Cutting Room Floor: Nick Senzel

From time to time, when I have more to say about a subject of a feature story than fits in the story itself, I do a blog called the Cutting Room Floor to cover the rest. I wrote a story that appears in Wednesday’s paper on Tennessee baseball preseason All-American Nick Senzel. Here is some info about Senzel, mostly baseball related, that didn’t fit in the story

“Blessing that we even have him on campus” 

When asked about Senzel in an interview two weeks ago, Tennessee coach Dave Serrano pointed out that the Vols weren’t supposed to have him on campus.

“It’s a blessing that we even have him on campus as one of our players,” Serrano said.

Senzel actually committed to Georgia in July of 2012, picking the Bulldogs over Notre Dame and Tennessee.

“I thought he made a hasty decision,” Serrano said. “He thought that they wanted him more, which wasn’t the case. They were offering a little bit bigger scholarship, but they were an out-of-state school and we were an in-state school. If you put pen to paper, it was going to be the same amount of money to come here as it would to go there. ”

Serrano said Senzel, who played at Farragut High School with Serrano’s son Kyle, told him throughout his senior season that he was thinking about switching to Tennessee, but he had signed with the Bulldogs so that wasn’t an option.

However, Georgia coach David Perno was fired May 20, 2013, leaving Senzel without a coach. After inspecting the situation, Senzel requested a full release and it was granted, leaving his recruitment open again and allowing Tennessee to become involved.

New Georgia coach Scott Stricklin made his pitch to keep Senzel, but by that point he was sold on staying close to home with Tennessee. Serrano told him he’d try to find whatever scholarship money he had left to give him and found none, but Senzel committed to the Vols anyway despite the fact that he had to pay his own way his first year. He has since received a substantial scholarship

“I’ll never forget looking across to them at the leather chairs in my office and saying (to Senzel’s father) ‘Jeff, if you trust me at all, this will be the best investment you’ve ever made in your life,’ ” Serrano said. “I’m going to take care of Nick, I’m going to make sure he does more right than wrong, I’m going to treat him olike he’s another son of mine. When we go through this, he will prosper like we think he can.’ ”

Said Senzel: “It was a blessing in disguise,”

Hitting Evolution

Senzel’s ability to hit for average is his considered his most attractive tool to Major League scouts. He hit .315 as a freshman, .325 as a sophomore and over .360 in the Cape Cod League this summer.

“He has really good balance,” Tennessee hitting coach Larry Simcox said, “so very seldom does he ever get fooled on a pitch. With his strength and his balance, that allows him to see the ball a little bit longer. So not very often does he swing at bad pitches. That’s going to happen to anybody, you’re going to do it every once in a while, but he doesn’t chase out of the zone very much now and that’s huge. He’s got good eye-hand coordination. He’s not going to strike out much because he sees the ball longer, he’s not chasing bad pitches and he’s got good hand-eye coordination. You look at the strength he has, that’s why he’s such a great hitter.”

Senzel hasn’t shown his power to its fullest extent in college yet, but Simcox believes that will happen that season. In part, it’s because he’s added muscle and is driving the ball further in batting practice, but also because he’s focusing on working counts better, most notably leverage counts.

“His pitch selection has been better,” Simcox said. “…Last year, watching him from the stands, there were times where he’d be in leverage counts, be in a 2-0, 3-1 count, and he’d swing at a pitch that was a borderline strike and get himself out. Or he might get a base hit, but he’s doing a better job of getting leverage counts and getting good pitches to hit, then when the pitch is there, driving the ball.”

Senzel has always shown power to all fields, but the power and the pitch selection are allowing him to hit more pitches out of the park to left, Simcox said.

“He’s pulling the ball more,” Simcox said. “Last year, he would hit a lot of balls early in the year more right center. The last two or three weeks of the season, I saw him pulling some more balls and I think he did that this summer. But this fall and going into the spring, he’s really been able to drive the ball to left field and drive the ball, I mean really drive some balls out. He still has his power opposite field. I think it gets back to being stronger, but also pitch selection. If you’re looking for pitches middle in in leverage counts, you’re going to hit that ball a lot further. If you’re looking for a pitch middle in and you throw something away and still swing, well, you’re probably not going to have the same leverage with your lower half and not be able to drive the ball. He’s done that with strength and zone discipline.”

Said Senzel: “For me, it started this summer, always having a plan at the plate, whether I get count leverage or get in good hitters counts. Being aggressive early is a good thing for me. … I think the more at-bats I’ve gotten, especially this summer, throughout the SEC, I’ve gotten a ton of at-bats, so I’ve gotten to see very good pitchers, which has helped me recognize pitches better and be able to get myself in better counts. This year, I don’t know if anything’s going to change. Maybe they pitch me different, maybe they don’t.”

The Third Base Transition

Partially on the advice of scouts, the Vols have decided to move Senzel to third base from second base this season because that position might bring him a clearer path to the Major Leagues. Serrano said it has been an easy transition.

“He’s a big league third baseman,” Serrano said. “That’s what I see. He’s athletic, he’s learned how to move his feet. Since we’ve come back, he’s made two or three plays down there that are just head-shakers. It’s just, ‘wow, I can’t believe he made that play.’ And not only made the play, but threw the dart across the field to get the guy out. He’s going to make his mistakes. We realize that. But that change for him going to third will be a major thing for this team. He’s solidified that side of the diamond.”

Senzel said he’s somewhat more comfortable with the position, though it has been an adjustment.

“I just think the different arm angles you have to throw,” Senzel said. “Just the different angles you have to take toward the ball, the reaction time. I like it because you don’t really have to think because the ball is on you before you know it. I think the biggest thing for me is you’ve gotta be locked in every pitch. You can’t miss a pitch when you’re there.”

Summing up Senzel

Thought this was an interesting quote from Serrano about Senzel’s personality, even though it didn’t fit in my feature.

“Nick’s one of those guys that if you’re in a street fight, you want Nick on your side. That kind of sums up Nick Senzel right there. He’s not going to go out and look for the fight, but his loyalty to people around him, to his family, his teammates, his coaches, his loyalty, Nick will stand up for anyone that has shown  him love and I think he wants to win for all the right reasons. He wants to win for his brothers, he wants to win for his coaches, he wants to win for himself too, but he doesn’t put himself first. He’s got a fierce competitiveness to him. He doesn’t like to lose. He was one guy that I saw losing wear on him tremendously. There’s a calmer focus out of him now. Out of high school I’d describe Nick as a reckless abandon. Now he’s more of a relaxed intensity. That would be the best words to say.”