Cannizaro previews fall as Diamond Dawgs open practice

The Bulldogs are coming off of back-to-back Super Regional appearances while the construction of the $55 million new Dudy Noble Field is in progress.

Posted: Nov 7, 2017 8:29 AM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Entering year two as the head coach of Mississippi State baseball, Andy Cannizaro met with the media on Monday to discuss opening his first full season of fall practice at State, after being hired in November 2016.
The Bulldogs are coming off of back-to-back Super Regional appearances while the construction of the $55 million new Dudy Noble Field is in progress.

Opening statement…
"We are really excited to get kicked off today. We've had an outstanding few weeks of individual work, and I feel like our team has worked very hard since the end of August. There have been so many hoops we've had to jump through, in terms of not having a field to go on every day. Our guys have been extremely diligent in getting their work done every day in the Palmeiro Center. Football has been extremely kind to us, allowing us to get our defensive work done on practice field four. We have been able to get our infield work done out there, and throw down bases in the end zone. Let's go play ball. The last few weeks we've been doing a lot of hitter versus pitcher simulation games out on the softball intramural field, so it's been pretty interesting to say the least. At the same time, I am extremely proud of the work our guys have done. One of the things we continue to preach every day in our program is that every day is an opportunity to win a job. It's a lot of the same things we continue to talk about this fall that we talked about last spring. Every day you put your uniform on and represent this 'M over S' on our jersey and our hat, is an opportunity to represent the past greats here at Mississippi State. You're representing all the people that have come before you in our program that have put this program on the national pedestal. Our guys have worked extremely hard to continue to represent the past and we know we have a lot of work to do here in the next couple weeks of fall practice that gets started today. I am extremely excited and our staff is extremely excited. I think our players are beyond excited to do something new in terms of us being able to get on the new Dudy Noble field today for the first time on a very limited basis. We will be able to get our defensive work done, infielders will be able to take ground balls, and outfielders will be able to take fly balls. Obviously, we will have to be very careful because there are construction fences that run from home plate all the way down to the foul lines. The walls do not currently have padding on them. There are brick walls in right field and all down the sides that do not have padding on them yet. At the same time, I don't think it will matter to our guys at all. We are so excited to get outside, and get this fall started. We are ready to go out and compete for jobs. They are ready to show our coaching staff who is ready to play and show this year's fan base that we can continue to build on the things we did last year. We are very excited and very jacked up. I slept in my uniform last night."
On having routine and consistency in practice…
"I have continued to tell our players all along that the first couple of weeks of fall practice there is going to be some trial and error in terms of having a practice plan scheduled for each day. Maybe we are running behind schedule because our team needs to get escorted onto the field at the same time and escorted off the field at the same time because of everything going on. The actual playing surface is a construction zone, we can't come and go as often as we want. We need to take the field as a team and exit as a team, so there will certainly be some trial and error to those first couple of weeks. Like I said earlier, it doesn't matter where we are practicing because our guys know every day is an opportunity to win a job, impress the coaching staff and get ready to play this upcoming season."
On pitching depth…
"Absolutely. It feels really good to be able to look down a roster and envision who is going to be healthy this year and what roles they will be able to fill for us. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't extremely excited or us to have more depth on the mound this year. Just to touch on last year, our pitching coach Gary Henderson did an incredible job with the arms we had available because of the health issues on our team. He did a magnificent job in aligning those guys, finding roles for them, and trying to mix and match as much as possible to allow our team to have success. Gary did a fantastic job with that and he is extremely excited to have a deeper lineup of arms so far this year."
On players limited due to injury in fall practice…
"There will certainly be some limited guys. We have so many guys coming back from injury, we have several recovering from either elbow or shoulder surgery. All those guys are at different points in their rehab right now. We have several like Ethan Small and Noah Hughes and one or two other guys that will be good to go at the start of fall practice. We have several other guys like Keegan James and Blake Smith who are a little bit further behind in their Tommy John recovery. Those guys are throwing flat grounds and that type of thing right now. I would look for those guys to be available on the back end of fall practice, but certainly available come January when we get those four weeks before the season starts."
On infield defense…
"When you lose a guy like Ryan Gridley, who played every inning of every game at shortstop last year, a first team all-SEC shortstop last season and had an incredible year, it is a hole at shortstop right now. We have two veteran guys competing their absolute hardest every day for that position during the individuals. That is junior third basemen from last year, Luke Alexander, and junior second basement from last year, Hunter Stovall. Both of those guys have been working every single day at shortstop. Both of them go out for every single opportunity to win at shortstop. Those guys have continued to get better over the course of the summer and the course of the first couple weeks of the fall for us. We feel like we have two really good options and I am really excited about both of those guys. Luke Alexander came back from the Cape Cod league where he had a really impressive summer. Luke lost about ten or twelve pounds from last baseball season, he is moving better, and has more lateral range. He was already a plus defender at third base and now with a little more agility. His feet have gotten a little bit better over the course of the summer and the fall. A lot of that has to do with our strength and conditioning coach, Brian Neal, who had done a great job with our guys in terms of their agility work they do each day. Luke has really bought into that part of trying to play shortstop for us this year. He has had and incredible first couple weeks of that individual schedule. Hunter Stovall continues to get better and better over there. He is a guy that plays a tremendous second base, and turns a double play at second base probably better than anybody in the country right now. He is a guy that can really pick it at shortstop, and who we've really started working on getting his arm up every single time from short just because it is a longer throw from short to first base. Both of those guys are going to compete every day this entire fall. We will split them up on scrimmage days, they will both work at shortstop each day, and they will compete and get after it. We are going to feel comfortable that one of those guys will be able to go over there at shortstop for us this year."
On potential spot at second base…
"We have options. We have several freshmen that have been outstanding for us so far in the early parts of the fall. A freshman from Huntsville, AL., Justin Foscue, has had an outstanding first couple of weeks for us. He's a big, physical, strong kid with a lot of power in the right-handed bat. His hands really work. He's a guy that we feel comfortable that could play some second base. Another freshman, from Mobile, AL, Tanner Allen, is working at second base every day for us. He is a high school outfielder by nature, but we have been working him out at second base every day for the first five or six weeks. He's continued to get better and has made a lot of big strides since the end of August to where we are today. Both of those guys will work out at second base. Another freshman, Jordan Westburg, has been very good for us. Jordan is 6'2", a very athletic kid. He has already shown us his ability to play all four infield positions, so I absolutely love his versatility. I am very comfortable in him being able to handle his glove, and being able to make throws from all the different angles. Those three young guys have been outstanding for us. We are going to continue to go out there and compete, and those guys will have the next six weeks of getting after it and we feel very comfortable about where we're going to be at the end of the fall with the pieces we have."
On the catcher position…
"When you start to look at last year's team, I don't even look at the batting average part of it. When you look at a guy like Lovelady, he was incredible for us. He was an absolute leader and terrific clubhouse guy. He did a great job last year of handling a really young staff. His leadership and ability to block the baseball are things that will be missed for us this year. We have two guys that are going to compete for that spot. A sophomore returner, Dustin Skelton; he's a guy that was an all-star this summer in his collegiate summer league. Also, a junior college transfer, Marshall Gilbert, from the Midwest, who was a summer all-star as well. Both of those guys are going to compete, both of those guys are right handed hitters, and both are big, strong, physical kids. As to who is going to be our starting catcher, we will have a much better idea about that position at the end of fall practice. Those guys have been working extremely hard for us this year."
On having a full fall for evaluation…
"I am really excited about it. Last year we show up at the end of November, practice in January, and play ball in the middle of February. We did a lot of things on the fly last year. I am excited to see our guys out on the field each day for a full fall practice. [I will be] able to continue to teach the game the way I want us to play it, in terms of being able to spend time with our baserunners, helping teach guys to steal bases, help infielders, and do those types of things in a more teacher-type role than last year. That month of January was strictly an evaluation period for us, trying to find the guys we could fit out on the field by opening day that we felt could help us win ball games. Obviously, as the season progressed that lineup changed several different times. It doesn't necessarily matter where you start the season position wise or where you start fall practice-wise. Guys are going to get the opportunity to win jobs, and that is what the next couple of weeks are going to allow us to do; teach, evaluate, and see where we are at the middle of November when fall practice ends. [We're] able to regroup and come back in January and have that month before the season so we can put the very best product out on the field on opening night at the University of Southern Mississippi."
 On juniors Hunter Vansau and Elijah MacNamee
"Those are two awesome names. I've got all these notes and those are the guys that I wanted to highlight. Both of those guys, the work that they've done in the first four or five weeks of individual sessions has been phenomenal. Both of those guys went off to summer collegiate leagues and were all-stars. Vansau went off and hit eight home runs this summer. He came back 12 pounds heavier. He's thicker, he's stronger and really driving the baseball better today than he did at any point last season. So many people have asked me, 'Andy, how are you going to replace Brent Rooker?' First thing I say is, "you don't." You're talking about a guy that did something last year where he won the triple crown in the SEC for the first time in thirty years. It's been thirty years since somebody did what he did in this league. It would be crazy for me to think that we can get one person to fill the shoes of Brent Rooker and what he did last season. But, I do feel that we have 3-4 different returning guys that I think are primed to have outstanding junior seasons for us. And two of those are guys you mentioned, Vansau and MacNamee."
On Elijah MacNamee's growth and development…
"Now, one of the things that I wanted to talk about today is Elijah MacNamee. His swing has been outstanding. His work in the outfield has been great the first couple of weeks. What we're going to do this fall is we are going to spend the next four, five or six weeks of the fall practice with Elijah MacNamee learning how to play first base. We feel that with his athleticism, his lateral movement and that type of thing, we feel like he can do what Brent Rooker did for us last year where we took Rooker from the outfield and moved him to first base and pretty much didn't have any time to coach or teach him. It was a mass reps type of thing for Rooker, and then obviously by the end of the year, he played first base for us at a very high level. Ultimately winning a ball game with a play down the line against the school up north, right? We were able to beat those guys. We feel like with a guy like MacNamee, he's already been working over there for the past week. His feet are really good. His hands work. He's really bought into learning how to play first base. His first week on the job has been pretty good. And so we just feel like if we can help MacNamee play first base, then we feel like we can get our very best bats in the lineup. We've got an entire fall to work with [MacNamee]. We've got an entire January to work with him as well."
On the depth of his team overall…
"You can start to create some depth on your team when you've got a guy that can play first base, you've got a Mangum in the outfield, you've got Vansau in the outfield, and you've got a freshman Tanner Allen that can really, really swing it and has been very impressive with the bat so far. He was a high school outfielder that we know can go back out to the outfield and play as well. And you've got a guy like Tanner Poole, who has made tremendous strides offensively the first month and a half. Making some adjustments with Tanner, we've stood him more upright in the box, allowing him to hit like he's 6'4", eliminating some of the bending over in his swing, just trying to help him repeat his swing. He's been outstanding so far. We feel like we have four or five or six different guys in the outfield that can really play. And on our team right now, depth in our outfield is probably the greatest depth that we have at any one spot. We want to take the next couple of weeks, see if we can work MacNamee at first base, see if he can grab onto that position and then see how that's going to work out, because I feel like he's really primed to have an outstanding junior season. He had a terrific year last year. He was really good down the stretch for us. And then on top of that we have a junior college transfer Alex Pener that's been working at first base as well. He was a really good junior college hitter, hitting home runs and that type of thing. So we're really excited about the fall and looking forward to a lot of great competition."
On the effect of strength and conditioning coach Brian Neal's offseason training program …
"I'm a really big believer in the strength and conditioning part of our program. I sat down with Brian immediately at the end of the season last year, I told him my ideas for this fall. And basically, even if our stadium wasn't being built, I was going to take fall practice and back it up as far as possible. I wanted to allow Brian to have seven full weeks in the weight room with our players. In terms of a full seven-week strength-building cycle to get our guys as big and as strong as they possibly can. We have made some tremendous strides in the weight room. I basically went to Brian, sat down and said, 'You have carte blanche to do what you want to do with our guys in the weight room.' I told him that I wanted to build our fall very much like [football strength and conditioning] coach Savage does with the football players in the summer time. We wanted our players this fall to spend time getting bigger, stronger and faster, not worrying about 'Okay, we have practice today at three o'clock. We're gonna be on the field from 3:00 to 6:30, then we've got to get our workout in.' Because, by the time you've been on the field for three and a half hours, your workout is just a matter of trying to get it in, not necessarily gaining in the weight room like I would want. He has absolutely gotten after it. He has absolutely gotten our guys stronger. Our guys were running really well, filling out their jerseys really nice right now. I wanted to give coach Neal a lot of props for the work that he's done with our guys this fall. Our guys have really liked it, bought into it, and gotten bigger and stronger so far, and we're going to continue to do it that whole time through fall practice. We're not going to take our foot off the gas at all with that."

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