Finnegan and again

finnegan coverThe baseball world got to know Brandon Finnegan after he put his name on the map in 2014, when the 21-year old heard his name called on June 5 after the Kansas City Royals selected him in the first round of the MLB draft. Two days later, Finnegan earned the win over Pepperdine in the opening game of the Fort Worth Super Regional best-of-three series that the Horned Frogs would ultimately win. Ten days after the Pepperdine performance, the Fort Worth native sailed through eight innings and allowed two runs (one earned) in a 15-inning loss to national runner-up Virginia that tied a record for the longest game in the history of the College World Series.

It was one of the better performances that college baseball saw in 2014, as Finnegan tallied a 9-3 record with a 2.04 ERA for TCU. In just over 105 innings pitched, he racked up 134 strikeouts, yielded just 79 hits and walked only 29.

And he wasn’t done.

Finnegan’s name came up again when he made a similar splash in the professional ranks. Just three months and one day after he was drafted and 81 days after his Frogs finale (after dominating the minor leagues in class A-advanced and AA to the tune of 27 innings pitched, 26 strikeouts, 20 hits, four walks and a 1.33 ERA), he was called up to the big leagues and would make his debut at Yankee Stadium, striking out two in two perfect innings. He and the rest of the Kansas City Royals caught fire down the stretch of the regular season and carried their momentum right into the playoffs. The 5-11 lefty threw two more perfect innings in a wild card-elimination game against Oakland that ended in a 12-inning, 9-8 Royals victory and began an eight-game winning streak that put K.C. in the World Series. After retiring the only two batters he faced in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, Finnegan became the first player in the history of baseball to have appeared in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year. Continue reading

Moving Up in Baseball: The Game’s Simple Truths

Darren Fenster Minor League Manager, Boston Red Sox Founder & CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC @CoachYourKids CoachingYourKids@gmail.com

Darren Fenster
Minor League Manager, Boston Red Sox
Founder & CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC
@CoachYourKids
CoachingYourKids@gmail.com

So you made the varsity team as a freshman? Congratulations!

You got offered a scholarship to play in college? Great news!

You were drafted to play professionally? Awesome!

You got called up to the Major Leagues? Unbelievable!

Reaching higher levels in the game by all means should garner a sense of achievement.  Each step higher, however, is not ‘making it,’ but rather the makings for more work.  As players advance in the game, each rung of the baseball ladder is melded together by one simple thing: good old fashioned work ethic. Those who are never complacent with where they are- regardless of how high- are the ones who have a constant inner drive that will enable them to maximize their true potential and reach the pinnacle of their own individual game, whatever level that may turn out to be.

As a minor league manager, the question “what does it take to play professional baseball” gets asked often.  And while there is a pretty good general understanding amongst the baseball community of the tools and athletic ability that scouts are looking for when it comes to the amateur draft, we wanted offer a different kind of insight for aspiring big leaguers (and their coaches) to digest.

There are a handful of simple truths when it comes to understanding what it takes to move up in baseball, whether that be from middle school to high school or from the minor leagues to the big leagues.  As players embrace these ideas, they’ll put themselves in a better position to accomplish their goals on the diamond.

Simple truth #1: With each new level reached should come the understanding of getting out of the kiddie pool and jumping into the ocean.

Just about every single player that signs a professional contract or commits to a college scholarship is a stud, the best of the best.  They have grown accustomed to being the man, constantly being the center of attention.  By far, the biggest adjustment a player must make upon advancing ranks is to understand the fact that they are no longer ‘the man’ and will no longer be the guy who everyone’s eyes are on.  The sooner this sets in, the sooner our next meaning can take over. Continue reading

New faces, new places

new facesWith the ever-changing landscape of the college baseball coaching industry, the winter offers a time to take a look at the ‘coaching carousel’ and check in on how some of our game’s new head coaches are doing at their respective programs. Inside Pitch caught up with some of the best and checked in on how they are implementing their philosophy and foundation at their new landing spots:

What are the challenges to moving from one place to another and taking over the reins at a new program?

“Most young coaches want to be a head coach one day, so they’re working towards that goal with everything they do. There are so many good coaches out there nowadays, it’s tough because there are only so many head Division I jobs to go around. So when you do get that opportunity, you have to jump on it. It didn’t come as quick for me as I thought it might, but this is an incredible situation at Sam Houston State; we’re very, very blessed to be here at a proven winner and place you can win at a high, high level. The program that Mark Johnson and David Pierce built here speaks for itself, with six regionals in the last eight years and three straight conference championships. There’s a lot to live up to and there are gigantic shoes to fill.”

-Matt Deggs

“It’s always hard to leave a place. You normally have relationships with players for 2-3 years before they ever step on campus. Then you get to work with them each day. It was really tough to leave the players and the coaching staff at Ole Miss. Coach Bianco, Carl Lafferty, Stephen Head and Andrew Case weren’t just co-workers, they’re friends as well, so it’s hard to leave them. The players and coaches were my family. Ole Miss & Oxford will always have a special place in my heart. It’s my second home.”

-Cliff Godwin

“The new job was bittersweet in the fact that Louisville was such a special place. I had a chance to coach with my college teammate and best friend [Dan McDonnell], but our whole staff had been together for eight years, with Roger Williams and Brian Mundorf, all the guys we were there with. We won a lot of games, but we had a lot of fun doing it.

new facesIndiana is a dream job in a lot of ways, and I’m very fortunate to be able to stay in the same part of the country in terms of moving. Tracy Smith has done a great job of building the program and getting it to where it was, and our goal is to move the program forward, to keep Indiana at the top of the Big Ten. I think with the last two years with the College World Series, a number four overall seed, and a brand new ballpark, the program is in a great place.

We also feel very fortunate because Indiana is one of the best states in the country to recruit out of, there’s a lot of talent in our state.”

-Chris Lemonis

“The immediate challenge is retention of all our players. The players and the game seem to be the easiest part, the tough part is dealing with all the domestic side of a move. Leaving a good place like SHSU and starting over with moves, selling and buying houses are the biggest challenges. The players have always been very receptive to our staff and I’m thankful for that.”

-David Pierce

“The hardest part of leaving Young Harris college after sixteen years wasn’t leaving behind a program that my family and the administration that hired me had put so much time, effort, and resources into. It wasn’t removing myself from the program we had transformed from an obscure, small college in the middle of nowhere into a national power that was recognized in the baseball community as a program that developed young men into major leaguers, as well as quality husbands, fathers, and community leaders. The hardest part was leaving behind a community and church that we invested our lives into, which had, in return, given my wife and I a wonderful place to watch our children grow and mature. The greatest memories are not of the championships we won, but of the relationships we developed over the years in that small town community. That small town community always made this small time coach feel like a big league manager.”

-Rick Robinson

“You just evaluate as a professional whether you want to be comfortable or you want to challenge yourself, and with the two moves [from Miami of Ohio to Indiana and then from Indiana to Arizona State], the opportunities were better, so that’s how I looked at it. Are you wired to be comfortable, or are you wired to challenge yourself? At the end of the day, it was a very simple answer. It’s tough moving away from family and friends, but the bigger regret would’ve been sitting back and wondering what could’ve been.”

-Tracy Smith
Continue reading

The new ball

new ballIn response to the BBCOR bat, TD Ameritrade Park and lower offensive outputs across the country, the DI baseball committee’s unanimous 2013 vote to change the ball to a flatter-seam version was put in play. Beginning this past fall, college baseball implemented the new ball and Inside Pitch asked coaches to chime in on their overall observations, any changes that they intend to make with coaching philosophies for their hitters or pitchers, and whether the new ball will change their recruiting mindset:

HITTING

“We are a team that likes to lengthen and shorten the field- we like to make the field real big, and we like to make the field real small- and these balls play into that. They’re going to level off the playing field, and a five-run deficit is not insurmountable anymore. It won’t be as prevalent as it was 5-7 years ago, but it is going to give hitters a fighting chance when they’re dealing with adverse conditions like wind or a bigger ballpark. I really like the new baseball, I think it’s going to add some more excitement to the game, and it might put us just about where we want to be.”

Matt Deggs, head coach, Sam Houston State
Helped UL-Lafayette to a banner 2014 season where they finished the top 10 in the nation in 14 offensive categories and had an OPS of .902

“I think you’re definitely going to see more home runs, but it’s not going to go back to ‘gorilla ball’ or anything like that. As far as coaching goes, I still like power in the middle of the lineup and speed at the top and the bottom, so we aren’t going to approach it a whole lot differently.”

Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina University
His hitters ranked first in the SEC in batting average and second in home runs and runs scored in 2014

“It’s a little tough for me because I’m in a new park with new hitters, too. I think the feedback from the kids was that the ball traveled farther, which is what everyone was looking for. Hopefully it’ll balance the game back out a little bit more, adding the home run as an element for most teams. Recruiting-wise, we’ve always liked to have a nice blend of power and speed, so I don’t know that it’s going to change much. Maybe the bigger corner infielder or outfielder becomes important again, which the game has kind of gotten away from the past few years.”

Chris Lemonis, head coach, Indiana University
Former hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville helped the Cardinals to three College World Series appearances and back-to-back 50-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 Continue reading

D1Baseball.com turns two

Website adds pair of industry experts

Since its inception in 2003, D1Baseball.com has been a go-to site for college baseball schedules, standings, historical data and more. Offering the sport’s only aggregated scoreboard on its home page, it has developed a rock-solid reputation for providing in-depth college baseball content on the national stage.

This past November the site announced its intentions for aggressive expansion into news coverage of the sport with the hiring of two of the most well-respected writers in the industry: Aaron Fitt, former National Writer for Baseball America, and Kendall Rogers, former Managing Editor of College Baseball at Perfect Game. Continue reading