Jan. 20, 2012
PITTSBURGH – After finishing last year with a 33-23 record (16-11 in the Big East), the Pittsburgh Panther baseball team hopes to continue their success by filling in positional vacancies for the coming season. Despite having lost Zach Duggan and John Schultz (who was selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft), the coaching staff believes that they have the right tools in place to remold their lineup.
Defensively speaking, last year’s Panther unit performed well in the field, having posted a .962 fielding percentage as a team. Sophomore right fielder Casey Roche will be leading the 2012 outfield after having an impressive showing last season—a year in which he batted .345 in 37 games with 19 runs batted in, including a slugging percentage of .445 and on-base percentage of .398.
Associate head coach Danny Lopaze believes that the outfielding core for this year’s team will be exceptionally productive. Lopaze, who is joining the Pittsburgh Panthers for his fourth year in the program (first as associate head coach), took the time to give an inside look into the current outfield situation. He has high hopes for a very competitive unit comprised of young, aggressive talent.
This is the second release of a series of inside takes on this year’s Pittsburgh Panther baseball team leading up to Feb. 17, when the season goes underway during the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Check back Tuesday for a Q&A with Lopaze on the defensive outlook of the team's infielders.
Q & A with Pitt Associate Head Coach Danny Lopaze…
How do you feel about the losses in the outfield from a potent 2011 lineup?
After losing two three-year starters in Zach Duggan and John Schultz, we have some big shoes to fill. Zach had great natural instincts which allowed him to run everything down, and John had a knack for playing balls off the wall extremely well and throwing runners out who looked to advance. They were great players for us and will be difficult to replace but we feel like we have the right pieces in place to rebound successfully.
What outfielders have made great strides this off-season?
Along with returning Casey Roche from last year’s lineup, we have a lot of depth in the outfield and there are some positions up for grabs. Casey solidified his role where he was our starting right fielder from last year’s team and has great play making abilities and can really swing the bat. Freshman Boo Vazquez has progressed nicely with his defensive abilities and finished the fall individual workouts as one of our hottest hitters. Steve Shelinsky Jr. is healthy and is swinging the bat very well with power to all fields. Mike Douglas and Stephen Vranka have both done a nice job in center field and can cover a lot of ground. Transfer John Peluso has also added a nice dimension to our team due to his ability to find a way on base this past fall. Anthony Defabio has also been taking some reps in the outfield and has done a nice job learning a new position.
Being a northern program how are you able to get consistent reps with the outfielders; fly balls, etc?
We are very fortunate to have great facilities at PITT. Having the Cost Center, which serves as our indoor facility, and the field turf at the Petersen Sports Complex allows us to get our reps no matter what the situation is with the weather. So far, the weather has been beautiful and we haven’t had a defensive workout indoors once all fall or in 2012. I think the consistent reps our guys have gotten thus far gives them a slight edge over some other programs that aren’t fortunate to have a facility like ours to get the work they need to prepare for the season.
What is the overall emphasis you try to get across to the outfielders?
It’s very simple, look the ball into the glove and don’t allow the opposition to get extra bases. We preach championship speed to our guys so nothing changes from the drills we work on in the off-season to when that umpire says play ball in the spring.
What is the PITT Baseball PITT BULL award and is there an actual award?
The PITT BULL award goes to the most outstanding defender of the day whether it was a team practice in the fall or an individual defensive workout day in the off-season. If you’re fortunate to be acknowledged by the coaching staff and named the PITT BULL most outstanding defender of the day then you are rewarded with a set of black dog tags that say “PITT Baseball PITT BULL.” The tags are yours until someone else out-performs you. The guys work their tail off for the tags and everyday’s workout or practice becomes a little bit more competitive.
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