Freshman embraces role at top of Bulldogs' lineup

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

John Cohen had to make sure C.T. Bradford was ready for this, but Bradford knew all along he was.
So many hours in the batting cage, so many pitches, so much video tape, so much focus on precision – yeah, he was ready. And he’s proved it.
“I’ve always felt that way,” Bradford said.
Of course, it’s not easy to entrust a freshman with the role of leadoff man, the guy from whom the rest of the offense flows. And it took Cohen a little while to let Bradford be that guy, but Bradford understood.
Once Cohen let him loose, Bradford seized the opportunity and hasn’t given his coach any reason for regret.
As anyone who watched Mississippi State sweep through the NCAA Atlanta Regional last weekend would attest, Bradford is just the kind of hitter a coach would want at the top of his lineup. He was 7 of 13 in the three games and had a pair of two-out, two-run hits in Sunday’s clincher over host Georgia Tech.
Heading into the Gainesville super regional against Florida – the best-of-three series starts Friday – Bradford is batting .309 with 34 RBIs and 37 runs scored, and he has an on-base percentage of .401.
During his current 11-game hitting streak, he’s batting .405.
“He has spent so much time by himself, which is what makes a great hitter,” Cohen said. “You can see this guy start to evolve as a hitter, and thank goodness he’s a freshman; we’re going to have him for a while.”
Bradford has been evolving for years. He was coached by his father, Mike, as a youngster. Mike Bradford played for Ron Polk at MSU in the early 1980s, but he won’t take credit for his son’s prowess.
C.T.’s older brother, Michael, also worked a lot with him. Michael, who recently graduated with West Florida, is now working as an intern scout with the Cleveland Indians.
“He just knows C.T.’s swing so well,” Mike Bradford said. “He’s been a great asset to C.T. in regards to hitting.”
C.T. knows his swing pretty well, too. Spending so much time with it has that effect.
“I’m sure he’s up there hitting at hours when other youngsters probably wouldn’t be willing to be hitting,” Mike Bradford said. “It’s an obsession with him in regards to if he knows something’s not right, then he’s going to stay at it whether there’s somebody there or not there.
“He knows his swing really well, and he knows when it’s not right. And he knows when it’s correct, which is a good attribute to have when being a hitter.”
Said C.T., “I’ve done it so many times, I feel like I can make an adjustment on any pitch.”
Moving up in the lineup
Bradford hit .474 as a senior at Pace (Fla.) High School, and he was named Florida’s Mr. Baseball. He also pitches, but a hamstring issue limited his mound time this season to 81/3 innings.
Cohen has noted Bradford’s ability to correctly judge borderline pitches, and he loves his center fielder’s approach to being the leadoff hitter.
But when the season began, Bradford was not atop the batting order. That role belonged to senior Nick Vickerson, who leads the team in stolen bases (25).
There was a stretch earlier in the season where Bradford was popping up too often, and so his brother and father worked with him to fix it.
“I think that’s why he’s seen so much success here lately, is because he’s resolved that,” Mike Bradford said. “He just knows by the spin of the ball, by the way the ball goes if his approach was proper to that at-bat. It’s not about base hits, it’s about how his approach is and how he hits the ball.”
Eventually, Cohen needed more RBI production in the middle of his order, so he moved Vickerson there. Vickerson has 31 RBIs on the season, including nine over his last six games.
Bradford has batted leadoff in 29 of MSU’s games.
“I didn’t want to shove him in that role too early,” Cohen said. “I wanted him to have a little bit of a period of time where he could get used to playing college baseball. We knew before he even stepped into our program he was going to be a leadoff guy.
“The question is when was it going to happen. And he took the reins.”
Bradford has not only hit like a veteran, he’s had the poise of a veteran. Witness those two-out hits against Georgia Tech.
He attributed it to a couple of things.
“The competition I’ve played at this point, it’s been at a high level so far, even before I got to college. One thing my high school coach taught me is slow the game down. That stuck with me.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@journalinc.com.