Can losing in baseball be a good thing? My answer is no. But sometimes what losing can do is teach you lessons about what you need to do to get to a championship level and how far you have come. This past weekend, our baseball team learned some really hard and not very fun lessons. Under John Cohen, our baseball program has come a long way since 2008- but right now, we are a top 15 team that isn’t quite up to the level of a top five team, which is what Vanderbilt is at the moment. Making it even more difficult, we played on the road. Throw in slick, wet astroturf with a speed team going up against our groundball pitchers- bad, bad BAD match-up for us. Oh and for good measure- let’s throw in a guy that’s a top 50 MLB draft prospect on Friday and then an EVEN BETTER pitcher on Saturday who still hasn’t lost a game might be the very first pick of the MLB draft next year.
That’s not to make excuses. What it was in reality was a MISSED opportunity. An opportunity to possibly beat a top five team on the road and possibly just about clinch a regional spot and put ourselves squarely in the discussion for a National Seed. It was an opportunity to build our confidence with even one win. At the end of the day, we missed that opportunity, and even though it didn’t hurt us that bad from an RPI standpoint, South Carolina took advantage of their opportunity and moved ahead of us for the moment.
All is not lost, though. I’ve seen some of our fans say things like “there goes our regional host spot” and other end of the baseball season world comments. One thing about baseball is any team can get hot at any time and at any moment. We still have ten games left and we still have a very good opportunity to host as long as we take care of business. And just like life, something that is worth having, you have to earn and work hard for. You don’t get a regional by beating up on Mississippi Valley State six times- although Arkansas might prove me wrong this year. Of those ten, we have seven in Starkville, including the final series against South Carolina which could be a showdown for that final National Seed or regional spot depending on how the final weeks go. Believe you me- I would MUCH rather face them in Starkville than Columbia.
From a team standpoint, I think the biggest lesson that our team learned was we can not make little mistakes against elite teams and get away with it. That to me, really killed us more than anything- whether it was defense, whether it was at the plate and striking out when we need to make contact, or swinging at the first pitch from a wild pitcher when we had a rally going on to kill the rally. We were very competitive with them the first two games, and our mistakes were the difference. In fact, against Tyler Beede- the guy that is undefeated and might be the top pick in the draft that I was talking about- we had the most hits against him of anyone he has faced this year. The good thing about playing in an adverse environment like that is when you get back to a “normal” environment, it makes things seem easier. Of course, our normal environment is Dudy-Noble Field with grass. Like baseball is MEANT to be played on.
Another thing I have seen MSU fans talk about is how we “lack SEC players”. If you’re comparing us to Vanderbilt, well then yes, I guess we “lack SEC players”- but Hunter Renfroe is among the league leaders in home runs and batting average, Adam Frazier played on Team USA, Kendall Graveman was drafted by the Marlins, Wes Rea and Brett Pirtle are both hitting over .300 in SEC play, and I expect Jacob Lindgren to be drafted after his junior year. That’s not to say that we don’t have some holes- like DH and third base from a defensive standpoint- but it’s not like the cupboard is bare. And because there are some holes- let me tell you what I would do to try to fix it. Play Nick Flair at third base, and move Alex Detz to DH. I know that there are maybe some issues with Flair’s defense, but I can’t imagine that he would be any worse than Sam Frost is- who, bless his heart simply does not have the arm strength to play third base. Detz has been OK. But I did see Flair in warm-ups before the Memphis game and he looked to me, as good if not better than anyone else out there at the very least. Oh yeah- and he is hitting OVER .500 in very limited action. He might be kind of a secret weapon to an extent because he hasn’t had a lot of at bats, so there probably won’t be very much of a book on him. If he gave us a little bit more power, it would be REALLY nice as well.
At this point, you have probably wondered at least once how Vanderbilt is getting all of these great baseball players. First of all, they are a private institution and they have a lot of money that they can give to students in a “need based” situation. Like if you are a pitcher that is drafted in the first round, you are all of a sudden going to be considered very needy. This is legal per NCAA rules by the way. On top of that, Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt’s coach has been there for eleven seasons now- or over twice as long as Cohen has been at MSU. He now has a track record of success of developing pitchers- some of whom were drafted in the first round like out of high school, and they are now reaping the benefits. I can guarantee you that when he was in his fifth season at Vanderbilt like Cohen is at MSU, they had nowhere near the talent as a complete team as he has now even though he certainly had some talented players like David Price and Pedro Alvarez at that time.
Another thing I want to point out too is the culture of baseball and the draft is changing rapidly and the SEC is a big part of that change. Back 20 years ago, if you were drafted the thought was almost automatically to sign because you were going to be rich and they were going to pay for your college. And if you went to college, you were probably going to get hurt, burn out your arm, etc. Recently, Major League Baseball put together a task force about issues in the game ranging from PED’s, to the schedule, to the draft and many other things. One of the issues was former baseball players were having a lot of difficulty transitioning back into society (sounds like they are prisoners) after their career is over and the reason was because they did not have the education to get a job immediately after their playing days were over. It was leading to a lot of divorce and other bad things. Another issue was paying these unproven players out of high school and college large bonuses and the sometimes lengthy negotiations that were going on along with it. So, what they did is come up with a slotting system where each team gets a certain amount of money to spend on draft picks based on how many draft picks they have and also where that team finished the previous year. If a team goes over its allotted money, they are taxed 75%. So, when you are drafted, you pretty much know what you are going to be offered.
Here is a random example from the New York Mets who picked 12th in the draft last year so you can get an idea of what kind of money these guys are being offered.
Name Pick Signing Bonus
Gavin Cecchini 12 $2.3 million
Kevin Plawecki 35 $1.4 million
Matt Reynolds 71 $525,000
Teddy Stankiewicz 75 Did Not Sign
Matt Koch 107 $425,000
Branden Kaupe 140 $225,000
Brandon Welch 170 $200,000
Jayce Boyd 200 $150,000
Corey Oswalt 230 $475,000
Tomas Nido 260 $250,000
Richie Rodriguez 290 $10,000
Paul Sewald 320 $10,000
So, as you can see- these players are not being offered what most would consider “life-changing” money based on our current economy, and it’s encouraging more players to go to college. Also, the SEC is the most high profile collegiate league in the country followed by the ACC and the PAC-12. What is happening in some cases is players that go and play in the SEC are moving very quickly through the minor leagues- for example Michael Roth has appeared with the Angels and he came back to South Carolina for his senior year and Mike Zunino is already in triple A with the Mariners and will be up this year.
What it means for us at MSU is we can start to recruit and possibly retain more and more elite talent than ever before. Of course, this is true of the other SEC schools as well. In fact, I only see the SEC getting stronger in baseball now that there is a new SEC Network and ESPN is now showing more and more college baseball games. In fact, if we host a regional and ESPN shows what Dudy-Noble Field is like during a regional to the nation- HUGE recruiting tool for us. Baseball players want to play in front of big crowds like that, and that is something we would have over someone like Vanderbilt.
Going forward in our present- we have Alabama coming in this weekend at Dudy-Noble Field, and I think that is exactly what our team needs right now- to get back home and have a chance to apply the lessons that they learned this last weekend. As always, the team needs your support, maybe even more than ever now. Another 14,000 would be awesome especially since it isn’t Super Bulldog Weekend. The fans have done an awesome job, and let’s keep it up because I know it’s appreciated.