are very pleased. I think we have formed a good relationship with this team and they are trusting the coaching staff. To be honest, I was a bit concerned with the trust factor coming in with the new group of coaches and some different flavors to the philosophies they may have been used to. But it is working well, they have adapted to us and we have adapted to them.
One of our goals still as a staff is to bring this group even closer together. I am a firm believer that the `team' concept is what wins - it is not the individuals. I don't care if we have any super stars; I just want a lot of stars. And I still think we need to work a little on becoming more of a cohesive unit and building greater relationships with one another. By no means are there any problems with this group, but I think this team can become closer in a few areas.
More times than not, the best TEAM finishes on top, and that is what our goal is. It is not necessarily to be the most talented on the field, but we want to be the best TEAM each and every time we get the opportunity to compete.
When we last talked, the pitchers had not progressed as much as the offense and defense. Have there been any strides since we last talked?
Early on it was challenging for the pitchers. We had some inexperience. We had some guys coming back that didn't get a lot of opportunities last year, so you could tell they were still kind of working their way through gaining some confidence. But I have seen some strides, maybe not all the way through the staff, but I have seen some guys start to separate themselves, and 10-12 guys have pulled away from the 20 that we started out with.
We have a very long way to go, with the rest of November, December and January where they will need to continue to work out on their own and continue to get stronger and better. But things are becoming clearer to me. I now truly believe though that we are going to have enough quality pitching to give us a pretty good chance to make a run this year.
Not to put you on the spot, but are you ready to make any predictions as to who will be in the rotation come Feb. 22?
Nothing is set in stone. It is really too early to make a prediction like that. Besides, most times, the first rotation I run out there opening weekend, is not the rotation that you see in May and June.
I will say though, that Jeff Kaplan, based on what he did last year and what he has shown in the fall, he will have the opportunity to anchor down the Friday slot. He has shown a great workman-like mentality each and every day. The focus in his bullpens and the way he is going about what he is trying to accomplish each day has been quality. He hasn't been perfect, but I can see why he was such a strong point of last year's staff.
I have also been very happy with Adam Jorgenson. I realize his curveball is his best pitch, but I think his fastball can be just as good. So we have worked with him on using his fastball more. We've lengthened his arm out a little bit and it has added a little more velocity. And he has also developed a better change up.
I recruited Cory Arbiso originally when I was last here, and I see that he has somewhat fallen short of his capabilities. I think it is mostly due to injuries that he has suffered throughout his career, but to me, he can be a big part of this. If he can stay healthy and do what he has been doing in the fall with his three-pitch mix, he will be a big part of this pitching staff, and could find himself in the rotation.
Michael Morrison, who started some games last year as a freshman, definitely has the ability to be in the mix. But also there is a stream of other guys...Jason Dovel, the freshman out of La Mirada, has really opened my eyes in the fall. He's gone through his inconsistencies as a lot of freshmen do, but he's coming out on the other end. Looking into the crystal ball a little bit, he could be a pretty formidable left-handed pitcher to have both on the weekend or for midweek games...
Daniel Renken, the highly-touted freshman out of Orange Lutheran, is a big, tall, lean, right-hander and has good stuff. I completely see why so many people have given him such high praise out of high school...
And Travis Kelly is another... he is a hard-nosed kid, and he's going to lay it on the line each and every time he has the baseball, he could get an opportunity.
What about the closer spot?
I think the biggest surprise for me, and maybe I shouldn't say surprise, is the guy that we have been grooming to be the closer... the transfer from Loyola Marymount, Brian Wilson. He's got three very good pitches. He pounds the strike zone with his fastball and he's got a way above average change-up that is an out pitch. He's really separated himself, having been pretty dominant in most of his outings.
It seems you are content with the offensive and defensive effort, so what do you see at this point as being key to the pitching staff's success this year?
I think the biggest part of this puzzle will be who emerges to pitch in those middle innings. I think those guys are the guys that form good pitching staffs. That is where a lot of success for me has come in the past, and I think that is what makes a complete pitching staff. It isn't like you can just put your good ones at the beginning and your good one at the end and expect to be successful every time. It is going to be that middle core that win your midweek games, and come in an keep the lead in the middle of the game. Those are the guys that will make us a successful pitching staff.
We've read your comments on a few players in the national media already, can you maybe expand on your thoughts on Jared Clark's return, and what his presence will mean to this team?
Jared was another guy I helped recruit four years ago, and it was fortunate for us, and unfortunate for him, that he got injured last year. He probably wouldn't be here now had he not gotten hurt. But the best thing about Jared, and we've talked about his offense and his ability to hit home runs, but the best thing I have seen in Jared is his maturity and his will to win. His leadership will be important to this team. You can tell he is on board with this coaching staff, and he's on board with what we are trying to do as a program, and besides the numbers he has put up in the fall, his maturity is probably the best thing I have seen from him. He wants a leadership role and he is doing his part to help this team be successful this year.
Gary Brown and Christian Colon are exceptional athletes, and they both bring something different to the table. They both play beyond their years ability-wise as freshmen. Christian is a slick fielding infielder who will give us enough offense as a freshman for us to be successful. I think many Titan Fans are going to be excited to see the kind of defense he brings to the table and the bounce he has in his step.
Gary Brown on the other hand is a kid that is going 100 miles an hour all the time, and as long as he can control his pace, he is going to be an exciting player for this program over the next three years. He'll make diving catches and he'll definitely run the bases.
They are both going to be exceptional players. And I don't feel like I am putting too much pressure on them by saying that because I know they are both seeking that kind of level of play. They are both going to be exciting players and a solid foundation for this program to continue to be built around for years to come.
With the departure of the likes of John Curtis, Clark Hardman, Wes Roemer, and Evan McArthur, the Titans have lost a good chunk of their on-field leadership. Are you getting a sense of any players emerging as the leaders of the 2008 squad yet?
I think there are some guys that are trying to step into that role. I think that a guy like Jon Wilhite goes unnoticed because he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to play here. Jonny is a great teammate and might be one of the best teammates out there. He tries to lead guys by example.
I think that is going to be the biggest thing we need from a pitching perspective. We'll have enough on-field leaders from the position players on a daily basis, but I think we need to pick it up a little bit on the pitching staff.
Jeff Kaplan is a quiet guy. Adam Jorgenson just goes about his business the right way without a lot of words, and the same goes for Cory Arbiso... We need those guys to be leaders and have the younger guys follow them, doing the things the right way.
Obviously you didn't have much to do with this year's schedule, but everyone on the west coast will be making adjustments to the later start date this year. How do you see the new format unfolding? How is it going to affect the student-athlete, and how will it affect the coaches?
I am not saying this WILL happen, but I think teams might not be playing as crisp of baseball as people might be used to seeing early on in the season. What people may not realize, is that the break we are going to have from our last day, Nov. 17, until out first practice in mid-January, is more time off than the 2007 Titans had from the last out of the College World Series to the first day of practice in the fall. So that lapse of time is going to make it tough for some teams to come out playing crisp. We will have just 18 or 19 practices before our first game on Feb. 22 at TCU.
So a lot of the pressure is going to fall on the players... on how much dedication and work they put in over the break when the coaches aren't around.
Playing four to five times a week is going to be tough on everybody. It is going to be tough on pitching staffs and it is going to be tough on the academic side. The kids are going to have to have their time management skills under control. They will have to be organized and in control academically because there is a possibility of missing three days of classes in a given week. That will make it tough on the student-athlete and tough on the teams. Playing games is what we all like to do, but playing games also takes away from time they have to committing themselves to being students.
Does something have to give? Or will you schedule and plan for practice and travel like you always have?
Our schedule will remain status quo for now. The team will dictate on whether or not we need to make adjustments as we go. This is very new for all of us, and like we have to do in game situations, we'll continue to make adjustments along the way.
The people who might benefit from this different schedule will be the pitchers. We aren't going to be able to go a week and pitch just 6 or 7 guys. Now you might see it more spread out over 10 or 11 guys because of the more condensed schedule. I think ultimately it will bode well for us as we move along toward the end of the season and through the playoffs having had more pitchers with quality game experience to work from.
And finally, with Coach Horton in town executing his last executive duty at the awards banquet on Sunday (Nov. 18), have the two of you had any discussions that could prompt you to divulge any insider information as to whether or not there will be a Fullerton/Oregon meeting in 2009?
Coach Horton and I actually spoke about that the other day and we are both working on a meeting with the two programs in 2010. Scheduling has become very difficult because so many teams are lobbying for home games and trying to get their schedules done in advance. So yeah, that is something Coach and I have had discussions about and we are trying to schedule a game for the Titan fans between their former leader's new team and us. We just need it to work for both programs.