FIU baseball begins practice for the 2013 season on Friday afternoon, which will mark 21 days until the 2013 season opener against Stony Brook (Feb. 15) at the FIU ballpark. FIU coach Turtle Thomas welcomes 21 new ballplayers to the Panthers baseball club. FIU seems to have some pitching depth this season and the potential to score some runs with some good contact hitters in the lineup. I had the chance to talk to Turtle recently to get his take on the next three weeks of practice. Here's what the FIU skipper had to say.
1. How is your starting pitching looking going into practice which begins Friday?
TT: It looks ok, Mike Ellis moved into the No. 1 slot late in the season last year and did a nice job. He should be the Friday night guy. Tyler Alexander will be ok. Mike Franco has got a good chance. Alex Seibold has got a good chance as a freshman and Dillon Maya all will compete for starting spots in the rotation. There are various guys that have the opportunity to be starting guys 1 through 5 in our rotation.
2. You are pretty solid in the back end of the bullpen with Mike Gomez closing games, but how does the rest of the bullpen shake out?
TT: It's good to have a guy that had 13 saves last year. There are a large number of players coming back and some new like right-hander Mitchell Davis from a junior college in Texas. He should be good. Maya should be good if he does not start. Albert Cardenas, who is a holdover from the last few years should be good. We've got various other guys that will work their way into the bullpen. We're going to start out one way in the bullpen and I'm sure by halfway through the season it may be completely different. You just don't know.
3. What are some of the position battles you expect over these next three weeks of practice before the season opener against Stony Brook?
TT: Right now I think the catching situation with Aramis Garcia is very solid. Aramis is one of the better catchers in the country. I think Josh Anderson at third base has kind of got that position locked down. Julius Gaines at shortstop is solid as a rock. T.J. Shantz can play second base or left field so he will be in one spot or the other. We do have a battle going on at first base with Oscar Aguirre and Edwin Rios. They are battling neck and neck. Maybe one DHs. Both swing left-handed, but Oscar is a switch hitter that is a little bit better from the left side. Center field is a little bit of a battle with Tyler Hibbert and Roche Woodard. It could be a platoon situation unless somebody takes over. Nate Burns is solid as a rock in right field. In left field Zach Sweety, T.J. and maybe Hibbert plays a little bit. So we have various guys that can play in the outfield. It will be interesting as time goes along. I think Chris May will be DH-ing pretty good from a right-handed DH slot. That's kind of what it looks like at the moment. DH is kind of one of those battles that is still up in the air.
4. From what you have seen from the newcomers, which ones have made an impression thus far?
TT: From a position player standpoint, I think Josh Anderson at third base is real good. Edwin Rios at first and he can also play third base. Rios can play right field too, which he played a lot in high school ball. I think Tyler Hibbert in the outfield really runs. He's about a 6.4, 6.5, 60-yard guy, which is real good. Zach Sweety was a real pleasant surprise swinging the bat. I think those guys are the main newcomers, which we have a lot of. We have about 21 new players. We got a lot of different guys that can work their way in. Again I think the way we start in the beginning will not be the way we finish in the end.
5. Nobody is going to accuse you of playing a cupcake schedule. I'm guessing this year's non-conference schedule can only make you guys better come conference play?
TT: You would think that would be the case. When you got Texas Tech, Ole Miss, who has their best team they have had in a number of years. Rice is always a stalwart in the country. They are real good. Stony Brook went to the College World Series last year and has players back. Manhattan went to the regional at Columbia, South Carolina. They did a nice job last year and they recruit quite a bit down here as does Stony Brook. Then you sprinkle in South Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Stetson in the early going before conference play starts and you have a very challenging schedule.