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February 15, 2018

Ritch Price

HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I had to ask Tom about an update on my good friend and idol, Tommy Lasorda, who had some health issues this summer. I appreciate Tom filling me in. I actually wear No. 2 because of Tommy Lasorda.
First off, I want to thank you guys for being here. I also want to let you know that I'm inside on the warmest day we've had to practice since we started our season January 15th. We're looking forward tore getting back outside.
I'd like just ‑‑ D.J. asked me to give you an update on some of the injuries that we have, so I'll start by that, and then be happy to answer any questions you've got.
First off, my center fielder, Rudy Karre that is sitting over here to my left, he broke his finger about our first week in scrimmages, after he hit a double into the corner after sliding into the bag. He's been out six weeks. I think he's been down about four now. So he'll be out the first couple more weeks, we hope he'll return to the Florida State series.
Update on some of the pitchers we had. Eli Davis, who is the Oklahoma High School Pitcher‑of‑the‑Year as a junior, his team was 40‑0 last year and won the Mythical USA National Championship. He had Tommy John in the summer, so obviously he's rehabbing, and out for the season. But we expect him to make a complete and full recovery. When you see that little guy pitch, he might be one of the best guys we've ever had on campus.
Brandon Johnson, the senior from Las Vegas, tore the ligament in his elbow during fall practices. He is not having a second Tommy John. He'll be graduating and going to law school in the fall. So he'll be out for the season. You will see him helping us as a student, student coach in the spring and he's one of the best teammates we have.
Ryan Ralston, the senior pitcher from Overland Park High School, also had Tommy John surgery on Thursday of last week. He had the new technique, where they're using the artificial ligament. So recovery time for him is six months or so. He's going to graduate in June. He's also an honor roll student. And he's hopeful to get to spring training as an invite next spring with somebody.
And then finally, Ty Denzer, the junior outfielder from Minnesota broke his hand in the summer league team, rehabbed for about six months. And literally in two weeks of practices he rebroke his hand again. He has surgery today.
Those gentlemen will be out for the season and hopefully we'll get Rudy back here shortly.
Obviously like every team in the country we're really excited to get going. One of my great friends told me this week the greatest thing about opening day is everybody loves their team, and nobody has any losses yet. So it's a really good time to be a baseball coach.
Excited about the year that we had a year ago. Obviously we won the series with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, Kansas State, Missouri State was in the top 20, we beat them twice. We had a very impressive résumé playing the 14th best schedule in the country. Our entire weekend rotation is back. That's the first time we've had that happen since I've been here. We did lose all‑conference first team pitch relief pitcher, Stephen Villines, who was a 10th round draft pick. We lost Blake Weiman, that was a 6th round draft pick, who was rarely good for us a year ago. Those two young men will not be with us, but the rest of the bullpen is back intact.
I told Coach Graves yesterday after our scrimmage, one thing that's really exciting about our team right now, normally we go on the road and we open at Stanford for a reason. And people ask me why do you always go to Stanford, you see plus velocity, when you walk in and play a perennial top ten team, you don't see a guy throwing 90 miles an hour. You see 93, 94. And we get a little better on time on Saturday, a little better on time on Sunday. And then when we leave there we're ready for the start of conference and we're going to Texas or TC or wherever we're going to play the national power in our conference. But for the first time we're running 7, 8, 9 guys in inner squad games that are throwing 90, 94. And our guys are on time and we're swinging the bats really good. And it's really helped our hitters' preparation. And at the same time it's obviously ‑‑ we get as many as five to seven pitchers drafted when the year is over.
We're excited about the pitching depth we have. Excited about the returners, the only starting position player we lost is shortstop Matt McLaughlin that signed with the Rockies. Everybody else is back.
With that being said I'll open it up to any questions that you've got.

Q. Who would be the candidate or candidates for closer?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I think right now it's Zack Leban. He's had a really good fall. He emerged really good at the end of the last year. He started throwing a slider better for a strike. He's 90 to 94. His change up improved, his breaking ball improved. A couple of guys on my coaching staff think he'll pitch in the big leagues one day. He's got a special arm. He's a great story. Came here as a walk on. His dad has a KU engineering degree from Seattle, Washington. And an engineering major. Grew up in Lawrence until about 6th grade or so. But he's really developed nicely.
And there are special other good arms, as well. I'll use Brandon Ponticelli, the junior college transfer out of the bullpen. He'll start on Wednesday next week. Use Ryan Cyr this week out of bullpen, he'll start on Tuesday, the Mississippi State transfer. And Ryan is from Blue Valley High School in Leawood, so we're excited having him joining our program.
And some of the young guys have made really good progress. Blake Goldsberry is now throwing 91, 92, has improved his slider as he heads into his junior year.
And then obviously there's the big left‑handed guy that we're hopeful to get healthy and on the mound, Chase Kaplan had a phenomenal summer, was one of the MVP's of their all star game in the Northwest League, was throwing 92, 94 at the end of the summer with the Corvallis Knights. He had a hot spot on his elbow at the end of the summer. We shut him down for six months, no tear, but a hot spot they call it. And he threw his first live hitters yesterday, yesterday as a matter of fact. We're going to bring him along slowly. But he has the chance to give us power out of the bullpen, as well.

Q. A lot of times you see power arms make a big step from freshman to sophomore year. Is Ryan Zeferjahn on a nice growth curve?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I hope so. The guy sitting to my right, Jackson Goddard made a phenomenal jump from his freshman to sophomore year, and now as a junior he's projected as the first round draft pick. And he may be as good as anybody in America, the kid that's sitting right there.
Zeferjahn has a tremendous arm. And obviously he had a disappointing freshman year, other than two or three starts. He had a good summer in the Cape. His mechanics are finally better, I'm not embarrassed when I watch him pitch. It's nice to see him improve his mechanics. He's improved his breaking ball. Coach Self gave our staff a great talk today about toughness and grit. And if we could get him to be those two things it would go a long ways in his development, as well. He's almost too nice a kid. One of those 3.8 small town Kansas boys, as nice as anybody you met. I'd like him to be more of a bulldog. He's had a good fall. I think you'll be impressed when you see him.

Q. You mentioned most of the lineup is back except for shortstop. Who do you think is going to fill in at that stop?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: Right now we'll start out with Benjamin Sems playing there. And he got quite a few reps at third base a year ago. He's an athletic young man. He comes from a really small high school in St. Louis and a small prep school that's really good academically. He's got a really good skill set. We're going to have to be patient going through some of those growing pains that he's going to have playing in our league at such a key position. But he's a talented young man.

Q. Do you have a chance to have as good a pitching staff as you have ever had?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: If they pitch up to their ability it will be the best pitching staff I've had. We've been fortunate obviously to have really good closers that have gone on and pitched in the big leagues. And Kodiak Quick that set the school record for wins in one season. We've had some really outstanding guys.
This is the deepest we've ever been, by far. And we really like the fact that we can play Tuesday, Wednesday, and we're not trying to staff the Tuesday game, which is what you're doing when you're a guy short. We're going to run a starter out there that has a chance to go six or seven innings and pitch like a legitimate Division I guy.

Q. What do you think the offense is going to look like?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I think two things, we have a good blend of speed and power. Last year we weren't as physical as I would have liked. We've made progress in that area. As you look at some of these guys they've done a really good job in the weight room and Luke Bradford our strength coach has worked really hard with them.
So I think some of them have grown and they're more physical as they've gone into their junior and senior year. I look at Rudy Karre and Devin Foyle who started since their freshman year, now they're juniors, now you expect to see double production from those guys and see them start being more physical with the bat. And Brent Citta, the transfer from San Jose State, he's a man in the middle of that lineup. He gives us a legitimate four hole pop guy.

Q. When you get hit by a baseball that's going 90 miles an hour, it really hurts. But some guys just don't seem to mind. What does that say about someone that can get hit by a pitch like that?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: One of the things we have, we have a chart in our indoor hitting facility. And we actually try to take the inside part of the play away from the pitcher by ‑‑ they have all that gear on that you and I never had when we were playing. They've got the Under Armor on the elbow and on the knee guards and the elbow. You didn't feel it when you get hit with that stuff on. But we do track those things. If you can take the inside part of the plate away from the pitcher, then you have a chance to get extended and be a lot better hitter.
Rudy Karre is a living example of that. He's got a ton of hit by pitching in his career here. But there's a technique to turning and wearing it properly to keep it off a bone. But you want to be tough enough to wear it, too, and that's part of the growing process is having tough kids in your program.

Q. What does it do for you as a coach when you have this much experience across the board, what does it allow you to do?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I slept a lot better last summer, after the year, there's no doubt about that. I think it's real exciting to be able to walk on the field and have a high basketball IQ. And that was one of the challenges when I first got here was to instill that in our program. And you want kids that know how to play the game the right way. And it sounds simple but it's really hard to do. And I'll give you an example. Eli Davis is DH'g Sunday. He's got two strikes on him right out of the gate, runner on second base, nobody out. And he puts the ball in play and hits a ground ball to second base and moves the guy to third base. If you're sitting in the stands, he hits a 26 hopper to second base, and you're thinking, what an awful bat. Even his mom is upset with him.
He gets that runner to third and the next guy hits a sack fly to center field and you score a run; where if he gets punched out you don't score. Those are the little things that guys know how to play the game the right way, that have experience, they know how to execute that type of situational hitting. It's the difference between hitting and losing one run games.

Q. You have a ton of home games on the schedule, especially on the front end. Do you like that and what kind of benefits does that give you?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: We did that for two reasons, one is we tracked the number of home dates on our schedule over year, could we have played at home or on the road. I think it's the first time we've ever opened at home. But the last five years shockingly we could have played the opening weekend in Lawrence. Part of it worked out where St. John's needed to travel this year, so that's the reason that they're on the schedule. And then we go there next year. And they were a top 20 RPI team a year ago. With an experienced team I wanted these guys to stay at home. I wanted to play in the cold weather. Be prepared for the start of the Big 12. And I wanted us to get off to a really good start. So that's the purpose of the home games. And if I had a young team I'd want to take them on the road. And I think with an experienced team I'd like them to have comfort zone, get off to a good start, and we're looking forward to going to Florida State, play one of the top five teams in the country, and that will get us ready for the Big 12.

Q. With all the pitching coming back, do you anticipate the pitching to be ahead on the hitting, and is this the kind of team you expect to win those 3‑2, 4‑3 kind of games down the stretch?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: I certainly home so. I think it's the strength of our team right now, not only starting‑wise, but bullpen‑wise, we can go to the bullpen and there's not a drop off in the arm that walks out there and they're experienced. I think those are huge, to have those two intangibles for you. I really like our team offensively. We've done a really good job swinging the bats against guys that are really good. These guys are juniors and seniors now, they're not freshmen and sophomores anymore.

Q. What about the landscape of the league, how high could your guys climb in such a competitive league?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: Well, one of the great things about our program, we do a pretty good job of over achieving. And every year they're going to have those preseason ballots, and it's going to be KU and K State last place, no matter what you've got coming back. The Texas guys all vote for the Texas guys, and the Oklahoma guys.
And I like this team a lot. This team has a chance to finish in the top four, I think, if we pitch at the level we're capable of, that's an attainable goal. I expect to play in June. This team ‑‑ the three or four teams we had in the top 25, this team is good enough to do that. That's our expectation. Play with some stagger, win close games. Play with some toughness, and we'll get it done. We'll grind every day.

Q. Did you try getting Ryan Cyr out of high school?
HEAD COACH RITCH PRICE: We did, actually, yeah. He picked Mississippi State. As cold as it's the last two months has been, you can't blame any kid to leave Kansas to escape the cold weather. We're really glad to have him back. He's got a really good arm. Also has some toughness to him, which is good for our pitching staff.

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