It hasn't taken C.T. Bradford long to justify his hype coming out of Pace (Fla.) High School. He was Mr. Baseball in that state last year and was also the Class 5A player of the year, and he won many other awards, I'm sure.
Now a freshman for MSU, Bradford is producing at the plate and in the field – and occasionally on the mound. He and some other freshmen are a big reason State feels it's a markedly improved team this season.
Senior outfielder Jaron Shepherd offered this scouting report of Bradford: "C.T. is a well-rounded athlete. He has lot of raw talent. He's able to provide for the team in many different ways – with his arm, defensively or even at the plate. He makes a lot of contact, never strikes out, and somehow in the game he's always contributing and doing something for the team. He's a great team guy, too."
Bradford enters today's game against No. 22 Auburn batting .300 with a .412 on-base percentage, 19 RBIs and five stolen bases. He's not made a single error in the outfield in 45 chances. On the mound, he's 0-0 with a 9.82 ERA in four appearances, including one start that lasted just one inning in that Sunday game in Nashville.
Bradford had the game-winning hit Sunday at Vanderbilt. After going 1-for-7 over the first two games of that series, he was 2-for-5 with two RBIs in the finale.
"I was trying to slow the game down and really just put something on the line," he said. "As far as confidence, I definitely helped me feel good. (Vanderbilt) had a great staff. It makes you feel good – we all were putting the bat on the ball. I think we'll be fine."
Auburn presents an opportunity for MSU (15-6, 1-2 SEC) to prove that it's made real progress. While the Tigers (14-7, 2-1) are ranked and have made a habit of getting off to fast starts, they tend to slog through the final innings. Auburn blew a four-run lead against Jacksonville State on Tuesday and lost. This looks, on paper, like a series State could win.
Auburn's pitchers certainly don't seem as untouchable as Vandy's. The Tigers, in fact, rank 11th in the SEC with a 4.27 ERA. To be fair, they played a pretty tough non-conference schedule that included games against Virginia (loss), Western Kentucky (win), Bethune-Cookman (split two) and Arizona State (lost two of three).
At the plate, Auburn's .312 average is tied for fifth in the league (MSU is ninth at .290). Junior Devin Jones is scheduled to start on the mound for State tonight (6:30 first pitch), and he's coming off a rough outing last week against Vandy, when he gave up eight runs on six hits in 3.1 innings.
But if he can get the game to the bullpen, MSU should be in decent shape. Some freshman – and sophomores – have pitched well in relief roles, including Taylor Stark (1-0, 0.00 in four appearances).
Other notable freshmen: Darryl Norris (.327, 18 RBIs), Evan Mitchell (3-1, 4.50, four appearances, three starts) and Hunter Renfroe (0-0, 0.00, three appearances).
"They've come through in some clutch situations, offensively and on the mound," Shepherd said. "I know myself, I'm pretty pleased with what they're doing, and they're working hard every day to keep getting better at it."