With the 2019 baseball season starting tomorrow, we had a chance to catch up with USF head coach Billy Mohl earlier this week to discuss his first year as the head man, what to expect from this team, and much more.
Let’s dive in.
TDS: What have you learned since becoming the head coach?
Billy Mohl: I think it’s just how to wear all the different hats you have to wear as a head coach. The first year, you're just bringing in your own coaching staff and things like that and trying to have your hand in everything. It was a little difficult to manage my time at first. But, after year one and I know how the assistants operate and I know I can trust Coach [Chuck] Jeroloman, and Coach [Chris] Cates with the offense completely where I can spend more time with the pitching and really focus on it. Being the only pitching guy on the roster, plus managing the entire team, that was the biggest learning curve.
How are you going to replace the production from David Villar, Coco Montes, Shane McClanahan, Pete Strzelecki, and Andrew Perez?
“Starting with the left side of the infield, obviously losing David Villar [11th round, SF Giants] and Coco Montes [15th, Colorado Rockies], who both had career years and both moved on to professional baseball so replacing that is not an easy task. But, we have two freshmen, SS Nick Gonzalez and 3B Dylan Buck who are capable of it. Are they gonna put up years like [Villar and Montes] did? I don’t know about that, but we’ve got enough surrounding veterans around to protect them. Defensively, they're very good players. We’ve all seen it, as freshmen you're gonna take your bumps along the road, but they're two high quality caliber athletes who are gonna have good careers here once it’s all said and done.
On the mound, I think the biggest loss for us is Peter Strzelecki. He was a guy you could just count on him every single Saturday to go out and give six or seven innings. You knew you were gonna get quality innings out of him. And then Shane [McClanahan, Competitive Balance Round one, TB Rays] early in the year was good and led to a lot of wins for us. So replacing those guys—Pete specifically—is gonna be the hardest.
And our closer, Andrew Perez [8th, Chicago White Sox], was lights out for us. You’ve got Graham Hoffman, who has really developed into a power arm out of the bullpen. Then we have the addition of Nelson Alvarez, who’s got a big arm, kinda like Perez. He’s like a young Andrew Perez, sits 94-96 MPH. It’s just ‘can we be consistent with our command?’”
Who will be the inning eater for you guys like Strzelecki and Phoenix Sanders before him?
“If you look back over the years, our Saturday guy have almost always been one of our most important guys, whether it’s Brandon Lawson, Phoenix Sanders—who was a Friday guy, but was an inning eater—or Pete Strzelecki. Right now, Alec Wisely is kinda in that mold because hes gonna throw a ton of strikes. He does all the little things well, controls the running game, doesn’t have the greatest stuff in the world, but he’s efficient with his stuff. Pete didn’t have the greatest stuff, but he knew how to pitch and that’s kinda the mold Alec Wisely is in.
Collin Sullivan could also be that guy. You look at his year last year and he was just inconsistent. He had days where he looked like a Friday night starter [see complete game shutout versus Wichita State in AAC Tournament] and he had days where he couldn’t get out of the second inning [see start at Wichita State when he didn’t get out of the first inning]. It’s just ‘Does Collin take that next step this year and be a workhorse for us?’”
How is the outfield shaping up this year?
“We’ve got Kyle Phillips (.333/.403/.477, 5 HR, 22 RBI) out there, an all-conference selection, had a really good year for us. He plays the game hard, he plays the game the right way. So, he’ll be out there. You’ve got Chris Chatfield (.252/.347/.394, 4 HR, 30 RBI) and Garrett Zech (.257/.327/.446, 6 HR, 14 SB) back, but we’ve also added freshman Brandon Schrepf and JUCO transfer and former UF player Austin Bodrato. There’s a lot of competition in the outfield. You could see some different platoons. I know Kyle Phillips will be in the lineup every single day, and the rest of them are all battling for those other two spots.”
Chatfield came to USF as one of the more toolsy players in recent memory, and has improved little by little each year, but we have’t seen “The Jump” yet. What needs to click for to take the next step?
“Chat’s biggest deal since day one is just his swing-and-miss percentage (70 K’s in 218 AB’s). He’ll get into a ball and everybody gets excited and then we’ll go two weeks without a hit. The things I’ve seen during fall and into the spring is the strikeouts are down, the quality of at-bats are better, he’s working counts, he’s fouling pitches he used to swing-and-miss off. He had a really good spring leading up to Friday. Guys are different players once the lights come on. The proof will be in the pudding.”
Tyler Dietrich caught all but seven of the 521.1 innings USF played in 2018, including catching five games in three days at the AAC Tournament. Does he have help this year?
What Tyler did last year was borderline insane. He’s not the biggest kid, but he caught all those innings. You could tell it wore him down at the end of the year by the way he swung the bat. But, this year he’s got help. Jake Sullivan (Dallas Baptist transfer) is probably the number two. Jordan Santos and Julio Cortez will battle it out for the third spot. You’ll see Santos in a lot of different roles, whether it be at second base or the outfield.
Recently there’s been a ground swell of support for the NCAA to allow for the volunteer assistant coach to become a full-time, part-time, or graduate assistant position, but there has been some push back, notably in the Big Ten, where do you fall on this issue?
I’m all for making it a full-time position. If you look at the different staff breakdowns among all the sports in the NCAA, our student-to-coach ratio is one of the worst. Trying to get into this business is as hard as it gets. It’s gonna give us more opportunities from a coaching profession to allow more people into this profession. You watch college baseball on how it’s grown over the last 15 years, it’s incredible where it’s at right now. Brian Jeroloman is our volunteer, and he’s more than good enough to be a full-time assistant for us. I’m in favor of it. I know the northern schools are gonna put up a little fight for it, but I think it’s great for the sport as a whole.
Women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez and softball coach Ken Eriksen schedule tough non-conference games early in the year to get them ready for AAC play, was that your though process with NCAA regional teams Samford, UF, UNC, and FSU in a row to start the year?
“You wanna get quality teams, obviously. North Carolina was a no-doubter and Samford is really good. You’d rather have those games early so you can battle test yourself early. Give the guys a taste of what the AAC is gonna be like, because we all know it’s a grind. There’s no gimme weekends in The American. I want our guys to be challenged early and often.”
The Bulls open the 2019 season on Friday at 6:30 versus Samford. RHP Collin Sullivan will get the ball first for USF as they begin their quest for a third consecutive NCAA regional bid. I’m confident USF will at least place a bid to host the regional this time around.