In this final installment of our three part UC baseball preview, Coach Cleary addresses a number of topics including recruiting, walk-ons, scholarship money, the schedule and the 2013 Bearcat baseball team.
Cincinnati has long been considered a hotbed for high school baseball talent, but the Bearcats have very few local players (only seven) on their 35 man roster. Coach Cleary talked about his recruiting efforts in the Queen City.
“We lost a (local) kid to Pitt that said he wanted to pitch in the ACC,” said Cleary. “But I think that kid will probably sign because he’s got a chance to have a decent draft. To be honest, I think we’ve taken some shots at kids, and there are some other kids we’ve passed on because we obviously didn’t think they were good enough. We can’t take kids just because they’re local. We’ve tried to be certain that the kids we take from here are going to play.”
Despite Cincinnati’s reputation of churning out top high school baseball talent, Cleary thinks that pipeline may be slowing down a bit.
“Lacrosse has become a big problem, and some football programs require more of a kid in the summer. I think kids now have to choose their sport sooner. I think the pool is getting smaller and smaller, and if you look at who’s getting drafted, you’ll see it. Even the pro scouts are saying it.”
Cleary assigned his top assistant, J. D. Heilmann, with an interesting project recently to gauge if the Bearcats are giving local baseball players enough attention.
“I told J. D. I wanted a list of all the kids in Ohio (and other surrounding states) that signed to play college baseball, and we looked to see if there was anyone we should have offered that we didn’t. We wanted to make sure we weren’t overlooking guys and had made a run at the guys we should have.”
The NCAA allows a maximum of 35 players on a college baseball roster, but the maximum scholarships permitted are only 11.7. That means every college baseball program has walk-ons. Cleary talked about their value to the program.
“A walk-on player in baseball is a valuable player,” he said. “They are different from football or basketball. Every program has them because of the scholarship number. Of your 35 players, only 27 can receive scholarship money so everyone has eight walk-ons, and those guys can play a valuable role. Most of those walk-ons will be in-state because it’s cheaper for them.”
Coach Cleary continued, “I do think it’s tough to be a walk-on here because some of those kids go back home and people wonder why they are no longer the star, but there’s no shame in being a back-up if that’s what you’re called upon to be. Those kids have already done more than most other people that have ever picked up a glove.”
Coach Cleary has added a number of young players from in and around the Pittsburgh area as well as northern Ohio. He explained how that happened.
“It wasn’t by any intent,” he said, “but we’ve had some luck in Pittsburgh with Taylor Schmidt, Ian Happ and Russell Clark. Brennan Laird, Forrest Perron and Austin Pritchard played for the Midwest Pelicans, which is probably the strongest summer team in the Cleveland area, and they’re coached by Neil French, who played for us and the Yankees for a while.”
Although college baseball programs can divide their 11.7 scholarships among 27 players, Cleary has some other restrictions on how he recruits.
“We do have the scholarships, but we have to manage the money to include both in-state and out-of-state players,” he said.
In other words, Cleary’s program gets a lump sum of money that can equal 11.7 scholarships (if used wisely). However, in order for that to happen, a considerable number of UC’s players need to be Ohio residents so they have in-state tuition, which is about half that of out-of-state charges. Cleary also said that some of his Diamond Club funds contribute to the lump sum he is permitted to spend.
One of Cleary’s biggest supporters is the New York Yankee’s Kevin Youkilis, but an aggressive campaign to raise even more funds is ongoing as other local major league players have been targeted to further help the program get the money it needs.
“Some programs we compete with don’t need to worry about where their players come from,” said Cleary. “They just go after the best players.”
After having a poor season in 2012, Cleary believes better days are ahead.
“Even though we’re going to be young, I know we’re more talented than a year ago, and it’s important for us to get back on track. The thing that hurts us is we don’t have any games that don’t count. These young guys will get their first taste of college baseball when we start the season.”
Cleary was asked about the personality of the 2013 squad.
“We have Forrest Perron, Taylor Schmidt and Matt Williams that I think can steal a base,” he said. “Will Drake (transfer from Michigan) won’t factor in this year, but he’s Campana-like. Game changing speed like his is hard to come by. Glass, Neel, Wenzel and Happ are three or four guys that can bang a ball off the wall. The bottom of the line-up with Murray, Woody Wallace or Clark (whoever’s catching) and Colin Hawk will give us some balance.”
The top team in the Big East continues to reside about 100 miles south of the Queen City.
“Louisville is the team to beat,” said Cleary. “Notre Dame feels like they’ll be good. They return some good juniors. St John’s lost some guys, but I think they’ll be good again. I think those are the three everybody has their eyes on.”
The Bearcats will host a record 35 homes games in 2013, and the action starts on Friday, February 15 when Cincinnati travels to Boca Raton, Florida for a three game series with Florida Atlantic (32-22 last season).
Other highlights include a game at Kentucky on March 5. The Wildcats are ranked No.11 by Baseball America. The Bearcats will host Louisville (41-22 last season) for three games from April 5-7, and Baseball America has the Cards ranked No. 4 (at the time of this writing). For the first time ever, Ohio State comes to Marge Schott Field on Wednesday, April 17. Cincinnati’s home opener will take place the weekend of March 1-3 when the Bearcats square off against a last minute addition in New York Tech.