New East Carolina pitching coach Jason Dietrich has a lot going for him — a trip to the College World Series, an award from Collegiate Baseball as Pitching Coach of the Year and professional playing experience.
He boarded the Pirate ship on August 1 after helping teams at UC-Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Oregon to eight NCAA Tournament berths. He filled the void created by Dan Roszel’s departure to Kentucky.
“I’m pumped to be here,” Dietrich said. “Great program. My wife is from Virginia, so I’ve been on the East Coast a lot. People might think that I’m just from California only.
“I played in Asheville when I played pro ball. Salem, Virginia, so I had a chance to travel a little bit.”
Dietrich’s wife, Bibi, is from Vienna, VA.
“It’s about a 4-hour drive from Greenville,” Dietrich said.
He met her in Virginia when they were both in a wedding.
“It was while I was playing,” Dietrich said. ” … We did a distance thing for a year and then she moved out to California. … She was out there for almost 15 years. … This opportunity is something we were excited for. Great head coach and a good staff, so we’re excited for everything.”
Dietrich shared some thoughts on his pitching philosophy.
“For me, they have to pitch with confidence,” Dietrich said. “They’ve got to pitch aggressively. Every guy is going to be different. Obviously, fast ball command is important. You need to also get an off-speed pitch in for a strike, consistently, and disrupt the timing of a hitter. We need to field that position, too. Do little things. Be aggressive in the counts. Win the pitcher’s counts. All these things add up to be the complete pitcher, which is what we have to be.
“I really want guys to have conviction and to have mentality on the mound and then go for it. That’s what I believe. When you start getting those things and start repeating things, they can handle the physical and mental parts of the game. Those are the things I’m going to try to harp on and get our guys to buy into and see how by doing all those little things it will put them in the best situation to tap into their skill set and continuously grow in their skill set, too.”
Talent on staff
ECU went 47-18 in 2019 with a record-setting 20-4 mark in the American Athletic Conference. There is significant talent returning from a club that went to a Super Regional at Louisville and there are some promising new arms.
“I like it,” Dietrich said of the talent level. “As you’d imagine, coming here and not knowing anything about the pitchers, I like the talent. There are some guys who are gifted in regards to some arm strength. There are some guys with some good pitch ability. There’s a blend, really. The other guys, the freshmen, I like everything about them. There’s some arm strength. There’s some feel for pitching. It’s just, how many freshmen are going to be overwhelmed or try to do too much or trust themselves, but there’s some skill set there.
“The junior college guys, I think they’re transitioning better now. They came in thinking that it was just going to be OK, but they’re seeing now that they’ve got to put in the work and they are putting in the work. Again, there’s some arm strength there and some talented guys. It’s a matter of getting them to be consistent in what they do.
“Then, you’ve got the older guys, the returning guys who have a great foundation, I feel, already. Coach Roszel did a great job of getting these guys doing a lot of things that I believe and how they go about their business, the attention to detail and focus. I think those guys have done a great job of helping the new guys come in with such a big number of new guys.
“There’s a great mixture of what we have. As any team, there’s a lot of proven guys, too. There’s 20 new guys, too, with a couple of new coaches, so we’re excited. I like the talent we have. It’s just putting it all together and figuring out what the roles are going to be.”
Compared to Cal State Fullerton
Dietrich went to the College World Series with Cal State Fullerton in 2015.
“That team, we had a couple of All-Americans,” Dietrich said when asked to compare that Titans staff to ECU’s personnel. “It’s tough because I only have a snapshot of who the guys are here and knowing what I had there. The depth is more here. We had some good starting pitching and a couple of back-end guys. Here, there are a lot of guys. Now, it’s just a matter of putting them all in roles. Back then, we had a No. 1 guy (Thomas Eshelman) that was kind of a separator. He was one of the best strike-throwers in college baseball history. To have that guy set the tone. Now, we’ve just got to make sure who’s going to do that here.
“Is Gavin Williams going to be that guy? Is (Alec) Burleson going to be that guy? Who is going to be that guy who can go toe-to-toe with someone? It’s in there. It’s a matter — not of them proving — just turning the waters a little bit. Who’s going to step up? You’ve got Tyler Smith and a couple of other guys that have had some innings, some experience so it’s just a matter of who can do what, is what I’m trying to figure out with the staff.”
Official practice starts a week from today, Jan. 24. In the meantime, the Pirate pitchers are throwing.
“Right now, where we’re at, we’re throwing bullpens,” Dietrich said. “We throw our third and fourth bullpens this week to build up the arm strength. They took some time off so when they went home in December, they started a throwing program. They took the month of November off, they started a throwing program, the early parts of December. Just let their bodies and arms rest a little bit. Now they’re at their third and fourth bullpens this week.
“What we’re doing is getting back into our sign system, knowing and reviewing your first and third defenses. They’re doing it as a staff. They’re doing a lot of stuff on their own. … Just fielding their position. Getting their bodies moving, the little things to get them going and get them back in shape. Kind of getting the rust off them a little bit when they’ve been gone for almost two months.
“Right now, we’re building them up so we can start the 24th. We can have our first intrasquad on the 24th and then have one on Saturday and Sunday also. We’re just building them back up so we can get them going in the direction we want to go. They’re also doing other things that are getting them in game shape. Some physical and mental stuff, too.”
Jake Agnos was a standout pitcher at ECU, finishing his college career last season. His younger brother, Zach, joins the program this year. There are differences. Zach is a right-hander and is also an infielder. But there are similarities, too.
“I just saw Jake on film,” Dietrich said. ” … Sounds like he was very competitive and wanted the ball. Just from being around Zach, he’s in the same mold. Having Jake in his life ahead of him, that kid is beyond his years in my opinion as a freshman. Great skill set. He’s smart. He’s got a good baseball IQ, a good feel for the game. … The game kind of slows down a little bit for him. For a freshman, at least seeing it in the fall, I’ve been around some good 2-way guys in my life.
“He’s fun to be around. He gets it. He pays attention. He works hard. He’s a student of the game, competitive, which I love. That kid wants the ball. He wants the ball hit to him. He wants to be in that situation.
“I would assume that’s what Jake was. He sounds like he was a bulldog on the mound. That’s what I feel like Zach is as a two-way guy, too. He’s got that mentality. Not sure if that’s just in their genes. Being the younger guy, they probably pushed him and challenged him. I feel like he answered it.”
Jake Kuchmaner made history last season as the first Pirate to pitch a perfect game.
“I think he’s pretty much one of the main leaders on this pitching staff,” Dietrich said. “He’s embraced that role. He’s the definition of hard work. He is what you want every guy to be in regards to coachable. He pays attention to details. He works at his craft at a high level, all facets of it — breathing, routines, playing catch. … Everything he does is at a high level. His workouts, his conditioning, everything he does, he pushes himself. That, to me, is a reflection of just how he wants to maximize his potential and be the best he can be.
“That wears off on our younger guys. They see it and respect it. He’s doing a good job of teaching them, too, of what it is to be here and play here and wear this uniform. He’s done a great job. I’m excited to see what he can do.
“As most guys, he had success last year and he’s not wanting to do more. He’s just trying to better his game little by little. That’s getting his curve ball a tick tighter, trying to gain another mile per hour on his fast ball. He’s working hard in the weight room. That’s just normal. That’s what every guy wants to do, get a tick better at their craft. He’s not trying to take five steps forward. He’s just, ‘let me take one step forward and another step forward,’ as long as he’s continuously growing.”
“He’s been great for me. He’s helped me transition — get to know kind of the lay of the land, what they’ve been doing. I’ve been, hopefully respectful of what they’ve been doing here because they’ve done great things. I think it’s been a great, hopefully, mesh between us both, but he’s been very helpful, just kind of relaying things and telling me about things and what have you. … He’s a great leader for our staff.”
Process of coming to ECU
A coaching change at Oregon after the 2019 season started the process that brought Dietrich to ECU.
“It was kind of crazy how things work in life,” Dietrich said. “I was at a point in my career, looking for a place. I was at Oregon, coaching with George Horton and some opportunities presented themselves, but it just didn’t feel like the right ones I was looking to fit my family really. At the end of the day, that’s what it boiled down to.
“When I saw the opening here, I had talked to my wife and said, ‘Hey, I know two guys that played there in the past, I’d like to put my best effort forward. Are you interested in picking up the family?’ She goes, ‘Heck yeah, that would be great. It’s a great program. It’s a baseball town.’ She’s a sports person, too. She went to Virginia Tech. She’s adamant and she loves sports.
“I’d heard good things about Coach (Cliff) Godwin and Coach (Jeff) Palumbo (hitting coach). I’ve known the program and Bryant Ward, the former player here who is an assistant coach at UCLA is a good friend of mine from being on the West Coast. He and I have known each other for years. I reached out to him and said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure what Cliff’s looking to do but I’d love to put my name in the hat. Can you call on my behalf?’ And he did. The head coach at UCLA (John Savage) called on my behalf. Then Coach Godwin did his due diligence and called people to inquire about me. I know he didn’t know anything about me so it was one of those things where things kind of aligned themselves for both parties. I was fortunate enough that he wanted to fly myself and my wife out here.
“It was a very fortunate thing that he presented us with a great opportunity. … I saw Bryant a week-and-a-half ago at our national coaches convention. We still talk to each other. We were hanging out for two of those days.”
Oregon has tremendous resources, but Dietrich has what he needs at ECU.
“I think the resources are great here,” Dietrich said. “I came here not knowing what to expect. The field is awesome — the resources for the players, the hitting facility. Coach Godwin has put in a little indoor pitching facility, a pitching lab, a weight room. These guys have everything they need. … We’ve got things where we can get better.
” … The expectations and the standards here are awesome and it’s only going to get better because Coach Godwin is a hard worker. He has so much passion for this place. It exudes and it’s infectious. We’re all working our butts off to put a great product out there.”
The Pirates open the 2020 season at home against William & Mary on Feb. 14 at 4 p.m.
The new pitching coach talked about candidates to throw the first pitch of the season.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Dietrich said. “We do have a pool of guys we’re kind of looking at. Obviously, with Alec Burleson, where do we want him to be? He’s going to be a big piece of the puzzle. Gavin Williams had a great fall, threw the ball really good. We have high expectations for him. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of good pitching. He falls in that category. It’s just a matter of him taking that next step, physically, mentally, understanding the importance of what it takes to set the tone every weekend. I think he has that in him. It’s just a matter of when it’s unknown, you’ve got to keep on teaching them. They’ve got to take ownership and go for it. Kuchmaner is a guy who has had experience under his belt. He’s not afraid. He will go out there and compete. Tyler Smith also is a guy that’s shown his flashes of being really good. Last year, he kind of had his ebbs and flows. It’s in there, too.
“Then there are some young guys who might surprise some people. Juco guys, I’m not sure right now if they’re ready for the starting role. I think some of them will be more relievers than maybe a midweek-type guy. It’s going to be those returners that I think are going to have to step up and show us who it’s going to be, but I think Burleson and Gavin Williams as of now are the guys who might set the tone or at least pitch that first game.
“Let everything kind of fall in place from there. We have three weeks, starting the 24th and intrasquads to kind of see. We have an idea. Again, we want to see if it’s solidified. If we have to make adjustments accordingly then we do. That’s kind of where we’re at, but we like the pieces of the puzzle. Obviously, we want to put those pieces together.”
Burleson is also being considered as a closer.
“That’s another thing, too,” Dietrich said. “That’s why we have Burleson down as a possible starter or a possible closer. Closing a game takes a different demeanor. It takes a different mindset, a guy that can bend and not break. We’re still trying to put that piece in the puzzle. Who has that mentality we’re looking for? Who is that go-getter? We know Burleson has that in him. He’s done that in the past. We know we can start him. If we’re lacking at the back end, are we going to be afraid to use committee? It’s not the best way to do it, but if we have to do matchups to see who we have in the pen, who we’re most confident in then I think we’ll do that.
“Coming in, we had junior college guys that had success, Nick Logusch and Trystan Kimmel. They still haven’t established themselves in my mind. Cam Colmore, he’s done well this fall, too. It’s a different look but he competes. If we felt our rotation was solid, I’d say Burleson might be a guy that we might put at the back end just because of the way he competes. He’s fearless and that’s the kind of mentality we need. Not saying we don’t have other guys but he kind of stands out right now unless some other guys show that they’ve taken the next step and we can see that they have that mentality and the stuff we’re looking for to shut down games.
“That’s one of our question marks, but Burleson is a guy we kind of have at both ends, starting and closing.”
Dietrich will call pitches.
“I’ll do that but in the end it’s going to be a two-way street,” Dietrich said. “I told the freshmen, ‘Let me call the game for you guys.’ Not because it’s about ego or anything. It’s never about that. It’s about information and doing your homework and studying film.
“But older guys, I’m going to give them a chance to shake to their pitches because I want them to throw their pitch with 100 percent conviction.”