Nov. 22, 2011
By Shawn Sell
The fall practice portion of a collegiate baseball season is a time for evaluation and instruction as a precursor to the start of preparation for Opening Day after the first of each year. The recently completed fall season for the University of Cincinnati squad was no different and its conclusion, 16th year head coach Brian Clearyis generally pleased with what he saw from his Bearcats.
As is the case each year, holes will need to be filled and the talents of newcomers will need to be assessed further before a clear picture on how 2012 will line-up can be drawn. But for now Cleary and company will head into the winter months with a sense of accomplishment over what transpired this fall.
"I thought it went well," Cleary says of the fall session. "The guys did a good job of paying attention and going with energy all the way to the end. A lot of what we set out to work on and get good at, I think we did. It can always be a little misleading because there aren't real opponents or umpires or anything like that so you never know how guys are going to react when that starts to happen. (But) we are satisfied with what we saw."
One issue that will have to be resolved is what to do with the weekend starting pitching rotation that lost two-thirds of its membership to graduation. With the fall now in the rear view, Cleary is encouraged by performances of a handful of hopefuls, some veteran and some rookie.
"I thought that the pitchers did a really good job, especially the guys that started," he assesses. "Andrew Strenge is physically as prepared as I've seen him and had better velocity this fall than we have seen out of him. Thomas Gentile threw really well. Christian McElroy is making his way back; he has to throw more strikes but his velocity looks good. We also had two freshmen start in Grant Walker and Bryan Chenowethand they did a really good job. I think those guys will get some innings for us this spring."
While pitching is often the key to victory on the diamond, offense can not be overlooked and the Bearcats will be fortunate to return several of their top hitters from last season's 30-27 season. Players like outfielders Justin Glass, Braden Kline and Jake Proctor, along with catcher Jake Saylor will all be vital ingredients for the Bearcats' success in the spring. Kline was one player who caught Cleary's eye this fall, along with a markedly improved Ryan Quinn.
The 2012 Bearcats will feature a roster of 14 new faces that will battle for starting assignments and playing time. Along with the aforementioned Walker and Chenoweth, Cleary also points to newcomers Zach Morris and Joey Bielekas freshmen that made an impression during fall practice.
"We had to shut Zach down early because like a lot of guys at this stage, he has a lot of innings under his belt," he says. "We really didn't get as many looks at him as we would have liked to but I think he has a chance to be pretty good.
"Joey is a freshman that is likely to play third base for us," he continues. "I think he could be a really good player and he started to relax and get comfortable towards the end of the fall."
Like any coach in any sport, there are some question marks heading out of the fall and into preparation for the 2012 season that Cleary and his charges face. While the Bearcats do boast a significant amount of experience, particularly among the position players, depth is a bit of a worry for Cleary.
"I have some concerns about our depth; we aren't deep enough, but I don't think anybody is," he says. "Some of our position players are younger and are going to need some time before they are really ready to be successful. If we have to dip too deep onto the bench, that could be a concern. I am little bit concerned behind the plate. We have to develop some bench strength there; we aren't as strong behind Jake Sayloras we need to be.
"The next time we have too much pitching will be the first time," he adds. "We are always concerned about making sure we have enough healthy arms."
The Bearcats have now completed organized team workouts until after the conclusion of Winter Break in early January. UC will open the 2012 season in what has become an annual tradition of late, traveling to Florida the weekend of Feb. 17-19 to take part in the BIG EAST/Big 10 Challenge. Opponents that await the Bearcats will be Purdue, Indiana and Penn State.