The moment is here. This is what everyone has been waiting on since the end of the Gator Bowl- MSU baseball is here! As the song goes- when it comes to playing baseball, we know just what to do. And being Todd4State, I know just what to do as well. Here is THE MSU baseball preview.
I’m starting with the bullpen because my favorite position in baseball is closer. You get to hang out for eight innings, and then you blow away three helpless hitters and celebrate at the end of the game. What could be better? We have a good one right now at MSU in Jonathan Holder (2-1, 9 saves, 30 K’s in 28.1 innings and an ERA of 0.32). It’s a great luxury to have an All-American at closer and he is the kind of closer I like- he throws gas and he attacks you. On a lot of teams, he would probably be a starter just because most teams don’t have the depth that MSU has- more on that later. Last year, we mainly asked Holder to be a one inning guy, but this year I wouldn’t be surprised if we use him at least some as a two inning guy- a lot of college teams do that with their closers which is very different from MLB. I would not be surprised if Holder ends up with the MSU career record for saves once he goes pro. Ben Bracewell (0-0, 19 K’s, 0.93 ERA) is someone whom I thought would be our closer when we recruited him out of high school, and on a lot of teams he would be the closer. Of course, I had no idea that Jonathan Holder would be an All-American as a freshman. With MSU, I expect Ben to be used as a set-up man and possibly close games if Holder needs a day off. The question with Bracewell is his health and along with it, how often can he pitch? He has been healthy in the fall, so hopefully his injuries are finally behind him. Ross Mitchell (3-0, 1.18 ERA) really stepped up last year as a left handed option out of the bullpen. Ross doesn’t throw very hard- low 80′s, but he is smart and he is crafty. He finds ways to get hitters out- his Dad and uncle both pitched in the Major Leagues, and no doubt they have taught him some things to get hitters out. Luis Pollorena (4-0, 1.85) could probably run for Governor of Mississippi and win. I think he may fill Caleb Reed’s role from last year- but he can do basically anything we want him to do whether its start or close and anything in between- and that makes him really valuable. He’s the kind of player that makes everyone around them better, and he could be arguably Cohen’s biggest recruit in terms of turning the program around from an attitude standpoint. He does not throw very hard, but he throws strikes and he is not afraid to let the ballpark work for him. I think he will be playing baseball somewhere professionally- will it be with a minor league team, or in Mexico? Chad Girodo (0-1, 5.87) will surprise some people. He was throwing a breaking ball that he really wasn’t comfortable with, but he has scrapped that and he had a really good summer- in fact, most scouts think he will be drafted. The biggest thing with him is consistency- I remember watching him basically win the Governor’s Cup for MSU a couple of years ago and being pretty impressed with the effort he gave, and then against the same Ole Miss team, he gets shelled a couple of weeks later. Two freshmen to look for are John Marc Shelly from Collierville, Tn. and Myles Gentry from Gulfport. Shelly had some interest from the Astros organization prior to the draft and he throws very hard especially for someone 5’10″. I think he will eventually be our closer of the future, but right now I think we will ease him in slowly. Gentry is someone that I thought might redshirt, but he changed his arm angle in the offseason and again, I think he will be eased in while he is learning and adjusting to that.
The big news has been the health of Brandon Woodruff (1-2, 2.38 ERA) and his arm soreness. The question is how concerned should we be about it? I think the answer is very. The good news is we know that there is no structural damage and we also know that he has been pitching and has looked pretty good. There is no doubt that MSU is a much better team with Woodruff. The coaches at MSU are going to be very cautious with him, and I suspect that they will be cautious all year as well. Kendall Graveman (4-4, 2.81 ERA) is a solid senior pitcher and will be the leader of the pitching staff. I think he will be the Saturday starter no matter what because he fits better in that role. He is a ground ball pitcher, and we know pretty quickly if he has his stuff or not because if he does, hitters will pound the ball in the ground. MSU’s opening day starter this year will be Jacob Lindgren (2-2, 3.18), and I think he kind of gets overshadowed by Woodruff some, but Lindgren was a 12th round pick out of high school by the Cubs and he pitched very well in some big games and had a lot of success himself. I think Jacob will emerge this year, and hopefully he and a healthy Woodruff next year will be quite a 1-2 punch. Trevor Fitts (3-0, 3.29), Will Cox (2-1, 4.64), and Evan Mitchell (2-1, 3.52) are all guys that will contend for the a rotation spot as well, and if they don’t get a spot, they go to the bullpen and give us some really good depth. Evan Mitchell is probably the most known quantity and I would think he would have an edge over Fitts and Cox at this point as far as a rotation spot. That said, do not be surprised at all if Fitts or Cox win it either because they both made strides in the off-season and I would be comfortable with any of those three starting.
Mitch Slauter (3 HR, 23 RBI, .232 AVG) will likely see the brunt of the action, but in all honesty, we probably over worked him last year. If it were me, I would probably start him twice on the weekend and then the midweek games depending on the opponent. Mitch is a great competitor and leader, and he has occasional power. I would like to see him hit .250 for us this year and improve his defense a little bit. Giving him some rest will probably do him some good. Nick Ammiratti (2 RBI, .250 AVG) and freshman Daniel Garner from Huntsville, Al. will probably be the main back-ups. Ammiratti is a senior and he has improved a lot during the fall and spring- so much so that some people think he may even start. Personally, I would like to see Garner start when Slauter isn’t simply because he will likely be our starting catcher next year. Daniel is known for his power, but he is going to have to adjust to SEC pitching. He will go off somewhere this summer and hopefully get the at bats he needs to be ready as a sophomore. Zach Randolph is a junior college transfer from Itawamba CC by way of Amory and he may figure in to the mix, but more than likely he will redshirt.
Wes Rea (5 HR, .244 AVG) struggled with curveballs last year, but now that he has had a cyst that was affecting his should removed, I expect him to be much improved this year. Him hitting 10 home runs and hitting .300 are reasonable goals for him. He will be our first baseman, and if he needs a day off, I could see Trey Porter, Daryl Norris, or Nick Flair being the main candidates.
Second base is up for grabs, but it seems like Brett Pirtle from Tyler, Tx. via Panola JC seems to have the inside track on the job. His biggest contribution will be his defense and we will see how quickly he makes the adjustment to SEC pitching. Kyle Hann, one of Cohen’s Canadians from Oakville, Ontario has also performed well, and I could possibly see a left/right platoon with Pirtle and Hann. Hann is only 5’7″, but he has a lot of power for his size. He can also play three positions- second, third, and shortstop and probably the outfield as well. Alex Detz is another junior college transfer from San Luis Obispo College in California and he will also get a chance early in the season to win the job. Matthew Britton (9 RBI, .177 AVG) returns, and while he stuggled last year, he did get a key hit vs. LSU in the SEC baseball tournament, and that is something he will build on. Britton was forced on the field by injuries and he was overexposed and struggled. I think he will be a good player in time, but right now he needs to develop and this will be more of a learning year for him. Sam Frost (20 RBI, .214 AVG) is a senior who has been around as well and I think he will be used mainly as a pinch runner, pinch hitter type player.
Daryl Norris (1 HR, 25 RBI, .273 AVG) will be the third baseman, and he is hopefully healthy. I have to give him a lot of credit for fighting through injuries and playing as much as he did last year. The big thing that I want to see from him is more power- like 5 home runs at least and hit .300. Norris may even pitch a little bit for us as well. Nick Flair is a redshirt freshman who was injured last year and was drafted by the Pirates out of high school. If Norris struggles, he will likely get the nod, and I would not be surprised if Flair ends up starting either at third base or DH if he performs well. Of course, he will have to adjust to SEC pitching, but he will give us a power hitting right handed bat off the bench at worst. Britton, Hann, and Detz could also potentially play third base as well.
Shortstop is probably the most settled position on the infield because of Team USA player Adam Frazier (26 RBI, .371 AVG, and 9 SB) who is projected as a top 10 round pick in this years draft. I expect him to hit between .350 and .400 for us, and I wouldn’t mind if he stole 15 bases- however, I think his role will probably be different in that I think he will be the number two hitter as opposed to the lead off hitter and that affects a lot things- and in his case it may be better because he will be looking to put the ball in play earlier in the count as opposed to taking pitches and working the count, and he will be asked to do more hitting and running than last year as well. Frazier will be a second baseman in pro baseball, but I love the way he works and the fact that he is the shortstop because he literally just wanted it more than his competition last year. Hann, Britton, and Pirtle be the main back-ups for Frazier.
We have a very good problem in the outfield- we have four guys that can start. Unfortunately, we aren’t a softball team. Hunter Renfroe (4 HR, 25 RBI, .252 AVG) is the right fielder and he is a legit five tool player. That term gets thrown around a lot, but Renfroe is a true five tool player. The question is when is he going to bust out? This year? In the pros? Right now, he is projected as a first-second round pick. He can almost play any position except maybe shortstop- and I think he could do that in college- and he can catch as well. He also could possibly be switched to closer in the pros and he could make it to MLB doing that- a lot like Jason Motte of the Cardinals or Troy Percival of the Angels back in the day. He had an unreal summer- and the league he played in retired his uniform number! I’m expecting him to hit at least 10 home runs this year- but with his talent, I don’t think 20 is even out of the question if he busts out, as well as hitting at least .300 and maybe even throw in a few stolen bases.
CT Bradford (2 HR, 17 RBI, .258 AVG 3 SB) was greatly missed last year, but he is healthy now. To me, he was maybe our most critical injury because he sets the table as our lead off hitter, and with him back, we can now move Frazier to number two. He is also a great defensive player- he has an extremely accurate outfield arm and he also has tremendous range as well. I’m expecting him to hit .300 at least, although I think he has the ability to hit .400 but I don’t think it’s realistic for him this year. But the main thing I want to see is at least 10 stolen bases. I would love to see 20 from him and him stay healthy. He may pitch an inning here and there as well.
Demarcus Henderson (10 RBI, .245 AVG, 6 SB) was maybe the most improved player in my opinion from the start of the season to the end of the season. He went from being a reserve to locking down the left field spot. I think he has found a home in the outfield, and like most of the team, he has battled injuries. The main thing I would like to see from him is continued improvement, hit .300 and steal at least 10 bases. The man everyone is talking about though is Jacob Robson, a freshman from Windsor, Ontario who was drafted by the Padres out of high school. Eventually, he will replace CT in CF, but for now, he will probably play left field and center field. He is a player that I’m very high on and I would not be surprised if he hits .300 next year and steals 10 bases. We may see him platoon with Demarcus and we may see them DH when the other isn’t playing the outfield.
Tyler Fullerton (7 RBI, .215) will give us some good depth- he is infamously known as the player that Cohen called back from spring break because of injures. I think he will be more of a bench player this year. Derrick Armstrong is a junior college transfer from Columbia State JC and is from Columbia, TN. He is another center field type that will help us coming off the bench as a pinch hitter, pinch runner type and can play all three outfield positions. Cody Brown is a freshman from Biloxi that I expect to redshirt, but he is another CF/pinch hit/pinch run type of player that plays hard.
Trey Porter (5 HR, 24 RBI, .249 AVG) was the DH last year and I think he will have a reduced role just because we have more options- however, that will possibly lead to a more productive season for Porter because it will likely mean fewer at bats against left handed pitching. The injuries MSU had really thinned the bench out a lot and that limited what we could do as far as matching up, which was part of the reason for our offensive struggles. We have a lot of options as far as pinch hitters and pinch runners- including some guys that have a little bit of power, so that will help.
This is THE part that everyone wants to read. The offense has been a big topic last year and also in the off season. But when you get down to it, when you have injuries and you have an inexperienced team, you will struggle. We overcame those obstacles about as well as we possibly could. Now, we are healthy and experienced. That alone should lead to offensive improvement. We did bring the fences in a little bit- and that will help a little bit especially with power. But more importantly, I think it will help with our hitters confidence, which they will take with them on the road. At the same time, Dudy-Noble Field is still a pitchers park. The injuries we had limited us more last year than our inexperience in my opinion because when you have players that are hurt, it thins out your bench as I mentioned, it forces you to put players in positions that they are not ready for, and it also limits things you can do on the bases such as stealing because you do not want to risk getting another player injured. We do not have a AAA team that we can call a player up from if someone gets hurt. So, I expect more home runs- from Rea in Renfroe in particular, more stealing, more hitting and running, probably about the same amount of bunting, lots of getting hit by pitches and our averages to continue to go up. Defensively, we should be better again just because we are healthy. I do not see anyone that is projected to start that is a defensive liability anywhere. In fact, this may be the best team Cohen has had defensively. I think the pitching will be worse, just because we are not going to be able to replace Chris Stratton whether Woodruff is 100% or not. I still think we will be very good, and our bullpen may be even better than last year. We have the talent to be a top five pitching staff in the SEC- and we could be even better if Woodruff is healthy.
So, everyone wants to know how many games I think we are going to win this year- and my guess would be 32-36 regular season wins, around 17 SEC wins or so. It is by far Cohen’s most talented and experienced team by far, and I do think that hosting a regional and going to Omaha are very realistic goals for this year. I look forward to another great year of MSU baseball and seeing everyone at Dudy-Noble Field.