Conversation with Cowboys Coach Ryan Stevens 5/12/14
Where do you hope to make the greatest improvement over the 2013 season, other than winning it all this year?
Coach Stevens: The greatest improvement that we need to come back with is our pitching staff. We had a talented pitching staff but sometimes that can be dangerous. That is, they can’t fire away all the time. We need pitchers to pitch to contact more and make them put the ball in play.
What’s the difference between high elevation league and regular league play?
Coach Stevens: I coached in East Texas before I came out west and it was more humid. The ball just flies here. The ball just takes off. You hit the ball up in the wind and it just goes. You have to build your team based on your stadium and the elements. You have to build and adjust to that.
Which of your new players do you think will make the biggest impact on the team?
Coach Stevens: As far as the new players, I think Austin Prott is going to be a real big X factor for us. John Hotta is also going to be a real big X factor. He's a great leader and really has stepped up. Our two young catchers in Corey Caswell and Billy Crowe are both going to get a lot of time between the two of them. Matthew Henrickson is real strong at third base. Brian Millemen really worked hard in the off season at first base. I expect big things from him. He came back and put on 25 pounds of muscle working in the off season. He's improved every facet of his game.
Our pitching staff will probably be our strongest asset.We've got Noah Piard coming back for us he'll start the home opener. Josh "Big Country" Cruse from Arkansas will start the opener down in Del Rio and we've got Bret Kennedy coming back our 2012 Pecos League "Pitcher of the Year". We've got a couple of real good quality rookie arms in Jasper Adams and Pat Lemmo, we expect big things out of them. In fact we've got three top arms from Roswell's pitching staff from their championship team last year. They're real excited and glad to be here.
What is your philosophy regarding talent when you recruit?
Coach Stevens: I look for a certain type of player. I don’t always go for the most talented player. I go for talent, character, personality, work ethic and I look for the type of athlete that will fit in the Cowboy mold. You have to be a special kind of player to come out here and be successful with the Cowboys. In my five years this is the game plan that I’ve taken and we’ve won a lot of ball games that way.
You have multiple players from NY and KY colleges. What sort of players do the coaches recommend to you?
People ask me why I recruit from New York. The truth is that I am from New York. I know the players and I have the ability to recruit and train with players up there. (Coach Stevens spends the off season in Ithaca, New York). However, some of the best players I have recruited have been from Texas and other parts of the United States and Canada.
How do players from NY react to the heat of places like Alpine, Bisbee and Douglas?
Coach Stevens: The whole experience of being a Cowboy changes their life. From the climate to learning to take their hat off when they approach a lady. These are well educated talented young men who go on to work for the MLB, college baseball or move up as they pursue the dream.
Some of these players will be coming from the college game this year having played 30+ games. How will the additional 70 games affect their endurance come late July?
Coach Stevens: That can be a factor but that sometimes is an advantage. They can hit the ground running. They haven’t had time off. A lot of times, because this is an independent league they have an off season where they can only train by themselves or in small groups. The less you make of the issue the better off you are.
What Pecos League team, if any, do you consider your greatest competition?
Coach Stevens: That’s a pretty easy one. I’d say Roswell by far. They have been our nemesis. People call it the Yankees versus the Red Sox. Being a Yankees fan, I hope we are classified as that. Honestly that has been the only team that has been even close as far as our win loss record. They had a stronger run last year. The year before that, we had a stronger run. The year before that it went right down to the bottom of the fourteenth inning and they beat us with a a walk off in 2011. The biggest rival we have without a doubt is Roswell.
Defense wins ballgames. How does your defense up the middle look for this year?
Coach Stevens: This is a young taem. I got John Hotta who was an allstar from the Las Vegas Train Robbers. He is a phenomenal athlete from the University of San Diego. He’s going to be playing up the middle. I have another young man, Tyler Heck from up north who was conference player of the year. He stole over 80 bags in two years. We’ve got a 6’4” short stop from Los Angeles California. So we should be strong. It’s a big unknown to what we’ve had in the past. We have some big shoes to fill in Dereck Fox our two time allstar second baseman and Eric Herman our shortstop. I believe everybody is up to the task.
Will you go with a set lineup early or try different combinations to find the right one?
Coach Stevens: With 70 games in 75 days it makes it very difficult. It can be difficult to keep the guys in the same lineup. We had intra squad today and I had guys dealing with heat exhaustion. I’ve pushed this team the hardest I have ever pushed a team. They’ve really bonded and they’ve come up to the task. We’ve been staying out at the Paisano Encampment for the past ten days. The boys have been training hard every single day with no excuses, working hard and that’s all you can ask them. Our boys are up to the task
Having asked that, what is your projected starting lineup for Las Vegas? Starting pitcher?
Coach Stevens: I have a pretty good idea what that’s going to be. There might be a couple of adjustments. Lead off John Hotta who plays short, probably have Tyler Heck on second base, Matt Henrickson on third, Brian Millimen on first, Billy Crowe or Corey Casner behind the dish, they're going to piggy back each other this year. Casanova will obviously be roaming center field where he was for us last year and did a phenomenal job. Austin Prott in Left field and we have a good battle in right between Anthony Renteria and Fernando Frias. When Riley Smith gets back into town he’ll probably play up the middle. It’s been a good battle. The boys have been working hard. It’s going to be a good team.