Fall Ball: Five Pressing Questions

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Fall Ball commences on Monday, and I don't see any need to pretend I'm not excited. The OG will field an Omaha-caliber team in 2010, but it is one with plenty of questions that need to be answered before the Owls board that flight bound for Northern California next February.

With those queries in mind, I sat down with The OG and let him fill my recorder on who has the potential to do what, where and how extraordinarily over the ensuing five weeks. He answered adroitly, but if you have pressing concerns, post them and I'll funnel them to The OG with the intent of conducting a live chat when the Owls get going at The Reck on Oct. 5.

Q: While you return eight of the nine players that had 100+ at-bats last year, you lost leadoff hitter Brock Holt. What is the process behind finding someone who can thrive atop the order?

A: Some statistics are overrated, but in general the idea of a walk-to-strikeout ratio in a hitter is a good thing. Obviously you're looking for a guy that establishes that he's going to have a really good strike zone, and we're going to be looking at guys that are candidates. Obviously (Jimmy) Cometora is a candidate, and he needs to probably show that he can lay off the high fastball more and lay off a low breaking ball. Obviously you like a guy with some speed, and Jimmy fulfills that. If (Chad) Mozingo has dramatic strike-zone improvement - which Mozingo is capable of - he could lead off. (Michael) Fuda would be ideal if his strike zone improved. Who knows? A guy like (Michael) Ratterree might walk out here and prove that he's got a wonderful strike zone, but it's not likely in a freshman. It's not likely, but it could happen. 

I don't think a team necessarily has to have a great leadoff man to win. It always gives you a good feeling if you do, but I'm not sure that it matters that much because he's really leading off once in a game with a DH. It's a little different if you've got a pitcher hitting for himself, but in a DH lineup I'm not sure that it's absolutely critical that a leadoff man be a leadoff-type man.

Q: How do you manage talent evaluations around the varying limitations of Chad Mozingo, Michael Fuda and Anthony Rendon, all of whom underwent offseason ankle surgery?

A: Unless he has dramatic improvement and he can convince his doctor (that he's OK), Mozingo is not going to play because the doctor has indicated thus far that he not play at all. There is no doubt of his ability; he doesn't need to prove himself. All he would be doing in the fall is attempting to improve himself, and basically the same thing goes for Fuda. Fuda is going to DH because he ran a 6.6 60 with tennis shoes the other day. He's OK to run.

They're said Rendon can go a hundred percent, but they don't want him wearing metal cleats. We've ordered some plastic cleats from Mizuno, and they'll have them here by Friday. The doctor said he's clear to go a hundred percent, but if there is the slightest tweak he'll be out of there. We're not going to risk anything. We don't really need him to play intrasquad games but inactivity is not good for an athlete, not if he wants to play.

Q: Based on what you already know of the candidates, what is your ideal weekend rotation?

A: (Taylor) Wall is a cinch. (Tony) Cingrani is surprisingly a weekend guy. He's funky as well as having good stuff. He's one of those guys whose 90-mile-and-hour fastball is more like 94 because, like Cole (St. Clair), the way he hides the ball behind his body and it's hard to find. (Diego) Seastrunk noticed that the first day catching him. He can throw strikes, he's got three pitches, and he's pretty good.

The third starter could be any number (of candidates). That's where you're coming into it with an open mind because somebody could really step forward when you've got a group like this. The obvious candidates are (Jared) Rogers and (Boogie) Anagnostou. If (Matthew) Reckling keeps improving, you never know. (Tyler) Duffey looks real good; (Tyler) Spurlin looks good. Now its highly likely that people like Spurlin and Duffey will wind up as part of your bullpen, but one of those guys from among Duffey, Spurlin, (Chase) McDowell and (Andrew) Benak is going to step forward and be one of the top four starters.

We've thrown more bullpens this fall than we've ever thrown getting guys ready, and not only getting them ready but telling them what they're going to have to do to get a chance to pitch. There are so many guys that have a chance, a valid chance.     

Q: How do you plan to juggle your depth in the outfield and the opening at second base?

A: Jeremy (Rathjen), his status has improved so much that if we don't find a place where he plays every day then we're going to have four outfielders that rotate. Obviously (Ryan) Lewis gives us an option as another lefthanded bat in the lineup if he plays first base, and we've already given him a first-base mitt to work with and break in. Ratterree is a quality athlete - he's got some pop in his bat. He's another guy where you're talking about first base (or) second base. The positions that look like they are going to evolve and revolve are DH, first base and second base. We've got guys that can definitely play it and some very good candidates.

Rathjen, Lewis and Comerota are guys that have got to play ball this year.

Q: How do you work around not having Anthony Fazio and Mike Ojala at full functionality during fall ball when you know that, if healthy, they both factor into your plans next season?

A: In terms of willingness, they're totally willing. We've got to keep a close eye on their physical condition and what the doctors say they can do, and that's kind of a back-and-forth thing. You don't have any assurance of them, it's like a luxury. You recognize their effort, their desire and their ability, so you're going to give them the opportunity somehow. Even if you're one hundred percent solid (with your pitching staff), you'd still give them the chance because they're the right stuff mentally and physically if they're a hundred percent (healthy).  

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When is Fazio expected to be fully functional?

That's the second time, I think, where one of the freshmen that Owl fans are most excited about, Kevin Hahn, isn't mentioned during a rundown of pitching options. Perhaps a question to ask is who WG thinks is poised to finish games this year.

It's hard not to think an exceptional staff is going to emerge from all of these arms. Has there been noticeable maturation in Reckling and Benak-- both guys with big frames and promising futures that were a little rough around the edges last year?

Can't wait til the scrimmages start.

At Ease: Initially the word was that Fazio would be full-go for fall ball, but it seems the staff will back off and exercise extreme caution. Like I tweeted a couple of times, Fazio was throwing without complication during bullpen sessions, so he is healthy. They are just going to take it slow. And I wouldn't worry too much about Hahn not being mentioned. The OG continually stresses that no decisions are made as of yet, and that everyone will get a chance to prove their worth. As for Reckling and Benak, The OG said both are 'better' than they were last season. - MK

MK -- You are right -- Fall Ball cannot get here soon enough. One question for the OG: He doesn't mention Matt Evers -- has he shown any improvement so far from his sophomore slump?

owl-1983: Since I specifically asked about the weekend rotation, The OG didn't go too deeply into guys he views primarily as bullpen options. He did mention Evers as one of those guys as well as J.T. Chargois. Another bullpen arm, Doug Simmons, has tweaked his arm action and is working from the same slot as former Texas closer Austin Wood. Abe Gonzales is throwing harder than ever before. - MK

I'd like updates on Hahn and Fant, as well as who is expected to close. That was a major issue last year. Also, has Benak fully recovered from TJ (during HS)? I recall his pitch selection was limited during last season. He had 4 good pitches in HS -- last season it seems like he could only throw fb's. If he's healthy, look out. Huge potential.

Kitzbuhel: Good point on Benak, who has pitched with greater confidence during bullpen sessions. I'm curious to see how he and Reckling perform. - MK

Great stuff MK. I think Bullpen isn't the issue until we see some leaders in the rotation first. This Fall we have a ton of arms. Should be a fun contest.

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