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Notre Dame Baseball

Link Jarrett Part II: Facilities, schedules, players on the rise and more

October 26, 2021
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In the conclusion to our extensive question-and-answer session with Notre Dame baseball coach Link Jarrett, as the Fighting Irish wrapped up fall camp and worked to build upon their breakthrough 2021 season, Jarrett looked to the future of the program, outlined team strengths and discussed facilities as well as recruiting against the blue-bloods of college baseball and provided a sneak-peek to the Irish’s 2022 schedule – including a couple of games in an NFL stadium.

ISD: Obviously there are a couple of glaring departures from last year's team, notably Tanner Kohlhepp on the mound and Niko Kavadas at the plate and first base, but you've expressed optimism in the ability of several players to step up. Could you tell us more about those candidates?

LINK JARRETT: Roman Kimball is a freshman right-hander and his stuff can be electric. The metrics show you why it's very, very difficult to hit. He can throw multiple breaking pitches, has a fastball that sits mid-90s. He's maybe about 6 feet tall but his ball climbs through the zone.

Radek Birkholz, another right-handed pitcher, and when he's on the mound, he's on the attack, they're in attack-mode. Baseball is the only sport where the defense actually possesses the ball. So are you really on the offensive? And the answer is yes with these two. They've got presence and poise.

Jack Findlay, lefty, he's an upper-80s and a freshman lefty, has a good slider and a good feel for what he's doing. He's going to be really valuable for a long time.

First base, Carter Putz can do it. He was really settled into the DH role. If somebody's comfortable and effective, you ask yourself do you risk taking away that comfort and switching things up. But Carter can do it.

Connor Hincks, a transfer from the University of Virginia, he's a lanky, rangy middle infielder. But he's done a nice job at first base this fall. He's a left-handed batter. Those two have done nice work.

One thing we do talk a lot about is how can we get (Jack) Brannigan involved on the mound more. He's hitting 95-100. He hasn't just been super, super-consistent in that, but we're trying to get him more involved on the mound. If he does, he be a difference-maker.

Jack Penney, he's an impressive young infielder, can play short, third, second. And when I say play it, he can really play it. He looks like a junior or senior out there [instead of a true freshman]. He has a tremendous sense and clock for the infield.

So, we feel like there are plenty of options if we need to pitch Brannigan more.

And we have depth of infield now. If we have to put Brannigan at first base, because he's so athletic, we could do that.

ISD: For various reasons, including the last postseason, there's a lot of talk on Notre Dame's baseball facilities. Where are things there? What's the next step or steps for Notre Dame to enhance in facilities and better position itself to perhaps host an NCAA Super Regional?

LJ: Jack (Swarbrick) and I talked about it a couple times at the end of the season, the Regional bidding and Super Regional bidding process is a unique system.

Last year to think the ACC regular season champion would not be a national seed was completely unheard of. ACC folks said to us, 'You're a national seed, you don't need to think about it.'

I don't know if I've gotten to the bottom of it [as to why Notre Dame was not a top-8 national seed with hosting rights through the first and second rounds of postseason], we didn't play as much crossover with other leagues.

We couldn't play the Big Ten, they couldn't play outside their conference (due to COVID-19 protocols). I think the committee's judgment was wrong.

We don't have an ACC athletics director on the NCAA Selection Committee, so that's a problem. You've got some loud voices from the Big 12 and the SEC and they came out on top in the whole hosting and seeding situation. That's unfortunate. And it's a situation that's got to be rectified.

We are trying in the ACC to get a grasp back on one of those seats. I guess one of the A.D.s did not renew his seat on the committee, and it was replaced with a non-ACC seat.

As for stadium seating, Jack and I talked about the ability to do some things to make for a larger facility so that you can possibly make your financial bid more appealing.

They didn't stop selling tickets at Starkville (in the Super Regional hosted by eventual national champion Mississippi State). That was the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball series on a campus. I think that same approach could be said for South Carolina and Arkansas, who hosted over us.

So Jack and I talked about it. We're obviously probably not going to get it to where we have 15,000 seats, but maybe get (Eck Stadium) to 2- to 5,000 seats. We've done some cosmetic things. We're trying to upgrade the scoreboard a little bit to where it's more fan friendly. And just focused on an updated look and atmosphere.

Our guys did everything you could possibly ask them to do last season (to get to host). To not lose a road series and do what they did in ACC play, it's just phenomenal.

We couldn't leave until after class on Thursday, because guys can't miss class. There were days where don't get out before midnight. And then there were visiting teams who would get to South Bend before WE could even start practice. So that's a difference in what we deal with on the road.

ISD: I know you have your program model and a way that you want to continue to build the Notre Dame program. But you've now gone head-to-head in some more visible recruiting battles against some of the national powers, be it a Vanderbilt or a Virginia, and just how important is it for your program to be in those recruitments, and especially to win some?

LJ: It's a requirement. We need to land an elite student that appreciates all that is Notre Dame. We need to win some of those battles. We're not gonna win them all against the Vandys and Arkansas', but we need to be in those and win some of those.

That's the level we play at with our admissions. When you have some guys that love everything Notre Dame has to offer, we need to win some. If they're considering Vanderbilt or Arkansas or South Carolina or Mississippi State, we need to win some of those. And we have won some. We need to continue to do so.

And I will say, you don't always know how these guys transition into the college world. You're recruiting them in 10th grade, 11th grade, it's not an exact science. Some guys that you really liked and hadn't been seen as much, they might be All-American caliber players for you.

Tanner Kohlhepp was at the University of Tennessee and threw, I think, five or six innings (before finishing his career at Notre Dame and getting selected in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft). And look at what he did for us.

I think we have to keep it in perspective, but, yes it does mean a lot when you know these kids have those sorts of options and the modern tradition and facilities of those programs.

Rich (Wallace) does such a marvelous job of combing the country and networking. Basically, he's been gone every weekend this fall. But that's the way it needs to go. Rich has worked very, very hard to land some of these guys.

ISD: Could you provide some insight into the 2022 schedule and also how would you describe your scheduling approach/philosophy here at Notre Dame as you enter into your third season?

LJ: That's a good question. And to be honest, I probably haven't figured this out yet. Our first year, we went to UAB to open. It was a good trip, good opponent, good quality program. We've had the San Antonio event going on for so long, that's a unique situation. Traveling there was tricky, it was a tricky trek to get there. But we played three teams when we were there, and that was fine. Then we went to Presbyterian and played them and that was fine. And then we only got the one series in at North Carolina (in 2020, before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19).

So we didn't play a single midweek game in Year 1. None. Last year we played some MAC opponents. But we didn't get to go to LSU because we had two positive COVID tests and were not permitted to travel with the commercial air we take for our games.

We were going to play LSU and Air Force. Having the LSU metric on our RPI probably would have helped us (with national seeding).

This year might be my first real taste of it, of kind of getting to play the Michigan States and Michigans. The way it looks we'll go to Stetson and play a little tournament in Greenville, South Carolina, at their minor league park, play two games. We're going to go to US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and play Minnesota and Illinois. Those are three good ones.

And then we're right back on the road. I think what we're doing this year is the correct model. It gives us one bus trip, we're going to bus to Minnesota, which keeps our guys off the commercial flights. Which is great. I don't have a great answer on where I've leaned on schedule because this is the first real one.

ISD: How is the progress of sophomore outfielder TJ Williams?

LJ: TJ is a phenomenal athlete. It's going to happen. Everybody out there knows our outfield is as good as anybody in the country. Probable the best. Probably the best. His closing on balls and making those plays out there is phenomenal.

Spencer Myers delivers for us down the stretch last year and has a lot of credit in that account. He delivered big-time.

Baseball is a logjam. But it's going to make you better, when you show up and are deeper and better. Guys have to perform. You guys saw last year, I got TJ in there to kind of become a defensive replacement when the time was right, and tried to find at-bats for him here and there to get him in the competitive setting.

David Jefferson has five home runs this fall. When we talk about the fall, it's not a ton of at-bats, but DM's hit five balls out. You're talking about (Ryan) Cole and (Brooks) Coetzee and Myers and Williams and Jefferson. Brady Gumpf has hit three home runs in fall and hit it hard. Somebody is going to DH, we've got the ability to PH here and there, to get guys involved and help the team win, I think is more real now than either the first two years.

ISD: That sort of roster depth, how much does it help with what you're building? That kind of competition on a day-in, day-out basis?

LJ: Yeah, it's impressive. And you would hope as you go through and have some recruiting classes in, you start to see that. Rosters are expanded a little bit right now (due to extra seasons available from COVID-19 protocols and rules). This level of competition, maybe not the sheer volume but that level of depth and competition, especially when layered by age, it's that way in every sport, it's big.

When good players line up against good players daily, it makes everybody better. We're fortunate right now that we have landed there. Now we've got to keep everybody happy and engaged, that is the second part we have to manage.

ISD: There has been some scuttle that Liam Simon has really elevated his fastball speeds even further, that he's close to triple-digits. Is that accurate?

LJ: Yeah, it's consistently 95 to upper 97s. There will be a 98 in there. I feel like he and Brannigan could both throw the ball 100mph. We need consistency out of them. Liam needs to be at a point where he dominates some of those innings and not labor through them. The pitch counts get up on them. When the pitch count is escalating too much, too quickly it just doesn't allow them to sustain that dominance over a longer outing

I think the back end of fall is kind of helping Liam along. Brannigan has answered the bell in competitive situations. Those are two difference-making, explosive, dominant-type stuff pitchers for us. We just need a little more pitch execution, that is what will make those guys elite, elite, high draft-type players. It's the next little step in the evolution of their craft.

 
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