Penn State head baseball coach Robbie Wine along with senior infielder Louie Picconi and sophomore pitcher Ryan Ignas addressed the media Monday as part of its preseason media day. Check out what they had to say, looking ahead to the season-opener which is scheduled for later this week.
Head Coach Robbie Wine Q: What are your preseason goals for this year?
A: I think that the obvious one [is that] we want to win a national championship, but we haven't really talked about that. I think to just stay in the moment. You just think about staying healthy and getting better every day. That's really what I think the strength of this team has been this year, just taking it one day at a time. Obviously, we want to compete for the Big Ten Championship. That would give us an opportunity to go on the national scene and get in the [NCAA] Tournament. That's been the goal since we've been here from day one six years ago, to get in that 64-team field and see what happens.
Q: Who are you looking to increase their roles this year with the loss of last season's 10 seniors?
A: I've really given a lot of thought to this; it might have been a little more personal just because one of them was my son. That was our first recruiting class. I think those 10 guys brought a lot as far as attitude and experience playing baseball - summer ball, high school, legion, showcasing themselves. Those four years really got us to this point now, [in helping develop] a Jordan Steranka or a Ryan Ignas and letting them be who they are for their sophomore years.
Look where we ended up last year and I honestly believe we're a much better club this year with the younger guys and the experience we have coming in. [Mike] Wanamaker is back. He's been throwing. He had a minor setback that scared all of us a little bit the other night. We used Ryan [Ignas] in all of the roles last year, but I think [it will be] a starting role this year for him. With Wanamaker and Ignas as the one-two, I think that can match up with anybody in the country if they do their job and don't try to do too much.
The bullpen has gotten better. I think depth, pitching wise, is a little scary on our end. If they throw strikes and they pitch within themselves and not try to do too much, then we're going to be okay on the mound too. We're not sure with closer yet but [David] Lutz is a seasoned veteran. He's going to come in and do his job. He might not be the closer we want, [but] he could be very good. A couple years ago, we had [Matt] Ogrodnik and [Paul] Hawkins just as setup men. Lutz and [Jesse] Alfreno could do that. If we don't have to push them into a closing role, then I think we're going to be really good and much more athletic.
Moving Louie [Picconi] to second base, that's his natural position; that's where he needs to be and where he looks comfortable. The way he throws from different angles and turns double plays is outstanding along with his leadership in the middle infield. [Jordan] Steranka is at third; he just keeps getting better. [Joey] DeBernardis at first base is going to be really good - better defense, better consistency at the plate. I'm excited about our lineup. I just guard against predicting. When we talk about goals, you just guard against that right now. You take one day at a time, but I think consistency and athletic ability is a lot better than we've had in the past.
Q: With the snow that is on the field [at Longwood] now, how might that put a wrench in preparing for the BIG EAST games the week after that, if you happen to not play this weekend. Is that a concern for you guys if you don't actually compete in a game outside?
A: You just don't dwell on it. It is what it is. We have a tremendous indoor facility. We have Holuba Hall; we can scrimmage in there and get our work in. If we travel down there, something happens and we can't field, we'll make the best of it. We'll get our bullpen work in. Just talking to the guys, we're ready to get out of here and get started. It's been a long offseason since we ended team practice in the fall. These guys went into the weight room and continued their conditioning weight. Around Christmas, they went home and did their work on their own. They came back in shape. A couple weeks ago, we were two to three weeks ahead of schedule, as opposed to past years. Guys did their homework.
We're ready to go. No excuses. If we don't play this weekend, we don't play; that means a bunch of other schools didn't play [either]. It doesn't matter, you just deal with what is handed to you and I think that's the strength of this team. We don't look ahead; we're not looking ahead. Although Friday night I think we did look ahead a little bit, but you've just got to get back into the moment and get better.
Q: What are you looking to get out of your Texas trip in early March?
A: Seven, eight, nine wins? It's an experience. [This weekend at Longwood] may not be the toughest competition, but its going to be experience - taking a new group of guys on the road, in the hotel, taking a bus trip. What's meal money? There's a lot of news in all this that I'm tempted, even if there's a chance we may not play, just to get all of that out of the way. You go to the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge, play a 1:00 p.m. game and then two 10:00 a.m. games, which is another challenge for our guys.
Baseball is a routine. You want to get in routines, but you go to some of these places and you can't. Those guys [in Texas] will be ahead of us. They'll be out on the field, they'll be comfortable with the grass and the dirt and comfortable with the fly balls, sun and wind. And here we are practicing in Holuba with no wind, no sun; the ball hits the roof and the outfielders don't even move. Just all the little things that people don't understand.
Once again, it's not an excuse, you just deal with it as a team. We're playing some tough competition down there. It's going to be a lot of fun. I look back a few years ago when I think we started off 2-12 playing North Carolina, Oral Roberts, Kansas and Wichita State; we got a lot better. When we got into conference, we were ready for just about everything. It is a learning experience. We have a lot of young arms on the mound that might be out there against Texas A&M with 4,000-5,000 people in the stands and they'll have to deal with it. It is a growing process.
Q: You're able to get a lot of games in one trip. Is that something you focused on or is that just the way the schedule shook out?
A: Well, with 56 games you're trying to squeeze them in any way you can. We're a little thin pitching-wise, which is a little bit scary, but once again I see it as an opportunity for two freshmen like Johnny Walter and Neal Herring to get out and get a start. I look at a chance for [Erik] Rumberger, who hasn't pitched in Division I college baseball ever. He might have an opportunity to get some innings in. Mike Pierce to get out there, it's an opportunity for guys like that. It's great offensively to have that many games. You might talk to Louie about that. Offensively, I think the more at bats and the more games, you start getting into a rhythm. After that spring trip, we should be hitting our stride. On the other side, if you struggle, it could be a long week and you could be in trouble. I don't see that with this group. They're going to be consistent. I see them putting the ball in play and making adjustments. Yes, it's a lot of games, but that's what we go for. We want to get on the field and play.
Q: Coach, why don't you touch on not being able to get out of Holuba Hall and the certain things you just can't duplicate inside? How do you keep things fresh, keep everyone interested and focused staying inside?
A: I think it's the individual. These guys do a great job. We talk about everyone having a job, everyone having a role, every play. Everyone's just got to handle his own business. We all know it gets boring in there and we're tired of the hours. From 10:00 to 12:00 at night then getting up early for classes, it kind of wears on you a little bit. They've done a great job showing up and that's what it's all about. From a coach's standpoint, you do try to change things up and look for ways to make it a little different.
Sunday, we played at 9:00 in the morning. We scrimmaged at 9:00 because of women's lacrosse and men's lacrosse having competitions over in Holuba. We play [a few games] at 10:00 in the morning, so learn how to wake up, take a little soft toss and play a game. I just look at it that way. There's a good side to everything; you try to focus on why we're doing this and do your job. Compete. Give effort.
Q: You had a lot of injuries last year. How are you guys health-wise right now?
A: [Mike] Wanamaker had a scare Friday night, but he's coming off of surgery, had no setbacks and then he felt a little something which scared him a little bit. We're hoping for the best. Hopefully, he'll be back in a week or so, but other than that, everyone's been good. I think offseason conditioning went well. We weaned them off the strength program a little bit earlier this year. They're better athletes - they're more flexible, more athletic. That sure does help. That comes down to recruiting.
Q: Along the injury subject, Blake Lynd is going to redshirt this year. Can you talk about his injury and who you plan to have step up and fill that role?
A: This probably goes way back to high school days with him. I'm sure we all had injuries in high school as it goes along, but he slid last year and hurt his shoulder. He came in and wasn't throwing the ball right, which just aggravated it. It was a major surgery; a lot of damage in his shoulder and we decided we were going to work with him as a DH this year. With him, part of his game is running balls down, playing the outfield and it was a group decision that it would be best for him, the team and everyone else that he redshirts this year and gets healthy. That's what he wanted to do, so that's what we chose.
Stevie Snyder, a freshman, is right behind him and can play. He's a legitimate leadoff guy. He's not going to start leading off, but he eventually will take on that role. When? He will dictate that with how well he does. He can run balls down; he's got a good arm out there. I don't think we're going backwards other than he's a right-handed bat as opposed to a left-handed bat, but I really don't play much into that either. You can hit or you can't, whether it's righty or lefty. If somebody shows a glaring [weakness], where they can't hit a certain type of pitcher, then we make a move, but for the most part, we're pretty happy with him out there and what he's done so far.
Q: Who else in the outfield do you like right now?
A: We have four guys. Right field there's Heath Johnson, a junior college transfer. I think he was an All-American last year as a shortstop, so he's an athlete. Stevie [Snyder] was a shortstop in high school, but we projected him out to play center field. Sean Deegan is going to be in left along with Ryan Clark. Deegan, Clark and Snyder can all play center. So there are really four guys that will see most of the outfield play. Then there's Mario Eramo; Mario's going to see some time out there too. He's a left-handed batter, DH, catcher, outfield type. Defensively, we don't want him out there, but if it has to happen he'll be fine. [Michael] Glantz and [Luis] Montesinos at shortstop, [Louie] Picconi at second. We have [Elliot] Searer behind him with [Joey] DeBernardis at first and [Jordan] Steranka at third. It's a pretty solid group.
Senior Infielder Louie Picconi Q: How has the transfer from shortstop to second base gone for you so far?
A: So far, it's going pretty well. It's an easier transfer. It's a shorter throw with less stress on my body throughout the season, so I'm pretty excited to move over to second base and I think we'll be strong up the middle this year.
Q: How do you see the team coming together chemistry wise, compared to past years?
A: Very well. This is actually a smaller team than we've had in the past, numbers-wise. We're real close together. We stay late taking ground balls and fly balls. We come early, hit early and stay late to hit. We're a close group of friends, even the pitchers too. The group of pitchers and position players are real close and I think that will help us in the long run with the long season.
Q: Can you talk about DeBernardis at first and how you see him becoming that everyday first baseman?
A: He's real smooth out there. He handles himself like a big leaguer. He's very relaxed, plays the game the way it's supposed to be played and he has a cannon at first base. Not too often do you see a guy at first base with an arm like his. That will help us big time in the double plays. He's real quick. He's got a good bat and he can't really run that well, so hopefully he'll just keep the ball in the air.
Q: Can you talk about picking up the ball from the pitcher's hands indoors versus outside? How much will those outdoor games help?
A: Early on in Holuba it looks like a lacrosse ball is coming at you because you can't see the seams. It's a little frustrating at first, but it kind of helps you concentrate a little more, [allowing you to] work on hitting the pitches, hitting the fastballs early in the count. So you try to keep that same mentality of attacking early. It depends on the person though.
Q: What kind of hitting drills are you doing other than live scrimmaging and how do you work on that?
A: We do a lot of drill work in the cages because we have the two indoor cages [at Medlar Field]. We have guys hitting at all hours of the day. We have people hitting at midnight sometimes after scrimmages. We're just doing a lot of short cage, soft toss and tee work, just a lot of different drills this year. It's really helping everyone out.
Q: Being a senior, with your experience, how important is it to take it one day at a time as opposed to sucking into a preseason expectation?
A: In the past, we've had expectations before the season. My freshman year when we started off 2-12, we ended up hitting a stride in the Big Ten and then years later, we kind of expected that to happen. But this year, we're taking it one pitch at a time. We'll take it one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time and one game at a time and if we can concentrate on that, then it's a lot less stressful in the long run of the season. Thinking about winning 40-game seasons is such a big deal, such a milestone to accomplish, but if you take it in baby steps, it's easier on everyone.
Sophomore RHP Ryan Ignas Q: Ryan, talk about coming off your freshman year. You had a successful season. What have you been doing to build off that? How excited are you to start the season?
A: I'm excited. Everybody's pretty anxious to get going. Last year, as Coach Wine said, I got thrown out there in different roles. Sometimes closing, middle relief, late relief and this year, I'm very excited about the more of a set role as a starter. What happens on the mound is just a small part of it. It really happens off the field with practice, lifting and running. I think it will translate into success; if we get that done, then it could translate to success on the field. I'm very excited about it.
Q: With the scare with [Mike] Wanamaker, how big is it for him to stay healthy and for you two to have that 1-2 punch this year now that you're kind of in that set position?
A: I think with [Mike] Wanamaker, he goes out there he gets the job done. He wants the ball for nine innings to go the complete game. I think to have a personality like that as your number one and a personality like that as your veteran leader is very important. He can do it. I think if there's anyone who can come back from a minor setback and be ready to go, it's definitely him. With the 1-2 punch, I think it would be pretty good if he gets back and we can do that Friday, Saturday thing. It will work out for us in the long run and take us deep into some ball games and take some pressure off of the freshmen and the younger guys.