Are you happy with where your team is at through the first half of the fall?
“I feel very good about where we are right now. We’re right in the middle of fall ball with two weeks to go and we’re going to cap it off on Oct. 22 with our final game of the Black and Gold World Series. It’s a big difference this year because we brought in over 20 new players last season. This year we brought in just 11 new players. So the transition has really been quite smooth with so many returning veteran players. We have a good group of senior pitchers and we have a large portion of our starting position players back. So from an experience standpoint and the efficiency of practice, it’s been outstanding because of the veterans we have on this team.
“The first half of the fall was implementing our system and then evaluate. I feel good that our style and the way we play the game is there. It’s there because we’ve had good practices and we’ve got a great group of returning players. And then in the second half of the fall I want to see players start emerging. I want to see the best players start to emerge, start to separate themselves and really compete. That’s what I’m looking for.”
What do you see when you look at your program, and the upcoming stadium renovations?
“For our program, we have brought in two top-20 recruiting classes. Our first priority was to influx the program with talent, and I feel like we have continued to upgrade every single year and the competition internally is very good. I think that will help position ourselves to have an outstanding year and compete for a championship. At the end of the day it comes down to pitching and we have a huge staff which is competing for essentially the eights spots which eat up about 80-90 percent of your innings.
“We are hoping everything will continue to come together so we are able to expand and start the first phase of our stadium renovations this fall.”
You lost just two starting position players from last year, but who are the new bats this season?
“We only brought in three position players in this year’s recruiting class, but they are all performing very well. Erik Hempe is a junior college transfer from California. He’s done the majority of his work in right field and has been stepping up and swinging the bat. Travis Shreve and Spencer Haynes are two guys who have been rotating around the infield. Travis is a junior college transfer from Skagit Valley in the Pacific Northwest and is our second Skagit Valley player in our program (Alex Besaw), and he is a sparkplug for us. He plays with a lot of energy and can do a lot of different things for us. And Spencer is a young infielder who has a very bright future for us.
“Although we have returning players, those three are pushing for jobs. From a position-player standpoint, we have a lot of guys back but the competition internally is very good because of these three players that we brought in. They are doing a great job so far.”
What are you hoping for out of your catchers, who could be the most talented group of backstops in the nation?
“We have three legitimate front-line catchers in our program right now. What I mean by front line is that they all have a chance to be the complete package. Beau Taylor has had two very good years for us as our starting catcher, but this needs to be a breakout-type season. He was a Freshman All-American and played in the Cape Cod League over the summer. Beau has outstanding tools and the final piece to his puzzle is that he needs to display the leadership behind the plate that we are looking for. That is something I’m watching every single day with Beau. He has to take on more of a leadership role on the field for us.
“And then you have Ryan Breen and Chris Taladay. Both of those guys will catch and also play multiple positions on the field. Breen can play anywhere in the outfield and Taladay ended up being our starting third baseman while also play left field. So the great thing about those catchers is that they are all quality catchers, but all three have the ability to play different spots and are great offensively. If you can swing the bat you will be in the lineup.”
The pitching staff improved greatly from your first year to 2010. So who has the ability to jump into the weekend rotation in 2011?
“Overall I’ve been pleased with the progress of our pitching staff. The number one area we have to get better is on the mound. I thought last year we improved quite a bit from the year before, and this year we have to show the same type of improvement. It has to keep getting better and better and that is our number one priority. I feel like the majority of our returning pitchers have come back and they appear to be better which is great.
“I also think we brought in eight newcomers who could pitch right away for us. First and foremost I think Danny Winkler has really emerged as a guy who can make an immediate impact and play a major role. He’s a junior college pitcher who was drafted by the Cubs and has done a great job for us. Danny has got a live arm and is an upper 80s-low 90s pitcher who has shown very good command but that will still need to improve. Freshman Ben Lively was drafted by the Indians and has looked strong as well.
“There is a lot of competition as we have close to 20 pitchers on the staff, and D.J. Hicks is not pitching this fall. He had an injury last year but is now 100 percent healthy. However he did lose some strength so this fall he’s going to lift weights and be in there on offense, and then in the spring he will DH and play first as well as come back and do some work out of the bullpen.
“Joe Rogers has a chance to do a lot of things for us. The number one thing with Joe is his command. He’s got electric stuff, but for him to be able to emerge in a starting role will be that his command has to continue to improve. That’s the thing I am looking for the most. But whether he is the closer or starting on the weekend, Joe will play a major role for us. And not only is his stuff very good, he is a great person and a great leader.”
Rooney and the Knights’ last two weeks of fall camp will come to a close with the Black and Gold World Series which is free and open to the public. The three-game intrasquad series will start Oct. 20-21 with games one and two at 2:30 p.m., and the finale is set for Friday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m.