MSU Media Day: John Cohen

Mississippi State head coach John Cohen previews the Diamond Dogs’ upcoming 2016 season during the team’s on-campus media day on Saturday. Cohen addresses MSU’s health, deep pitching staff and overall team talent.

Opening statement…

“I think our kids are excited about this opportunity. It looks like we are going to have pretty good weather (for Opening Day). Our arms are in as good of shape as they have ever been since I have been at Mississippi State. We have had 22 guys throw at least an inning and 20 of them have thrown a baseball 90 mph or faster. We have had eight guys thrown 93 or better and four guys throw 95 or better. Velocity is not everything but it could be an indication of healthier arms. I think we are pretty healthy from that standpoint. I think our kids are excited. They are motivated and I think they have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. I think they are ready to play against somebody besides themselves right now.”

On the starting pitching…

“When you look at it, we are going to play five games in five days to start the season. We want to use as many arms as possible to start the season. It would not surprise me if we use 12 or 13 arms five games into the season. That is something that we need to do to find out what these kids can do. Several of these kids are going to be freshmen. We are really looking forward to the opportunity to get out there, get some innings under the belt and see how we perform in game conditions.”

On the catching situation…

(Elih) Marrero is a talented player and he will be a significant part of our success this year. We are putting a lot on a freshman who has never played in the Southeastern Conference. (Gavin) Collins will still be available to catch, as well as (Josh) Lovelady, who has come along well and is ready to contribute behind the plate. Jack Kruger is a guy who had arm surgery in November. When his arm comes back, and I think it will, it certainly gives us some more depth there, too. I think Jack is one of the top two or three hitters on our entire ballclub. We are going to find him a spot, whether it is behind the plate, in the outfield or first base. The catcher position, when we get 100-percent healthy, is going to be one of the strengths of our ballclub.”

On Nathaniel Lowe’s play at first base…

“When you bring in a junior college guy, a lot of people say that they have never played at the Division I level. Nathaniel has, as well as Jack Kruger. They both played Division I baseball before they went to JUCO. Both of those guys bring a lot of maturity. I think Nathaniel is somebody who has the potential to anchor the middle spot in our order with some physicality and a great knowledge of the strike zone.”

On Elih Marrero’s potential to produce as a true freshman…

“I just think that he is a baseball player. A lot of times we try to measure guys in their tools—how fast they run, arm strength and all of those things. Baseball knowledge is important too. I think he has a high baseball IQ. He is somebody that really understands the game. He is a freshman and he will make mistakes. A byproduct of that is that he is going to be a fabulous player. He will be better as a player at the end of the year than he is at the beginning.”

On the pitching rotation…

Dakota Hudson went out yesterday and pitched very well. We are very pleased with him. Daniel Brown pitched well also. Those are our two best candidates to go out there on Opening Day. Austin Sexton will have a start. I don’t know if it will be Saturday or Sunday, or maybe even Friday. He will have a start for sure. There are several other guys who will get a chance to start. From there, we will have to see who pitches the best among our younger guys.”

On right-handed pitcher Zac Houston…

“I think Zac is much more comfortable in the starting role for now. I think he is open to help our ball club in any capacity. He might be throwing better than anybody on our whole team. Is he a starter on Saturday or Sunday, or do we start him on Tuesday? We have some options. He has really benefited from (new pitching coach) Wes Johnson. I think Wes has really connected with him. He is a power arm and he has thrown a couple of balls 98 mph this spring.”

On Myles Gentry and Jacob Billingsley returning from injury…

“I think Billingsley is right where we want him to be. I think if he was at this stage a year ago, I think he would have made a difference in seven to 10 games for us. I think he is really healthy and I think his breaking ball is very good. He finally feels healthy for the first time at Mississippi State. Myles Gentry is fighting his tail off to get his arm back to where it was. It hasn’t even been a year since his surgery.”

On having so many options when filling out a lineup card…

“We do have options. I think with the way it has been set up and the way we evaluate, it will be a difficult decision because there is so much competition. I think we are going to have an opportunity to play a lot of guys. That is why I like the four-game weekend series to start out. It forces me to play more people than you are comfortable playing out of necessity. I think it will help us in the long run.”

On Jacob Robson…

“He has done well. He had a really nice year for us a year ago. He is a great runner and he is as athletic as any player in the Southeastern Conference. Does he lead-off? Does he hit in the two hole? Does he give you another leadoff guy at the bottom of the order? I don’t know at this time. There is no question that for us to be as good as we can be, Jacob Robson has to be in the middle of what we are trying to do.”

On the biggest strengths of his team…

“The pitching depth. I think the situational pitching depth and the nature of our starting five guys who will compete for those weekend spots is our biggest strength. If all those guys stay healthy, it will make us tremendously competitive. We have as good of arms one through 22 as anybody in the country. If you throw a Reid Humphreys in the mix, or a Jake Mangum who plays in the outfield and also pitches, I think we will have a good pitching staff. The reason why that is so important to us is that we play in a defense-oriented park where we will play 34 home games. When you can make folks swing and miss, it changes the nature of everything in your program. I think this has the potential to be one of our better pitching staffs.”

On Reid Humphreys…

“In his speech to our club yesterday, he talked about his maturation process. He is trying to help some of the younger guys who haven’t experience any of this. I am really proud of Reid. I think he is poised to have a really good year for us this year, both on the mound and as a positional player.”

On Hunter Stovall getting more opportunities…

“I think he will have those opportunities. Another guy, Luke Alexander, is going to get opportunities as well. (Gavin) Collins now being an infielder gives us some flexibility too. (Ryan) Gridley has played well. Reid Humphreys has also played some third base. I think there will be a lot of competition there. There is no doubt in my mind that Stovall and Alexander are going to be great part of our program.”

On Elih Marrero’s transition to the college game…

“He is going to have to learn early on about the speed of the game. I don’t think he has ever caught the kind of arms that he is catching right now over and over. When you play in a high level of amateur baseball, you come across those great arms every once in a while. He is catching a great arm every single day. I think he can handle it. He is somebody who can really hit. I am not convinced that he is not one of our two or three best hitters on the ball club. He is a great base runner.”

On Reid Humphreys’ role going into the season…

“I think Reid can be a one inning save guy. He has a really good slider and has a great arm. We have waited for his arm to come back for three years. In his senior year of high school, he really could not throw. In his first two years here, his arm was still coming back. Now his arm is where he wants it to be. He is smart enough to know how to take care of it. Coach Johnson has done a fabulous job of helping him manage his arm on a day-to-day basis, which is really important.”

On new pitching coach Wes Johnson’s transition…

“I think our kids have bought in to what he is teaching. How can you not buy in? Almost every one of our guys increased their velocity almost instantaneously. He has done a great job. Our kids have had the benefit of working with two of the best pitching coaches in the entire country—(now Auburn head coach) Butch Thompson and Wes. I think they are excited. Both of those coaches are different in the way they go about it, but they are both very good coaches. Our kids have benefited from both of them.”

On the importance of his pitchers forcing hitters to swing and miss…

“It is an absolute must for us. The teams in Omaha, Nebraska, are the ones that make you swing and miss when it matters. Those are the teams that contend at the highest level. Credit Coach (Nick) Mingione, Coach Thompson and Coach Johnson for getting all of the guys we need to have one of the best pitching staffs in the country. Having said all of that, very few of these arms have done it at the Division I level. They are fully aware of that. They are aware that they haven’t gone out and done it yet. They are optimistic about it.”

On his team having a chip on their shoulders after last season…

“There is no question they have a chip on their shoulders. Every one of our returning guys talks about what they went through a year ago and how disappointing it was to them. I feel like they have a lot to prove. I am excited about seeing how they do it on the field.”

On his team’s potential growth with a lot of young pitchers and catchers…

“There will be some growing pains, but it will not be because of a lack of effort or talent. With the catching situation, I do not think we will have to catch somebody every single game. I think (Elih Marrero) is as prepared as any freshman in the country to go out and compete on a daily basis.”

On Luke Alexander and Tanner Poole…

“Luke has been committed to us for a long time. He really understands defense and has bought into Mississippi State baseball. Tanner Poole is a very talented athlete. When his level of baseball awareness and instincts get to the level of his athleticism, he will be a great player. He might be the fastest kid I have ever coached. He can fly. He has arm strength. He has power. He has worked a lot on his swing. I think he could be one of the better players in our program.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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