Mississippi State head coach John Cohen will conduct the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday afternoon.
Check out what Cohen had to say about the Diamond Dogs as they prepare for fall practice.
Cohen: “We’ve been going now for two months and we’ve gotten a lot of work done in our individual skill work. I think this is the best-conditioned team that I’ve had a chance to start a fall with. Our arms are in really good shape, coach (Brian) Neal has done a great job with our strength and conditioning.
“And our kids are just so excited about starting, of having the capability of competing against each other in intrasquad games, and kind of finding out where we are as a team.
“I really like the new pieces of the puzzle. We have three kids who are coming in after their junior college freshman year, which is a little bit unique. I think all those guys have done a great job contributing so far.
“The fall has never been truly an incredible indicator of how kids are going to do in the spring. But certainly you have to have some type of competition to figure out who deserves those early opportunities.”
Can you update any health situations, and where is Paul Young in his recovery?
Cohen: “Paul is doing a lot better. We think he’s right on time. He’s had a couple of issues, a groin injury. But he’s worked so hard in his rehab and I think Paul has come a long way. All indications show he’s going to be ready in February.
I don’t think Ross Mitchell has ever been as healthy as he is right now. He’s just been outstanding. He’s really changed his body, kind of in an exciting way in terms of his lower half is so much stronger than in the past. I think everybody will be ready to play when we step on the field.
Is Will Cox on the same path?
Cohen: “Yeah, Will has had a couple of setbacks. We’re going to have to wait and see after this semester where he is. But outside of Will for the most part everybody is in good shape.
What about John Marc Shelly? “
Cohen: Yes, Shelly is in the same boat as Will. Both those guys we’re just kind of waiting to see at the end of fall where those guys are.”
What is different about this team for fall? “
Cohen: It’s one of those deals where we have a little bit more power. And certainly the ball has kind of changed the game a little bit, with the lower seams. I think the ball is going to fly a little bit better.
“Our place is still going to be difficult to hit a home run, but there’s no reason why we can’t hit doubles and triples and really try and use the gaps of our ballpark. I think we’re going to be a little bit better in the run-scoring area, that’s something we needed to improve upon and I think we have the right pieces in places to be able to make that happen.”
How has the new ball impacted the pitchers?
Cohen: “It’s neat because our kids are using closer to what a professional baseball is, the same baseball they’ve used in their summer their whole lives. For some odd reason when they played Division I baseball they’ve always used a higher seam.
“From what I understand in talking to our players it helps a slider. I really think it helps velocity a little bit. It helps the two-seamer, I’m not sure it helps the 12-6 breaking ball as much. But we’ll see. I don’t think it’s a dramatic difference, it will alter how far the ball goes a little bit.
“What I’ve been told is the ball we were using last year was a .95-.99 seam; the professional ball is more like a .55 seam, and what we’re at is right in the middle of that, a .77 or something like that. We’ve noticed a little bit of a difference in BP but it’s not dramatic.”
How big will having a good summer help a player like Jake Vickerson?
Cohen: “It’s always helpful for guys to off and play summer baseball. I think many of them had a great summer. I think Jake has a lot of confidence. And summer baseball is one of those experiences you need to have, you need to get out of your comfort zone, you need to get around a different group of guys. You need to have those different experiences. That’s what college is all about, is experiencing everything you possibly can that’s positive. It’s a really neat thing for our players to do.”
Reflecting on last season, was it one of your most difficult coaching experiences with shuffling lineups all through May? “
Cohen: Yeah, I think so. You lose your shortstop, you lose outfield, you lose some of your major components from the 2013 club. We knew we had a good bullpen but we were still searching for that starting rotation, and I think that’s going to be better this year than it’s been in the past also.
”I think the neat thing that we have going now is so many of our pitchers understand that there is a future for you in college baseball, if you’re a dominant back-of-the-game type of guy who has great stuff. I think that’s been proven in our program. I think in the past you had so many kids who are afraid to be relievers, they didn’t want to be a reliever as much. Now we have more kids who really see themselves fitting into that role.”
What have you seen in year-two from guys like Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton? “
Cohen: Austin has been great. Dakota went out and had a great summer as well. I think those guys really matured. And you need your freshmen to go out and have great summers and experience different things, come back and have a great sophomore year for us.”
What are some young names that can become those back-of-order pitchers? “
Cohen: Jacob Billingsley is somebody we’ve talked about that role. Really, I hate to even throw that out yet because this is what the fall is about. The reason I mention Jacob is that’s his goal and really he’s kind of pigeon-holed in that area and he had a great summer relieving as well.
”There’s several guys that fall into that role. But I would like to just reserve comment on that until we have a chance to get through our fall.”
Wes Rea put a lot of pressure on himself last year, how has he come back this year?
Cohen: “Oh, Wes’ attitude has been phenomenal. I think he’s made so many adjustments in every part of his life and it’s really neat to see him be the great leader that he is. Especially in conditioning, he has worked so hard in conditioning to finish every single time and to push himself. Instead of just constantly worrying or pouting about what happened last year I think he’s gone off and been diligent about trying to improve his game. And I think he’s done that.”
As a team collectively was there some pressing last year with the expectations and the slow start?
Cohen:“I think so. But I also think we had some new players in really key situations. You go into a year where you don’t have a catcher who has ever caught one inning of Division I baseball; I think that’s another area we’re going to be really improved. You go in trying to figure out who your shortstop is, and you have some competition there. We found that guy.
”You go into it with really not that power guy in the middle of the order to step forward. And we need that to happen this year and I think we have more candidates. We had to redshirt some guys a year ago just because of sheer numbers. That really have a chance to be power bats, and those guys will have their opportunities this year.”
Is there more of an identity this year?
Cohen: “Well, our identity is always going to be about trying to be the best defensive club in America. Trying to be the best situational pitching staff in America. Trying to dominate at home as a ball club. We really put an emphasis on our ball club trying to get the extra-base hit, trying to lead the nation in doubles, trying to really play the gaps, trying to be a little bit more reckless with our runners on the bases. I guess a smart recklessness. Those are the main things that we’re trying to get done with this club, that’s what I want the identity of this club to be.”