The following is a full transcript from MSU media day last Tuesday. For a complete write-up on the event and more analysis, check out our MSU recap article from Zachary Treadway here:
Virtual Media Days: Chris Lemonis Transcript
STARKVILLE – The Mississippi State baseball program held its first media availability of the spring on Tuesday (February 2) to kick off the two-day Virtual Media Days event. Head coach Chris Lemonis and assistant coach Jake Gautreau each talked to the media about the upcoming season, how the fall wrapped up and what they are looking forward to in the second week of spring practice.
Below is a full transcript of head coach Chris Lemonis’ media session.
Baseball Media Day
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Head Coach Chris Lemonis
CL: I appreciate everyone being on today. It’s an exciting time of the year. It doesn’t feel like it yet – we need a little warmer weather, but baseball is cranking up and we’re getting going. Like I said, I appreciate you guys being on and supporting our program and writing about our program.
It’s been a long year since we finished that last game with Texas Tech. With the crazy spring, summer, and fall, our guys have been through a lot. It’s exciting for them to be able to be back on the field and have a chance to compete and be able to play with their teammates and hopefully be in front of fans and play on the road and get back to some normalcy with their baseball careers.
I want to highlight a couple of things that we’ve done since we’ve been off the field. We have a special group of kids.
The circumstances that they’ve been going through with the online classes, it is a different world that we’re in academically. We finished our seventh straight semester with a 3.0 GPA. We had 16 guys with a 3.5 or higher and we finished with a 3.14 [team] GPA. I know that’s not the most exciting news, but for us getting these guys their degrees before they move on to pro ball is huge. We couldn’t do that without an unbelievable academic staff with Amanda Seifert and all of our help in the academic center. She’s been phenomenal. In these times, I didn’t even know our guys knew how to turn on a computer nine months ago, so for them to be able to do this well in these online classes [gets me] fired up.
Also, [athletic trainer] Jason Wire and [strength coach] Seth Diters on our health side, and [Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine and Performance] Mary McClendon. All of the protocol and the things that we have to do to be able to get us on the field, to get us to Dallas, to get us into these ballparks and play, takes a lot of extra work. I just want to take a second to thank all of those people who really work in that world, because they’ve had to do a lot more this year than normal.
The last piece is we put out our schedule last week, so our schedule is out. It’s probably not 100-percent done. We’re still waiting on some contracts. It might change. It could change multiple times. I’m just talking to other coaches across the country and we’re all going to work to pivot. We’ve talked to our team a lot about attacking the “curve ball” this year. For us to understand that there’s going to be obstacles in our way, there’s going to be curve balls thrown at us. We have to expect it. We have to be able to handle it, so it’s probably going to be the same things that are going to happen in the scheduling world and the travel world. We’re just hoping we can get back to normalcy as soon as possible.
Baseball wise, for our guys, we got back a couple of weeks ago. The last contact we had with our guys, in terms of coaching, was the week before Thanksgiving. It was the longest break ever for us to not have our team and not be a part of our team, so a lot of the training, a lot of the discipline had to go to our players. It looked like they did a great job. They went home, they got after it with throwing programs, weightlifting programs. We’ve come back with pretty good health. We have a couple of pitchers who are just a week or two behind. No injuries, just a week or two behind, trying to get their arm strength back up. But for the most part, our group started back this weekend throwing in scrimmages. We played Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and had three really good scrimmages. We pitched well, hit well, and really had some good offensive execution. [That’s] what we’re talking about a lot right now. Moving runners, getting bunts down, getting runners in. I thought we did a really good job and we defended on a really high level this weekend, which is the most exciting piece for me. We bragged a lot this year about our pitching staff, but to have a great pitching staff you have to defend well behind them. Our last two scrimmages, we played errorless baseball, which for early in the year is a little strange. I was excited to see that from our guys. We got a couple of more weeks coming up. [We are] facing some tough weather this week so we’re bouncing around some scrimmages, doing some different things. We’ll scrimmage this Thursday. We’ll scrimmage Saturday. We’ll scrimmage Sunday, maybe indoor or outdoors. But once again, we just have to adjust and move forward and try to get our guys as much work as we can. We’re trying to get the volume of pitches up for our starters. We’re trying to get the volume of the at bats up for our starters. Those are two really big pieces for us right now with trying to get guys game ready and ready to play.
We have a lot of experience. We have a lot of youth. Being able to blend those two together, being able to have great team chemistry during all of this because we have a bigger roster than we normally have. We have more expectations maybe, as well.
People ask me all the time, ‘Coach, you all look like you all are pretty good.’ And I can’t lie, I think we have a pretty good team. Unfortunately, I think everybody because of [the pandemic] has a really good team. You have more players than you’re used to, so the challenges will still be the same. We’ll just have a couple of more obstacles in front of us.
Q: How is Brandon Smith looking and what do you see his role as?
CL: He’s better every time we see him. This weekend, he threw a ton of strikes. He was 89-91 [miles per hour]. He pitched two innings. I think he’ll throw another two innings this week. I think early on you’ll see him in the bullpen because we’ve got to get him back out and get him acclimated, but I think over time you can see fall into a starter role. He has that type of stuff. His body is stronger than ever. Going through rehab, this kid works, and his body is in great shape, but his arm is working well. We spoke about it last week and I think he’s pretty fired up and positive about it. That’s just another veteran arm that we get to run out there.
Q: Are there any guys right now that could miss opening weekend?
CL: We have no major injuries right now, knock on wood. I just have a couple of guys that may be a week or two behind, so I think they’ll be ready to go. But we’ll have to figure that out in the next two weeks. I hope this weather doesn’t slow us down because sometimes when a guy is coming back, you hate to run him out there in cold weather. Right now, knock on wood, we don’t have any major injuries. We’ve got everybody kind of on board. We just have a couple of guys that are just a week or so behind.
Q: Where are the position battles that you see from a position player’s standpoint? Also, how concerned are you with replacing Justin Foscue and Jordan Westburg in that starting order?
CL: Well, I’m always concerned with that when I have to fill out the lineup card. You don’t have two guys like that very often in your career, so replacing them will be tough. Like I’ve told people, you don’t replace one-on-one, you replace them with an accumulation with everyone around them. So, I think that’s that. Everybody picks up a little bit of their production, even though we have some really good players in those spots that I’m excited about.
Our position battles, left field is a big position battle going on right now. It could be a rotation. Some left-handed hitters, some right-handed hitters. Brayland Skinner has come back and kind of did what he did in the end of the fall. A pretty electric baseball player. Still has to go out there and prove it. Brandon Pimentel, if we want to play a left-hander. Brad Cumbest has come back. Brad’s got five at-bats under his belt now, so just coming out from football is always a harder transition with some of those guys and trying to get people involved with the outfield. Third base for us is a big transition right now too, so we don’t know. Guys at third [base], you’ve got a handful of guys at third. That battle may play out where it’s just a one guy plays against left and right [handed pitchers] and see who can win the job. See who’s going to play their late in the game. We’re just trying to figure out a lot of those pieces.
Like you said, there’s some [expectations]. Josh Hatcher is going to play first base. Tanner Allen is going to play right [field]. Certain guys that we know with being an older and more mature lineup, but we do have some battles. The [designated hitter] role is big for us too right now. I think the DH role is huge because we try to line up lefts versus rights, especially going up in the first couple of weekends with trying to figure out who we put in the lineup. Lineup for me is the hardest part right now. I keep thinking of lineups and how we’re going to hit some guys in our order, so I’m trying to figure that out. I’m using some different lineups everyday as we play.
Q: What’s it like in the coaching office with trying to get a season going?
CL: It’s exciting. It’s even more exciting for our wives. I think our wives are glad we’re at work. It’s been a long year. I tell you, just being back and our first day back, when you saw all the trucks pull up and all the guys show up, we live through those guys. That’s the nice part. The youth, they keep you young. For us, we’re able to see the guys, hang out with the guys, and practice. It’s an enjoyable group. They like to work. That’s been a lot of fun for them. Just being able to get back and get going. It’ll be fun to have another opponent in the dugout. That’s been the longest point in my career in the last 26 years, being the longest time that we haven’t competed against somebody else. It’s just going to be a really competitive first weekend, so be careful what you wish for.
Q: Do you think this offense has both the capability to hit for power and hit for average?
CL: I do. As we build our offense and we build our scheme here, we want to be well rounded. We like to be in the middle of the pack in the SEC in home runs, but we really like to be a team that gets on base, that moves the baseball, that puts pressure on you, that doesn’t strike out. There’s a blend there for us of trying to put together both, but we did. We had some guys; I think we had four home runs on Saturday with our group. One on Sunday, maybe another one. We’ve got some guys with pop. Sometimes they don’t sellout. I think Tanner Allen will hit a lot more home runs for you if he just tries to pull the ball down the right field line. Those 10 doubles he gives you in the backside gap with runners on base, you will lose some of that. I think we have a nice blend. I think you’ll see that we have some guys that can hit for power. Logan Tanner is a kid who’s got as much power, he’s just got to get it off in the real games. I think we’ll see that as the spring goes on.
Q: How emotional do you think opening day is going to be for you and your guys?
CL: I think we’ll be pretty fired up. We took the first game of the day, so we’re jumping out there playing one of the first games in college baseball in that environment against that opponent. There’s always butterflies. There’s always nervousness. I think after the first two or three innings, hopefully we can settle down and play Mississippi State baseball. I think it’ll be pretty exciting. Our guys are amped. They’re ready. Usually in preseason training, you get tired of playing each other about the second or third week. I feel like our guys, and somebody made a comment this weekend, that we’re ready to play somebody else. We’re ready to strap it on with somebody else. I think that piece and that excitement, that nervous energy, it’ll be there as we head on that plane and head to Dallas for that tournament.
Q: How do you think Christian MacLeod treated all of the offseason training? Where do you think he stands and his ceiling as a player?
CL: Well, he had a good offseason. He did a lot of training when he went home too. He had a good fall, but the challenge was to not be satisfied where we we’re at. Not to be status-quote, to push it forward. I think he went home over the break. His velocity has been a little bit more in his [bullpen sessions] and everything else. His arm strength, I think he’s not satisfied with where everybody says he’s at. He’s trying to move up and be better and that’s what the great ones do. For him, he had a good outing this past weekend. I’m looking forward for him. The key for us is getting his pitch count up in this preseason time. He’s one of those guys that has such a high-level pitchability. The guy really knows how to pitch. It’s an upper-level breaking ball. It’s a really good change up. His analytics really match up. He tunnels the ball really well. I think with him, you’re going to see a lot of that come through. I’m proud of him in the fact that he hasn’t sat back and said, ‘Hey, if I could just be what I was last year, I’ll be alright.’ His mindset’s been, ‘I’ve got to be better. I want to be better. I want to keep pushing forward.’ You’ll see that with a lot of our arms. It’s not coach speak, we have a handful of guys that are pushing each other right now. Those guys are trying to be the ace of the staff. We have a really good contingent there of pitchers and competition building.
Q: From just a developmental standpoint, how are guys like Logan Tanner, Kamren James and Landon Sims looking as compared to what you would see from a normal first or second-year player?
CL: I don’t want to over-hype our sophomores that are really freshman, but they were freshman last year, but we feel like we have one of the better sophomore groups in the country. I really challenged them because it’s a big group. They’re talented and like you said, there are more guys in there across the board. People don’t know about KC Hunt or Xavier Lovett, you know, some of those different guys that we have in that class. We have a really special group. Like I keep telling them, you’ve never played an SEC game. People rave about our pitching staff. Man, I love our pitching staff. Out of our three starts that we had there at the end of the year last year, we had one inning in SEC play. So, that’s the challenge for us. To be able to jump out there and build momentum in this non-conference part of our schedule. Then, be able to take that into SEC play. Those guys have been really good. Logan Tanner is a special catcher. Kamren James has been playing shortstop for us every day right now [this season]. He’s really made huge jumps offensively and I’m excited about him. Landon Simms, he’s our X-factor guy. He can do everything, as talented as probably anybody on our staff. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid. I feel comfortable running him out there in any situation. Those guys have been really good. We’ve just got to see how they handle a full season.
Q: What are your thoughts on what Scotty Dubrule has been able to do in the off season? How do you see him meshing with what you want to do from a hitting standpoint?
CL: Yeah, this past weekend he went 0-for-8, so I’m worried about him. He actually had three or four hard-hit balls right at people. But he won our yellow jersey for our best defender and is making great plays everywhere. He’s a real hitter. So, we give him a hard time when he goes 0-for-8. He’s played a lot of college baseball, played summer baseball. Over that long break, it took him a while to get started last fall. His first couple of weeks were very okay. His last two weeks with us, he was one of our better players on the field in the Fall World Series. He’s come back in good shape, ready to go. He is playing really fast on the field and he can really move. He’s going to steal some bases. He covers that four hole really well in our scrimmages. You know, I talked about it earlier, he’s one of my pieces I don’t know where he’s falling in our lineup right now. I mean he literally can hit leadoff all the way down to six. He’s hit cleanup at times, in college. I’m going to play him at second, but where he’s going to hit in the lineup is something I’m still trying to figure out. That may change all year long, depending on who we’re playing, who’s hot, who’s not. He gives us a lot of versatility.
Q: In terms of evaluation, what all do you miss out on with an entire SEC schedule getting canceled like it was last year?
CL: I think what we missed out on is the growth of the players. A lot of them, going through that grind of the SEC, understanding what that’s all about. My first year here, I thought I’d figured it out. I’ve been coaching for 20 something years and it was still a grind. Coach [Jake] Gautreau always calls it a league of no mercy. You play one team, you wake up on Monday and you’ve got to play the other one. It’s such a hard league and a hard division. I think that experience piece for our kids [is what we really missed]. Then, their chance just to play. They usually play, go through it. They get a reset in the summer, then get a chance to go out and have a really good summer if they struggled some during SEC play. Then, they lose both of those pieces for the most part. Some of our guys played some summer ball, but some didn’t. Fighting those two areas is what’s tough for us. The experience side, handling it. They probably won’t have to handle crazy crowds, but you have to get used to that playing in this league. Those are kind of the areas we missed out on.
Q: In terms of the pitching staff, do you have an opening day starter line yet, or is that still being figured out?
CL: I do not. We’re trying to figure out how we match up. We’ve got to figure out how guys get through their work. These days we’re having to move around, already had to move a scrimmage this week. Trying to figure everything out as we get closer. We’ll announce that probably Monday or Tuesday of game week. We’ll have a pretty good idea.
Q: Does playing three different teams in Dallas look different than say just a Friday, Saturday, Sunday series against the same team?
CL: It does because we’re trying to see is there a really big matchup piece in there. Is there a better day to throw the lefty? Is there a better day to match our guys up? We’re kind of looking at it that way. In a normal weekend we’re playing one team, it would probably be a little bit more set, a little earlier. For us, we’re trying to wait and do a little bit of scouting. We’re in a heavy scouting piece right now. Trying to watch and see what these guys have done in the past.
Q: In terms of Christian [MacLeod], I know you’ve had a lot of really good pitchers in your time at Mississippi State and others. How does he compare to guys that you’ve had in the past or is there anyone that he’s similar to?
CL: I think with Christian it’s just a bit of maturity the whole time he’s been here. He showed up very mature. You know, it’s a big body lefty that knows how to pitch. If you meet Christian off the field, it’s like the nicest kid ever. Then all of a sudden on game day, he’s a tough competitor. You don’t realize how tough he is. I think that’s what we’ve seen as we run him out there. His stuff continues to grow. There are probably some guys you’ll see throw harder or some things like that, but his total package is pretty special. Comp wise I really don’t have a real comp for him. He’s got a chance to be one of the better-left handers out there in the country.
Q: Amongst Landon Jordan, Kellum Clark, who’s in the third baseman group?
CL: Those are the guys. You’ve got Kellum Clark, big freshman from Brandon [Mississippi], who’s worked really hard to play over there. You’ve got Landon Jordan. Landon’s an older player. He’s played there at some points in his career. Had a really good summer last summer. I think he was the hitter of the league or whatever, last summer in his league down by his hometown. You’ve got Tanner Leggett who’s been a swing guy for us. He’s a right-handed hitter. Then we have Lane Forsythe. Lane is a real swing guy for us. Lane is a freshman. Man, he can really, really defend. He plays short a lot right now, but we’re bouncing him around, playing some second, playing some third. Making sure that he’s ready to go. As good of a young defender that I’ve been around in a long time. He’s just got a chance to do some special things from the defensive standpoint. He’s a right-handed hitter, too. So, depending on who’s hot, who’s not, is what we’re basing that off of. … Those guys are all competing right now. They’re all playing well, so it’s going to make it a tough decision for me.
Q: Who are kind of your top three midweek guys?
CL: I told our coaching staff, we’re not going to worry about Tuesday and Wednesday for opening weekend. Everybody’s on hand. Everybody’s ready to go. I think our normal midweek guys like you mentioned, Houston Harding is a midweek possibility. We have another very talented left-handed pitcher that people haven’t seen in Cameron Tullar. Cam has an opportunity to be a midweek starter or a weekend starter at some point. We’ve got Carlisle Koestler who pitched midweek for us and some on the weekends for us last year. Then we have our freshmen. Jackson Fristoe is a guy who’s made a really big jump as we got him back from the break that could get some midweek starts. We just have to figure out what’s more advantageous for us. Do you have one of those guys on the weekend? Do we need that lefty out of the bullpen? Is that more important in SEC play? We have some nice options. The one thing we do have is some depth on that pitching staff. Those would be some of the guys that we’d look at probably right now.
Q: How do you think guys like Tanner Allen and Rowdy Jordan will fill the senior leadership role?
CL: That’s the blessing for us is having those guys back. We’re getting, not only great players but their maturity, their energy they bring, guys who’ve been through it. I say that over and over but guys that have been through it are a really big piece. They’ve been there, they’ve done it. They’ve been to Omaha. They’ve played in the SEC, big Friday night games. They do a great job. We also have Carlisle Koestler. He may be the oldest guy in college baseball. So, experience for him. Spencer Price is right behind him and Riley Self. Some of these older guys. Our rotation now, [Eric] Cerantola and [Christian] MacLeod have been around a while too. Like I said earlier, we have a lot of experience. The chemistry piece has been great. You worry about, ‘How close can your team be? How great a culture can you have when everybody’s supposed to separate six feet, wear a mask, not be here, not be there?’ But our guys have done a great job with it. I think we’ll be fine in that aspect.
Q: Have you noticed any of those guys doing anything over this long offseason to help get those guys going extra, over the top, helping out with programs right now, anything like that?
CL: I just think helping the younger guys out has been the biggest piece. I think with so many new guys in the program, you’ve seen some guys kind of grab a young guy and help him out or do something that way. They understand their roles inside their position groups really is where you see that. You’ll see a Kamren James and a Lane Forsyth working together, even though they’re competing against each other, they’re working together. Same thing with those pitchers on the pitching staff. The competition level is so high to pitch, here, right now. As high as it is, you’ll see guys working together and helping each other out.
Q: What’s a timeline that you would like to have your starters established for days and what you’re trying to do.
CL: I’m hoping it’s that week before we start. If everybody pitches well, you stay with it. I don’t like to bounce our guys around a lot once we get started. We spent a whole fall working and getting after it. We’re back right now. They get three starts here in the preseason. Once we announce, we’d like to feel like we can be in a pretty good rotation and go through it that way for most of the season. It usually never ends up that way, somebody gets scratched or somebody’s not pitching well. You have to develop the other guys behind them. I’d like to think that Monday before we head out to Dallas, we should have a pretty good idea of a rotation. Midweek starters will bounce. They’re going to bounce depending on who we’re playing, who had to pitch in the weekend. For us the weekend, especially on our first two weekends. You jump out there and play that tournament in Texas and then Tulane is coming in here with a really good team too. We’ve got some good midweeks coming. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Winning those weekends are always huge.
Q: What does that do in terms of your lineup and having those guys now be here for a couple of years in terms of building that depth?
CL: Well, that depth is huge. Getting some of those special players to school was a big part of that five-round draft. In other years you could have seen Jackson Fristoe be taken, Kellum Clark be taken, Mikey Tepper be taken, even Cade Smith. We have some of our pitchers there that we could have lost going in. The tough part about our league is our entire league benefited from that. So, there are great players that came in all the way across the league. It’s a little bit of an equalizer. I think as you look across and see college baseball, because of these new draft changes, is going to get stronger and be a better product. It’s going to be a lot of talent. I think it shows a lot for how college baseball as a whole is developing talent and getting talent into professional baseball. Kids are coming out and they’re ready to play.