John Cohen’s Tough Decisions


Everything was going so smoothly for the Mississippi State Baseball team through the first 13 games. The Bulldogs showed that the bats are alive and well, the pitching has been rock solid like we thought it would be, and the Bulldogs had a spotless record and a few top ten rankings to show for it. While things were going the way we all hoped it would, last night’s game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff showed there are still a number of decisions that Cohen will have to tackle as we get closer to the start of the SEC portion of the schedule.

Third Base
If you are looking for places that need to step up, start with 3rd Base. Matt Spruill got the first start of the year over last season’s starter Matthew Britton. Spruill has hit decently, posting a .263 batting average so far with a few triples to go with it. John Holland has received some playing time at the hot corner as well. The emergence of freshman Ryan Gridley at second base and the unexpected struggles of Holland has forced Cohen to have to find a place for the talented transfer. Holland was supposed to be the answer to replacing Brett Pirtle, but things haven’t gone so well for Holland. He is currently hitting .250and has only 1 extra base hit. Britton has gotten off to a terrible start at the plate with just 1 base hit in 14 at bats. The last option appears to be Luke Reynolds, but he has had his own struggles as well. Third Base is the one position that has to get better.

Josh Lovelady has been one of the most pleasant surprises to start the season. Lovelady was supposed to be the backup catcher to Gavin Collins, but he has emerged as a solid player in his own right. People have raved about the defense that Lovelady has brought behind the plate, but he has also gotten off to a great start behind the plate. Lovelady is hitting .290 with 7 RBIs. If you want to knock that, all of those hits are singles. Lovelady has yet to record an extra base hit on the year. Collins demonstrated last season that he had one of the best arms for a catcher, but struggled to keep balls in front of him. He was one of the best hitting catchers in the league, so figuring out if Lovelady is going to stay behind the plate and let Collins DH is a tough decision that Cohen has to figure out.

Starting Pitchers
I wrote about this yesterday, so I will just briefly touch on it here. The Bulldogs have four quality starting pitchers and only three weekend rotation spots. The obvious answer would be to send one of them to the midweek starting role, but most coaches like to save that role for pitchers who need extra experience. Plus, if these truly are our best guys, we need them available against the stiffest competition which is always played on the weekend. The two locks as of right now are Preston Brown and Vance Tatum. Those two will be starters for the remainder of the year unless there is an injury or one of them just falls apart out of the blue. That leaves Laster and Sexton battling for the last spot. I think the edge goes to Sexton since he has better “stuff”. It will be interesting to see how that starting spot plays out.

The Outfield
There are a number of players who have had standout performances in the outfield. The problem is there is only three spots. You might count a 4th if you include the DH, as that role has been filled mostly by a normal outfielder. The only lock appears to be Jacob Robson. He is one of only two players, Seth Heck being the other, to start every single game this season. Michael Smith was injured in the very first game, so we don’t really know what we have with him yet. Reid Humphreys has demonstrated the power that we need from one of our outfield bats, but consistency has been a problem. Jake Vickerson and Cody Brown have been on fire in the early part of the season. Brent Rooker has played mostly as a DH, and leads the team with a .636 slugging percentage. That’s a whole lot of guys for only three or four spots. Expect Vickerson and Humphreys to get most of the playing time, but don’t expect Cohen to stick with one of them for too long if they start to struggle. There will be a lot of platooning and experimenting with outfield combinations right up until the first SEC series against Alabama, and it will probably go on after that.

Cohen has done a great job managing the team in the early part of the season, but there will be other bumps in the road. How he handles these key areas and manages those bumps will play a big role in just how far this team can go in 2015.