Making his mark

USF baseball coach Lelo Prado knows that while the summer is a great chance for his players to relax and enjoy some free time, there is no off-season for the coach of a collegiate sports program.

Prado – who is now entering his second year at USF – had an impressive first season with the Bulls. USF’s 34-26 record in 2007 was its best since the 2002 season, and the team made a strong run in the Big East Conference tournament before being eliminated by Connecticut in the final round prior to the championship game.

Since his team’s season-ending elimination in May, Prado has been hard at work trying to improve every aspect of USF baseball and put his mark on the program.

Only five days after wrapping up the 2007 season, Prado announced that eight underclassmen would not be playing for the Bulls in 2008. The most notable players included in the group were catchers Braulio Pardo and Brad Karns and pitcher James Rowe. While Pardo has since transferred to St. Leo University in Pasco County to play ball, Karns and Rowe have decided to focus more on academics and will stay at USF to earn their degrees, but will not play for the Bulls.

Another factor on Prado’s mind this summer is the effects of last month’s Major League Baseball draft. It’s almost certain that Prado’s top three recruits will sign with pro teams – each was drafted in the initial 10 rounds – and the coach is now waiting to see whether current Bulls Walter Diaz and Daniel Thomas will return to play for USF next year. Diaz played shortstop for USF last season and led the Bulls in batting average (.339), runs (56) and total bases (96), while Thomas, a right-handed pitcher, compiled a 2-1 record and had a 1.27 ERA before suffering a season-ending injury.

Recently, while preparing to board a plane for a fundraising trip to Europe, Prado spoke with the Oracle concerning some of the changes he’s made to the program, as well as the activities he’s been involved with over the summer.

The Oracle: How has the summer been going for you so far?

Coach Lelo Prado: This is actually a busy time right now. We’ve been doing a lot of recruiting and camps. Now I’m leaving on a trip for the next ten days so I’m really looking forward to it.

O: Where are you headed?

L.P.: We’re going to Spain. We’re going with 30 (athletic) boosters and it should be a fun trip. Plus, hopefully, we can bring in some money for the baseball stadium.

O: Earlier you mentioned the baseball camps you’ve been conducting over the summer. How have those been going?

L.P.: All the camps had very good turnouts and they’ve been a lot of fun. We’ve done three weeks of camps (this summer). The first two camps were for little kids and last week was for the high school kids. We had over 120 of the top players from around the state and around the country attend. Now we’re just going from tournament to tournament and then we’ll get ready for school to start.

O: Have you spent much time recruiting this summer?

L.P.: Well, today is July 1st, the first day we’re allowed to contact kids that are going to be seniors next year, so we’re recruiting right now for the future; the 2008-09 season. These are kids that are going to be seniors in high school next year.

O: As far as next year’s team is concerned, have you heard anything from your players that were drafted? I know Daniel Thomas and Walter Diaz have been question marks, do you think they’ll be playing for the Bulls next season?

L.P.: Well, I think Daniel Thomas will be back. He didn’t pitch much last year and he still has to get healthy so we’re going to have him back. As far as Walter goes, I think he’ll sign (with the Cleveland Indians). It’s my personal opinion that he will sign and it’s probably a good thing for him to go ahead and start his professional career. But, if not, it’s just another good player that we’ll have so I’ve just got to sit back and wait to see, but we’re prepared for life after Walter if it turns out that he’s not coming back.

O: Shortly after last season ended, it was announced that eight former players would not be playing on the team next season. What can you tell me about that?

L.P.: Well, a lot of those guys decided to finish school. Like Karns, he’s going to be a fourth year guy trying to finish getting his engineering degree, and this is going to be the most important year for him in the classroom, so we’re going to help him finish. James Rowe is also in his last year so we’re going to help him finish up too. A lot of the guys made the decision to move on. For some of the others we made the decision to do it ourselves. We’re happy with the first year, but we have a long way to go to get to where we want to be and that’s hopefully to have a chance to go to Omaha, Neb. (to play in the College World Series).