Mister-Baseball was at the 2012 DBV Academy at Ahorn Sportpark in Paderborn, Germany in January. We took the opportunity to talk to Greg Frady, head coach of the German national team and at Georgia State University. Topics of the lengthy Q&A are the Baseball World Cup in Panama, Donald Lutz and Max Kepler, the Dutch National Team, the DBV Academy, the future of national team players Tim Henkenjohann and Enorbel Marquez-Ramirez and an outlook for Max Schmitz and Roy Seltenrijch, who are playing at Georgia State this year.
Mister-Baseball: Looking back at the Baseball World Cup, while the results didn’t show it Germany received praise from the other teams for their good play. What did you take from the Baseball World Cup?
Greg Frady: I think the team did a good job at the World Cup. Certainly the results of winning weren’t there. We don’t make excuses, but you have to look where the team is at and the growth of the team. Five years ago, half of the games we may not played so well in. But every game with the exception of one was very competitive and we played good baseball. There are other factors in the world cup, the travel problems; no preparation was unfair to the players. And I think the players have great pride in playing well and getting a good result for Deutschland. And not getting that result is difficult for all of us, coaches, players. But I think we played with a lot of pride and earned more respect and improved the organization, even after this tournament.
Mister-Baseball: The scouts which were on site especially talked about Donald Lutz and Max Kepler for their play at the field and at the plate. What did you see in their development in comparison with previous years and what are their biggest challenges going forward?
Greg Frady: Well, it is easy to see the great talent both of those guys possess. They have something that is special. Donald has big league power and this is special. And every big league club needs a guy this size who can hit in the middle of the order that is left-handed, that can hit some homeruns. Everyone needs that. I think this is big contributing factor why he was placed on the 40-man roster with the Reds. First time a German player has been moved to that level. A fantastic accomplishment and we are very proud. We are all big fans of Donald, as he goes up the ladder and wish him well. Certainly they see that. As far as his improvement, he has a lot of power, but he needs to cut his strikeouts down and with more time and more games, more at-bats that will happen. He needs to improve his defensive play. He is a hitter first and defender second. He needs to make that more equal. A hitter and a defender with the same priority. If he stays in the National League he is going to play first base and he is going to continue to improve his defense. He is a very good athlete and he is pretty good there, but he needs to improve.
Max Kepler is just young. He has five tools. And I don’t say someone has five tools very often. But he does. And I was particularly surprised; I think this is the right word, on how much power he has. I think I expected him to do everything he did with exception of the power. I was surprised by that. Particular at this young age, usually power comes later. If he continues to develop his power, then he is going to be a big leaguer and he has the chance to be a big league all-star, which is really amazing for me to say that, because I don’t say that easily. But he plays the game with a great ease, he plays the game in a way that he stands out and he is very exciting to watch. The things he has to improve on. He is still a young player. Every aspect of his game needs improvement. One of the things he will continuingly getting challenged as he gets into baseball is the ability to focus and concentrate over long periods of time. I noticed in the games that he would start out very focused and concentrated and then he would go through periods of times, where he was waiting seemingly that something was going to happen. As he gets older and more mature I think he will become moving into the leadership aspect of the game versus being the younger guy watching all the things around him. But he is an extremely exciting player and he potentially has the chance to become the best player in German baseball history. And I think we are definitely all big fans of Max because he has the legitimate chance to become a big leaguer.
Mister-Baseball: Did you have a chance to see the Dutch play in the World Cup and what means the success for European Baseball.
Greg Frady: I did not get to see the Dutch team play in person, but I watched the Dutch play on TV, because we were in two different brackets in two different parts of the country. Why the Dutch team had success is because number one they have good players. But secondly what is important, they have a good organization, they are well coached, they are well organized, they scout well, they work on fundamentals, they are able to practice and get together collectively as a team. It is a great advantage in Europe when you can do that. I can only say that I am jealous, that they have that. Because the German team doesn’t have that capability. And what that means for European Baseball is, I am a big fan of the Dutch team. I like their coaches. I like their organization. I know a lot of their players, I feel when we go to these tournaments like World Cups or we’re at Olympic Qualifiers or maybe we are at other world type tournaments, the World Port Tournament, at one point I saw the Dutch team as our big rival enemies. Now I see them more as a fellow European country, where I am pulling for those guys. Not when we are playing head to head of course. But I have respect for the Dutch team, because they are working really hard there and they are trying to make baseball excellent. And I was a big fan of the win. And when the tournament was over I sent Robert Eenhoorn and Brian Farley, Steve Janssen all emails congratulating them on not just winning the World Cup. But congratulating them for the work, which has gone into this over the last ten years to put the team into a position for success and then getting that result is fantastic thing.
Mister-Baseball: Speaking for this DBV Academy. When you came here and saw the speakers and the program, what were you looking for the most before the event?
Greg Frady: Well, for one thing the DBV Academy attendance is really up, which I think that was important for me to know how many people are interested now in baseball and are we growing. And the people that are coming here are not just playing baseball. They are coming here now to learn how to coach better. How to be a better organizational manager in their organization. You are seeing umpire having clinics to work and improve. Scorers have clinics and work to get better at it. In general all of baseball during the winter is trying to improve here in Germany. The speakers here are fantastic world class speakers. There is great information being exchanged for the German coaches and players. I am always happy to come to Germany to talk about Baseball. But to be part of the DBV clinic is a great honor and I enjoy it very much.
Mister-Baseball: Looking ahead to 2012 there are two major tournaments ahead for Germany, the European Championship and the World Baseball Classic Qualifier. Also they are most likely going back-to-back. What are the challenges and keys for success?
Greg Frady: 2012 I think is my ninth year with the team. Every single year I’ve been here, we always made the statement, this is the most important year for German baseball, but easily we can say that now that 2012 is the most important year in the history of German baseball. And it is going to be a great challenge. First the European Championship. It is always my belief that the foundation of the German team starts in Europe. If you are competitive and you are at the top of European baseball, then we can work on these other things, other world tournaments and taking our place in World Baseball rankings. We can work on that in time. But we cannot lose our place in European baseball.
And the thing, that is so challenging about is, I believe that the Czech team gets better, the French team gets better, the Great Britain team is unpredictable in the way who they may bring, the Greece team is unpredictable, who they may bring. We’ve seen Spain to be not that powerful team at the last European Championship, but I know this championship they’ll show back up and will be a very strong opponent. The Dutch just come off the World Cup as the World Cup Champion. Italy returns as the European Champion. And then I look into our bracket and see who we have on our side, it is going to be a great challenge for the German team to play at high level. Yet, I know that we can, but all the European tournaments before are gone. The only one that matters is this one coming up. And we’ve got to get together.
Right now we are in the stages of planning about how we are going to make a preparation for this. One of the things which really got lost for the World Cup was no preparation. And it all comes back to funding. No one of the DBV wanted to go there without preparation, but money is the factor. We think we are going to be able hopefully to play two or three games as preliminary games prior to the European Championship. And we are really putting on a real focus on the European Championship. And that will be important. Our goal is to go there and do well, stay in the top of European baseball. For me to say, we are going to finish first or sixth or 12th, no one knows that. But we need to play consistently good baseball to give ourselves a chance to be at the top. Because I think European Baseball all as a whole is better than it has been ever before this championship.
And then we follow that up with the World Baseball Classic. But these are two total different tournaments. We know where the European Championship is going to be, I know the opponents, I know what the opponents are capable of doing and I can prepare for that. I don’t know where the World Baseball Classic is going to be, I don’t know when it is going to be played, I don’t know who the opponents are and I don’t know who our team is comprised of. So there are so many things that are out there that makes it difficult to plan, so we are talking about a lot of strategy, about the World Baseball Classic, but the European Championship is first. This is where our focus is right now. I know we need to take the step and win the Qualifier it is going to be good for German baseball if do that and go through to the World Baseball Classic. I will do everything in my power to that and we have to wait and see what the perimeters are, where we are playing, who we are playing, all these things.
Mister-Baseball: Two of your most important pitchers, Tim Henkenjohann and Enorbel Marquez-Ramirez are currently injured or are thinking about retirement. What can you say about them? Are they going to be healthy and are they going to continue to play?
Greg Frady: I can say about them that they have been great competitors for German Baseball. They have been very high performers and much of appreciation goes to both of those players. As far as, will they retire or will they continue, it’s too early to say now. Maybe they do retire. But then emerges Jan Niclas Stoecklin and Max Schmitz. Okay. The good news is that we still have some veteran players, which still can play baseball at a high level. And can help us with experience. And maybe they are getting a little older or they are injured or are returning from injury. But because they have experience and been there before that is something we have grown into now after some time. Five or six years ago we didn’t have this situation. These are veteran players with a lot of international experience and they can compete at a high level.
But because we have had some success and the Bundesliga clubs have worked really hard to improve the league and then the emergence of the academies and the junior national teams and the state games, baseball is at a higher level now then it is ever been in Germany. So there are more options to choose from young players. And these young players have gained more international experience and are exposed more, because the older players are coming back from these tournaments and talk to the players in the club and they seem to be more connected to that. So if we lose a player or players to retirement, I think we have a bright future with some young guys on the horizon. Enorbel Marquez and Tim Henkenjohann are heroes of German baseball and they always will be looked at that. But no club is just made up by one or two players.
Mister-Baseball: Going back to Georgia. You have two European players on the team this year. What will be there role and will it be different to their previous roles in Europe. So for example Max Schmitz is he going to be a reliever or a starter? Is Roy Seltenrijch going to be a starter or a backup infielder?
Greg Frady: First of, I am thrilled to have both of them to come play for me at a US Division I college. It is a big adjustment leaving and going to the US. As it is for European players to go to the MLB, to play with the Twins or the Giants or the Yankees. It is a big adjustment. You are leaving home, you are eating new food, you are living with people you never met or talked before, you left your girlfriend back home, you left your family back home, you are playing with players that equally are as talented as you are on your team, you are competing against guys that you have never seen, you are practicing every day, in the weight room every day. Roy just told me that he is so busy that he didn’t have time to go to the market to get food right now. So his days are all filled up.
So it is a big change for them. But both, Roy and Max, are very talented. And both are going to help the team immediately. Max Schmitz was brought to be a reliever, as a young player to grow into something. But we just lost our number one pitcher to a knee injury, so now he is going to a rotation. So now he looks like a starter. This has to work out as we get into the games. But Max has a great attitude and he is a great talent. And he can do any role and he it is going to be a wonderful development for him as a German player to get this kind of everyday baseball and routine.
Roy is going to be a middle infielder. He is in competition with three other guys for two spots. Two of those guys are freshman, the same age as he. So it is a lot of learning there too. Both of them have to make the adjustment to mirror the American player that is their age, to lift weights, which is something they are doing every day now. And they have done this in their clubs, but the commitment to do it every day and the physical conditioning of running and strengthening their body, is now every day for them. That is a big adjustment for them. That will help them. Being in baseball every day, literally every day, is going to be good for them as a development overall. They are talented players and they are going help our team, but they are going to be challenged greatly, because they are around players that are equally as talented as they are. But I know what they are capable of and I think they are continue to rise through the system and they will emerge as the top players at the Division I level.
Mister-Baseball thanks Greg Frady for the interview and wishes good luck for the upcoming season