Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen met with the media this morning to put a bow on the 2011 season, in which the Bulldogs went 38-25 and pushed Florida to the brink in the Super Regional round. The third-year coach reiterated what he said after Sunday's 8-6 loss about not being satisfied with how far State got in the postseason.
"My vision when I came here was to win a national championship, and I think we're on the tracks," Cohen said. "I think we're moving in that direction. The first thing you have to establish when you take over a program that's 23-33 is you have to get to where you can say we can compete with the best. … We've accomplished that mission; we can compete with the best. Now we have to be able to win – not just compete – but win at the highest levels."
Even though MSU is losing seven starters – and possibly a couple of key pitchers, Devin Jones and Nick Routt – Cohen expects the progress to continue. He thinks younger players getting to watch this postseason run – whether or not they played – will provide dividends next season. And he pointed out that instead of having to lean so heavily on true freshmen, he'll be able to plug in redshirt freshmen and experienced sophomores, like C.T. Bradford and Daryl Norris.
"I think collectively our group of freshmen this year probably have more talent than our seniors. Not probably, they do have more talent than our seniors. What the seniors had is they had a lot more experience."
Cohen can't say whether MSU will be a better-hitting team next year, but he does expect there to be more pop in the lineup with redshirt freshmen like Wes Rea and Brayden Jones taking the field. And he really, really loves the pitching staff.
"I really believe we're going to be a dramatically better pitching staff," Cohen said.
Speaking of pitchers, Cohen said he'll shut down closer Caleb Reed for at least three or four weeks, then perhaps send him to the Cape Cod League. That's where Routt is headed, and even though he wasn't drafted, Cohen said the junior left-hander could be gone if scouts deem him healthy enough to take a chance on.
I'll have more from this interview in Thursday's Journal. Right now, let's update you on the health of certain players.
• RS freshman infielder DeMarcus Henderson has had Lasik surgery and should vie for a starting job next season, likely at shortstop.
• Rea, who's had shoulder issues, is throwing from 180 feet and swinging the bat well.
• Sophomore pitcher Ben Bracewell (back), who redshirted this past year, looks ready to go. Said Cohen, "He's a real SEC weekend guy, and to get him back is gonna be huge for us."