The College World Series begins Saturday and that's where FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas would like to eventually take the Golden Panthers. But first things first, such as a review of the past FIU baseball season and what to look forward to next season. TT dropped by the GPP to share his thoughts....
GPP: What did you think of your first season as FIU coach?
TT: We started a little bit slow, because the kids were getting used to a new regime, a new system. No question, that was part of it. We didn’t really lock in what pitchers we were going to have in what roles successfully until about mid-season. Once we got to about mid-season we didn’t play badly. We played pretty good. We did some things that you’re proud of your guys like beating the No. 1 team in the league at the time, UL-Monroe 2 out of 3 was a very good accomplishment, because nobody else had done it. Beating South Alabama for the first time in 7 or 8 years, 2 out of 3 was a nice accomplishment. Of course, beating Miami was a good victory for our club and our program. Even some of the games we got beat like the UC Irvine 5-2, we were right in there until late in the game. Arizona State, the first game, we were 5-5 in the bottom of the 7th. Southern Cal on Sunday we were up 7-3 in the 7th, didn’t hold it.
You know people said one of the problems FIU had in 2007 was fielding, yet, in conference play we finished 4th in fielding. We broke the school record for 5 straight games of errorless ball and we broke it again with 6 straight games a few weeks after that.
Once we solidified mainly 5 guys pitching that could do a good job for us. Chris Allen and Corey Polizzano starting. James Lajiness and Eric Horstmann in mainly long relief and Jorge Marban as the closer we started to win some games. 20-36 is not a positive record, yet there were a number of things during the season that we did some very positive things for our program. We hope we set up a good nucleus of players coming back. We got a lot of new players coming in, that again you have to find the right roles for, teach them FIU baseball. We’ll be hopefully ready to getting better in the future years.
TT: Losing 8 games in a row in conference. That really in a way kind of doomed us. Getting beat 3 at Western Kentucky. That was third of 3 straight weekends on the road. We didn’t do a real good job there. We got beat at home by Middle Tennessee. We had 2 games right in our hands that went extra innings that we could have, should have won. Then we got beat the first 2 games at New Orleans and then came back to win the 1 on Sunday. It’s just too hard to make up an 8-game losing streak in conference.
GPP: You had a pretty good lineup for the most part, but what were some of things you would like to improve upon from the 2008 season?
TT: We definitely have a lack of quality pitching depth. That was our biggest weakness on this ballclub. There weren’t many guys that you really knew what you were going to get when you sent them out there. We just couldn’t get that consistency from no more than 5 guys throwing well for us. That’s the biggest thing we need to shore up. Team speed was definitely very much lacking. When your leading base stealer, Corey Lozano, steals 11 bases that doesn’t speak volumes for your team speed. That was a problem throughout the lineup and that hurts you both on offense and defense. That’s definitely another thing we need to shore up.
You also got to have some guys that can hit it out of the yard. You got to have some guys that can give you that 3-run homer, grand slam occasionally. We feel like we got the 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9 hitters. Ryan Mollica and Tyler Townsend will probably be 3rd and 4th batters next year. We really need another 2 middle of the batting order boppers. It takes a lot of singles to score 3 runs. Where one swing of the bat can get 3 runs. In our league there are some boppers and some good offensive teams and you got to have better pitching than they have, but you also got to match them offensively, too. You better put runs on the board when you need to.
GPP: From what I saw, would you agree that catcher Steven Stropp may have been the most improved player on the team as the year progressed?
TT: He came on by leaps and bounds, no doubt about it. He hit .340 to .350 from mid-season on. Definitely a tremendous improvement as a catcher. He threw almost everybody out. If he got any kind of chance at all from the pitchers, he would throw them out. Even in the Miami game he threw Yonder Alonso out big time to end the game, but we dropped the ball at shortstop. That would have been a good way to end it. [Alonso] was dead out at second base. He’s definitely the most improved position player we had.
TT: We’ve signed 12 pitchers, 4 of them are left-handers. We need left-handed pitching badly. This year teams were able to stack all kinds of left-handed batters against us. That hurt us a lot, no question about it. To go along with the lack of pitching depth, not having any left-handers other than Polizzano is a killer right there. People would pull left-hander after left-hander out of their bullpen to throw at our left-handed batters. We couldn’t do that to them.
GPP: What are you looking for in your next pitching coach?
TT: You’re looking for two things. You want somebody that is a good instructor of pitching. That can call a good game. That can decipher pitching charts, watch a pitcher and try to figure him out. You want somebody that can figure out some weakness in a hitter to be able to get him out. You want somebody that can mainly teach a guy, pitch ability and that can teach a guy to improve the stuff that he has or maybe add another pitch into his repertoire. And you’re obviously looking for a pitching coach that can bring something to the table recruiting-wise, that is a well-known figure in pitching. A guy that knows a certain recruiting area well and he can bring you players from that area.
GPP: You guys start fall ball in 3 months. Do you have a timeframe for when you want to have a pitching coach hired?
TT: Yesterday (TT says jokingly). We still got 3 months before we get started. Not everything has surfaced yet, meaning there are more jobs open every day. Like Texas Tech came open, but not that we’re going for someone from there. You don’t know what some assistants from other schools are going to do. Maybe some get a head job, maybe some get retained. You just don’t know what’s necessarily out there yet. So if you go jumping on just anybody right away there might be 3 candidates that are better than the first guy you think of hiring. [FIU assistant coach/recruiting coordinator] Sean Allen could easily be the pitching coach and we’re considering that, because he knows that area of baseball very well. We could go for a position player coach as well. We can go either way that we want to do successfully.
GPP: Have you been bombarded with phone calls for the pitching coach job?
TT: We’ve had our fair number of calls. We’ve had e-mails, calls, people calling to recommend other people. There hasn’t been a shortage of interest.
GPP: How do you feel about having your full allotment of scholarships back after the NCAA situation you inherited was resolved a few months ago?
TT: It’s great to have all the scholarships back, because we basically played with 8.7 scholarships last season. Nobody was complaining about it last season and our guys played hard. They did the best that they could do. But probably if we would have had the other 3.63 scholarships, we probably could have had much more pitching depth, maybe some other hitters coming off the bench that could be good. Maybe the 8th and 9th spot in our batting order could have been a little more solid. We knew we had some issues when we came in and took the job. It’s water under the dam now and we have to make sure we move forward correctly and make sure we don’t have any APR issues.
TT: Nothing new on that.
Results of our last two polls show that nearly half of the GPP nation likes the new fiercer, stronger Golden Panther. However, in the last question regarding the helmet, GPP nation is torn between the design of FIU in block letters with the Golden Panther head (40 %) OR just FIU in block letters on the side of the helmet (38.6 %).
The thought here is that the block letters of FIU have to be on the helmet, because FIU is not completely nationally known yet. And let's add the Golden Panther head too, to give the helmet some character.
Miri: No, I was not at the game when Jr. hit No. 600. I covered the first 2 games of the Reds/Marlins series and the 3 games of the just-finished Phillies/Marlins series. I did get to write about Dan Uggla's grand slam. Uggla Slam
FIUrulez: You're becoming the official survey officer of the GPP. We got another couple of questions below the Pawse.
CJ: You are correct the MH is not shelling out the dime for me to go to Iowa to cover Ronald Forbes, but the GPP wishes RF well tonight when he runs at 9:05 p.m. You can watch RF's race live and free at NCAA.com. If you missed the MH story on RF here it is. Run, Ron, Run
FIUFan: The new Golden Panther is not FIU's institutional logo. The new blocks letters are. The Golden Panther is the new FIU athletics logo. Check out my explanation to FIU Fan & gpantera in the "Holy Cow" post that I wrote on June 7. Hopefully, that clears it up.
gpantera: Yes, thank you. The focus should be on winning football games. Regardless of whatever the new uniforms and helmets look like, they will look fantastic if FIU is winning.
Cane.at.Heart: Welcome to the GPP.
Let's also welcome our 23rd state of readership on the GPP. In our last survey we received votes from the home state of Ashley Judd. Louisville, Kentucky, according to the handy map tracker for our poll questions, has joined the Prowl.
That's 23 states, 6 countries and 1 territory that the GPP is read in. States: ALA, CA, COL, FLA, GA, IDA, IL, KAN, KY, MASS, MD, MICH, MIN, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, TEN, TEX, VA, VER. Countries: Australia, Brazil, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, U.S. Territory: Puerto Rico.
We seem to be in accordance that the new fiercer, stronger Golden Panther is an improvement. But still some debate about the helmet design, so we'll ask again. And for that measure we'll make SouthPaw's day as well.