On The Record is an occasional Q&A blog post with an LSU sports figure.
LSU hired Andy Cannizaro a month ago to be its new recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. Read our full story on Cannizaro – his major league playing days, childhood life and recruiting network – in an upcoming edition of The Advocate.
Here’s our Q&A with him in which he talks leaving the Yankees, his philosophy on hitting and base-stealing and his network for recruiting:
Advocate: Why did you leave such a good job and organization – he was a scout for the Yankees – to come to LSU?
Cannizaro: This is kind of always what I wanted to do. You nailed it. I loved by job, loved working for the Yankees. I couldn’t have been in a better situation. Kind of always in the back of my mind knew this is what I always wanted to do. Wanted to get back on the field in a teaching capacity, being around young players.
It was definitely a tough decision because of where I was coming from. I had a job that I loved, had bosses that I loved and great working relationships with those guys. Twelve years as a player and scout in the organization, knew everybody from the top to the bottom. Just felt like this was the right time to do it and see how things go.
This is always what I wanted to do. Couldn’t pick a better place to go do it at. That was obviously a major part of it too. I like my job so much that I was looking to just go do this anywhere. It needed to be at one of the best places in the country. That’s what this is. That kind of had a lot to do with it.
Advocate: What’s your hitting philosophy?
Cannizaro: My hitting philosophy. I think young kids are better hitters when they simplify things. I think hitting’s hard enough to do. It’s the age-old taking a round bat and round ball and hitting it square. It’s really hard to hit.
One of the biggest things with my previous job that I’m going to take into this job is when I finished playing I’m never going to forget how hard it is to hit. Guys are throwing hard, breaking balls. Eight guys standing out there in front of you trying to field and get you out.
It’s hard to hit in BP, much less when you don’t know it’s coming. Pitchers are throwing whatever they want to in whatever count. One of things I wanted to take is never forget how hard it is to hit.
As far as approach, simplify it. Try to get the barrel of the baseball from point A to point B as quick as we can and with the shortest path as possible. Stay short to the baseball, use the whole field, eb able to teach guys and help guys learn what their roles and what their jobs are. I want to be able to give definitions and define guys roles. It’s not me defining those roles. It’s what type of player and hitter they are.
Guys like Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson, they don’t need to hit flyballs 370 foot to the gap. Those are outs. Understand what makes them go. I think the quicker young players understand their role and game and what they need to do to maximize their ability to get the most out of their ability… that’s when they take off as players. It’s having guys that know what their role is on the team, buying in to commit to be the on-base guy who’s going to steal bases, going to score runs. It’s teaching (Chris) Chinea and (Kade) Scivicique and the middle of the order guys, ‘Hey you’re hitting in the middle of the order for a reason. You need to try to drive the baseball.’
There’s a time and place for trying to impact the ball and knowing what you’re trying to do. Scivicque’s role is different from Laird’s role. Laird’s role is different than Bregman’s role. Need each guy to know what they bring to the table. Play your game. Do your job.
If you understand what you’re job is and you can come to the park every day, knowing that if I do my job, I’m going to help my team win today, we’re going to win a lot of games. We’ll be standing at the end of the year on national TV on ESPN. That’s the goal here. It’s not to have a great regular season and win a lot of games. The goal’s to get to Omaha and win national championships. That’s the goal, that’s the flags you see in front of the stadium. It doesn’t have regional appearances on there. It’s got national championships.
To do that, we’ve got to have guys perform at their highest level all year long. Stevenson doesn’t need to hit eight home runs this year. What you need to do is have a high on-base percentage, wreak havoc and score runs, get bunts down. Mark Laird needs to do the same thing, and Alex Bregman is a different guy: Use the field, drive the baseball, drive runs in, get on base, steal bases. He’s got a really complete game.
I’m not looking for a guy like Alex Bregman to come in here and hit double home runs. No. Let’s drive the baseball, score runs, move runners. Define guys roles, stay short to the baseball, look for pitches you can hit and hit well, not just pitches you can get the bat on.
Advocate: You’ve been around a lot of guys and I’m sure you’ve dealt with it too: a slump. Bregman last year had a tough time with that. When a player falls into that, as a coach, what’s going to be your approach?
Cannizaro: I think one of the things you need to do with young hitters is continually tell those guys that they’re good players, that they’re good hitters. Trust their track record. Trust the fact, you’re always hit and you’re going to hit. This a tough game. You’re not going to hit five hits out of 10 at-bats all year long. But at the end of the year you look up and somebody hit .350, and when the season’s over you look back and say, ‘That guy had a great year.’ He’s only getting a hit 35 percent of the time. He’s failing a ton. Offensively, it’s a game of failure. Good hitters stay positive at the plate. Good hitters know they can hit. They never doubt their own ability. The game’s going to beat you up. My job as a hitting coach is to stay positive with those kids, and you get those guys back on track, doing the things they do well. Not pressing. Not trying to do too much.
Last year, Bregman struggled a little bit. There was no (Mason) Katz in the lineup, no (Raph) Rhymes in the lineup. All of a sudden, LSU shows up to the point every night and it’s, ‘We’re not going to let Alex Bregman beat us.’ He probably got pitched a little bit differently last year than he did as a freshman, surrounded by some bangers and some guys … huge track record of success in college baseball. As the year went on, like good hitters do, by the end of the year Alex Bregman was as good as anybody in the nation. That’ll be a learning experience for him last year. ‘Hey you’re not going to get 2-0, 3-1 fastballs down the middle of the plate with nobody on base, balls you can drive. You’re going to get pitched to, you’re going to get pitched around, and that’s part of the process with him becoming a complete player.’
He’s already a great player. Alex Bregman is a phenomenal player that plays hard every day. You can’t ask him to do anymore than he does every day. He plays hard. He’s a team leader. He wants to be the greatest shortstop in the history of college baseball. I love that. I love the fact that he’s got goals and has the drive to be great. He’s a young player that needs to continue to learn and build on the things that happened last year. Just continue to build on it and go forward and learn that when we get off the bus there’s a good chance that scouting report is going to say, ‘Don’t let Bregman beat you.’ There’s two years of track record on how to pitch him. It’s about pitch selection and strike zone discipline and getting into hitter’s counts, which he’s going to do. He’s going to have a tremendous year.
Advocate: Two years ago coach Mainieri rarely adjusted his batting order game to game. Last year, that wasn’t the case. The lineup shifted every game. How do the pieces go together this year?
Cannizaro: We’ve got some really good parts and pieces. We’ve got guys, multiple guys, who can do the same thing: create a lot of havoc in the lineup. You’ve got guys in the top and bottom of your order that can really run. You’ve got hitters in the middle like a guy like Bregman who uses the field, tough out, competitive out. You’ve got bangers in the middle of your lineup that are capable of leaving the yard at any point.
I think we’re going to have one of the most complete lineups, 1 to 9, in the country. We walk into the park, we get off the bus and show up …. I think we’ve got a chance to have, 1 to 9, as complete 1 to 9 where there’s nine tough outs where you never give that pitcher or the defense a chance to put their guard down. For nine batters, they’ve got to stay locked in and execute pitches to be able to get you out. We had guys, numerous guys, that had tremendous success this summer.
I think we’re going to have opportunities to have great at-bats, 1 through 9, put pressure on the defense, score a ton of runs and have a ton of fun offensively. There’s not any more fun when you’re playing this game and scoring runs, when everyone’s hitting and team confidence is at an all-time high.
Advocate: Coach Mainieri mentioned that he hired you to help LSU get better on the base paths, specifically in stealing bases. You were successful at that in college and professionally. How do you approach that part?
Cannizaro: I think one of the things I want to do with our runners is … making the art and craft of stealing bases fun. It really can be something that is contagious. The better we can do it, the more runs we’re going to score.
Whether people want to admit it or not, this is a statistical game. Every kid in America walks up to the plate and knows exactly what they’re hitting. Its plastered all over the scoreboard, stat sheets are everywhere. It’s a statistical game. We’ve got some great athletes here, some plus-runners on a pro scale. Seventy to 80 runners on a pro scale. We’ve got guys with good instincts. We’ve got some guys who can do better at stealing bases.
Guys get excited when they steal basis because it increases their stats. It’s a stats game, whether people want to admit it or not. As a team, we steal more bases, score more runs. As a hitter, I’d love to hit with you standing on second base than first base. One, there’s now a base open so they don’t necessarily want to keep putting guys on bases. All of the sudden, a base hit drives a run in. Now that guy that stole second’s like, ‘Perfect, I was 1 for 4 but I stole two bags today.’ It’s a statistical game where you can complete your resume, so to speak, with more stolen bases. Guys like Laird and Stevenson and Bregman and Kramer Robertson. We’ve got a roster full of guys, great athletes who can do more on the bases.
One, it will help them individually get where they want to go. Two, it will help us as a team score more runs. The ball’s not flying like it used to. If you have one guy in your lineup that hits double digit home run in college baseball, he’s a monster. If the ball’s not flying, we’ve got to find ways to do some things to score more runs.
Advocate: How does your network of scouts help you in recruiting?
Cannizaro: It’s a really big part of it. Like anywhere, when you do your job man, you want to do your job to the best of your ability. You want to be able to network and be friendly and build relationships. This is still a relationship world. If you can’t build relationships and meet people, it’s going to be really difficult to get where you want to go.
It’s the conversation of baseball. Everyone’s in the game and wants to talk the game. You build relationships with people and hopefully now in return, that I’m on this side of it, those friends of mine all over the country when they see players certainly I want those guys calling me before they call anyone else. That’s part of it. Not everybody can play here. We’re looking to get that impactful guy on the mound or that bat. We’re looking for the best players in the country. Hopefully that relationship with the guys I have in pro-ball can help us on the recruiting side.