A Blog Bag question earlier this week prompted me to call up baseball coach John Cohen, and we had a good chat about the Bulldogs' offensive woes this past season. Their .251 batting average ranked 11th in the SEC, and their 21 home runs were 10th.
The culprits are no real secret: Youth and injuries. The question fans want answered is this: Will the offense get better in 2013? Cohen believes so.
"Our kids, every one of them will get better," he said. "We have some really good components coming in. Your recipe for offensive disaster is to have six or seven guys in lineup that have never played Division I baseball before. That's exactly what we did. The other recipe for disaster is to take the one guy who played every day for you the year before and have him not be even on your bench the majority of the season. That's C.T. Bradford. Having C.T. healthy, hopefully, a year from now is like having another recruit in your signing class, because he wasn't a factor for us this year."
True, but the players populating the lineup this past season must improve. Guys like Matthew Britton (.177), Tyler Fullerton (.215), Wes Rea (.249) and Hunter Renfroe (.252) are young guys who need to be more productive. I asked Cohen if any of those players could make the kind of leap next year that sophomore Adam Frazier did, when he increased his average from .274 as a freshman to .371 this year.
"I can see lot of these kids making jumps," Cohen said. "When you play 37 games in a ballpark that does not yield runs, it's going to affect your offense, and you've got to structure your club around that. So you've got to really pitch good, because runs are at a premium, and that's exactly what we did. Certainly I do think we're going to be a much better offensive club for all the reasons I just talked about."
A lot of fans have wondered about the coaching MSU's hitters are getting. Cohen doesn't put the responsibility for developing hitters on one person, although he has a reputation for being a strong offensive coach.
He thinks that reputation comes from having coached in hitter-friendly ballparks at Florida (as an assistant) and Kentucky (as head coach).
"The best way to limit yourself in any organization you work at is to say, this is my job, this is what I do," Cohen said. "It's like I tell our kids, and I tell every camper who comes to Mississippi State, a piece of trash that's laying on the ground, you can't say it's not my job to pick up that piece of trash. It's everybody's responsibility. We believe that the offensive part, all the parts of our program are everybody's responsibility."
MSU recently lost an assistant coach, Lane Burroughs, who recently left to take the head coach's job at Northwestern (La.) State. As Cohen searches for a new assistant, one of the qualities he's looking for is a strong hitting background. He feels good about finding just the right guy.
"The response to it has been incredible. I mean incredible," Cohen said. "The number of really quality candidates is just unimaginable. I've been very, very pleased with that. It's going to be a very difficult decision. Our whole staff is going to be involved in this decision, as well as our administration, and we're going to get one of the best young coaches in the country."
Cohen said the position will be closed July 3, and a hire will be made "pretty quickly after that." He did not know how many applicants there are, just saying, "It's a ton."