Aug. 18, 2011
On Monday, August 15th, Marshall University had three of the ten players from the 2011 team who had the opportunity to play professionally decide to return to Marshall for the 2012 season. Marshall led Conference-USA in the number of draft picks in 2011. It was also one of the highest numbers of players drafted in all of Division I baseball and the highest in a single season in school history. Only one of this year’s drafted players was drafted out of high school. Since taking over the Marshall program, starting with the 2007 season, Coach Waggoner has had 22 players get the opportunity to play professionally. This is a vast departure from the thirteen years prior to Waggoner’s arrival, when not a single player was drafted. In his five years at Marshall, Waggoner has made the tournament three times, with a second place finish in the C-USA tournament in 2008 and a third place finish in the C-USA regular season in 2010.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Coach Waggoner and get his thoughts on why Marshall has become successful developing players to play at the professional level.
Why do you think so many players are getting drafted out of your program?
“I think first it starts with God-given talent, we are recruiting better athletes. You have to look at our system; we feel we have to develop players at Marshall. My coaches and support staff believe in teaching. A lot of the bigger schools will bring in three or four players in every position and whoever wins the job is the starter. We can’t do that at Marshall. We have to develop our players.”
Who are the key members of your development team?
“It obviously starts with the coaches. We have Tim Donnelly and Joe Renner, who are my two full time assistant coaches. We have a great strength and conditioning staff led by Joe Miday and our academic advisor, Aliese Orndorff, does a great job as well.”
What is strength coach Joe Miday’s role in the development of your players?
“Coach Miday believes in building a better athlete, protecting the throwing arm and teaching the kids how to compete. Our number one goal in the weight room is to make sure the players stay healthy. Coach Miday teaches the right lifting techniques and they follow a program that will help them become better players.”
What roles do assistant coaches Joe Renner and Tim Donnelly fill in the development system?
“When I came to this program, I wanted to surround myself with coaches and a support staff that were very passionate about the success and well-being of our players. I believe the best thing our coaches can do is to teach proper fundamental skills and then recreate appropriate game specific situations in which the players can learn. I hired excellent teachers of the game. Tim Donnelly and Joe Renner are well known for developing talent.”
What type of players do you recruit?
We want to recruit student-athletes who have a strong desire to play at the next level. Hard-working, blue collar, coachable kids. Guys that really love and have a passion for the game.”
What geographic areas do you mainly find players?
“We recruit players nation-wide. C-USA schools are spread out over a vast part of the country. We have players on our current roster from the North-East states like New Jersey and Connecticut. We also have players as far south as Florida and as far west as Las Vegas, Nevada. Since I’ve been here, we have also had kids in the program from as far West as Oregon and California and as far North as Canada. To us it doesn’t matter how far away they are, as long as they are the type of person and player we feel will be a fit in this program; we will recruit them.”
What has been your primary tactics in recruiting players in recent years?
“I just tell them the facts about the program. We are graduating everyone. A lot of our kids are playing at the next level and C-USA is at the top of college baseball. Obviously we preach the development part of our program. Not only do they have an opportunity to come in and play early, but they will come into an environment where they can become better players.”
How important is C-USA to your recruiting effort?
“Conference USA was one of the top conferences this past year for draft picks. I think a total of 37 players from C-USA were drafted this year. Professional scouts have a tendency of following good pitchers. As we started getting pro prospects on the mound more scouts followed us and that helped our position players to be seen. For instance, when I first took over we had one scout show up for our fall scout day. Now, every team in Major League Baseball sends a scout to come see us play. The pro scouts being around watching our players has allowed us to build relationships with them that benefit our players. Conference USA prepares players a lot better than other conferences. Not only by how competitive it is, but also the atmosphere in which we play our games.”
You mentioned that pro scouts tend to really follow pitchers. A hot topic that is frequently asked about pitchers is centered around pitch count. Can you give me your thoughts on pitch counts and the factors that you look at in regards to pitch count?
“As a coaching staff, we have strong feelings not only about developing pitchers, but also about protecting them as much as possible. Our pitch count is tailored to each pitcher and is based on three factors. The first factor is the physical maturity of the player. A pitcher that has been in our program for two or three years is much more likely to be able to physically handle a higher throwing load than a freshman just out of high school. The guys that have been in the program a couple years have had the opportunity to develop their bodies through our strength and conditioning program. They have also had the time to work on their pitching mechanics and develop a delivery that is both game effective and mechanically efficient. The second factor, and it’s closely related to the first factor, is the player’s age. As a player gets older their bodies will mature naturally. Most of the research we have seen suggests that the average male body continues to mature until about the age of 24. The third factor that determines how many pitches a player will throw in a game is related to the amount of stressful innings they have in that particular game. For example, if a kid goes out and has a 30 pitch first inning, that is extremely taxing on the body and arm. We know that if that kid is usually good for a hundred pitches a game on average, he will probably be good that day for 70-80 pitches total. We define a high stress inning as 24 or more pitches in one inning. If one of our pitchers has a second high-stress inning, they will be done for the day regardless of where their total pitch count is. Our goal as a staff is to average between 12 and 15 pitches per inning. If we can do that, our starters will be able to go deeper into games with less overall stress on their arms and bodies.
Tell me a little bit about Coach Donnelly and what he does with the infielders.
“Tim has grown up around professional baseball. He is very good at teaching the fundamentals of fielding, with an emphasis on footwork, fielding the ball out in front and also teaching the proper throwing mechanics. I feel our players are fortunate to have a coach with Tim’s experience working with them on a daily basis.”
Do you and your coaches spend a lot of time on individual instruction?
“We believe that individual time is a huge reason why we develop players here at Marshall. During the fall we have practices devoted to individual instruction, as well as team practices that also have time allocated to individual instruction. We use this time to build relationships with players and it allows us to understand each individual player’s strengths and weaknesses. Every player is unique and we don’t try to clone them.”
Coach, I understand you are the team’s hitting coach… what do you do to prepare them for the next level?
“I am a huge believer in helping players develop a routine. I feel it’s important to develop a routine to work on specific drills that are going to help each player. Again this gets back to individual style. I want to take what a hitter does well, and refine it. There is no perfect mechanical model. I believe ultimately the player plays the biggest role in their own development, based on how much work they’re willing to put into it.”
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
“It’s very gratifying to know that you helped a young man grow as a player and most importantly as a person. We want them to get the opportunity to play professionally, but most importantly we want them to get their degrees and be successful members of society.”
Okay Coach, last question, what is the one thing players should know entering the program?
“That the coaches and support staff will work extremely hard for them.”