By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mitch Slauter can’t take a day off. Not this time of year, not after all he has invested.
The junior catcher has been a mainstay for Mississippi State this season, his first in the program after transferring from Barton (Kan.) Community College. Slauter has started 59 games behind the plate, including the last 42.
He’ll be there again today when MSU (39-22) opens NCAA regional play here as the No. 2 seed against Samford (39-21) at 11 a.m.
Besides just being there on a daily basis, Slauter has become an indispensable part of one of the country’s top pitching staffs. MSU has a team ERA of 2.58, which ranks fourth in the country, and the pitchers give Slauter a lot of the credit.
Upon arriving at MSU, he held meetings with the pitchers and quickly established a rapport with each one.
“Without him we wouldn’t be able to be in the groove we’ve been in so far and be rolling the way we have,” junior right-hander Kendall Graveman said. “The confidence we have in him to throw a pitch two strikes down in the dirt, or it’s a 2-0 count and he calls a curveball, we know that we can trust him, because he knows what works for us at that time of day.”
Slauter calls most of the pitches and rarely gets shake off. That even goes for junior Chris Stratton (11-1, 2.21 ERA), the SEC pitcher of the year and today’s starter.
“He pretty much knows exactly what I want to throw,” Stratton said. “That’s a credit to him and all the hard work he’s put in, and he can do that with all our pitchers.”
Slauter’s arrival eased the loss of Wes Thigpen, who could handle a pitching staff very well, too. Slauter said a key to knowing pitchers is building relationships off the field.
“It’s not just a baseball relationship, and they’ve got to trust every aspect of me to make themselves the most comfortable to perform the best they can,” he said.
Slauter’s value was never more apparent than during the Bulldogs’ run to the SEC Tournament title. He caught all six games – 55 innings over six days, in the blazing Alabama sun.
After the third day, when State lost to Kentucky, pitching coach Butch Thompson strongly considered giving Slauter a day off. The two sat in Thompson’s hotel room in Hoover and talked it over while watching “Duck Dynasty.”
Slauter was adamant he could keep playing. He did, and the Bulldogs won the next three games, with Slauter going 4 of 11 at the plate during that span.