In today's Journal I have a story about the progress Mississippi State baseball made this season and the promise of the future with so much young talent on hand. Making that promise become a reality depends heavily on how the players develop in the offseason.
That's where summer ball comes in. A dozen Bulldogs, including 10 first-year players, will be scattered about the country playing in various leagues. Here's the full list:
• Cape Cod League: OF/LHP C.T. Bradford, IF/RHP Daryl Norris, LHP Nick Routt, RHP Chris Stratton.
• New York Collegiate Baseball League: IF Demarcus Henderson, IF/RHP Taylor Stark.
• California College League: IF Adam Frazier.
• Prospect League: INF Brayden Jones, RHP Evan Mitchell, 1B/RHP Wes Rea.
• Cal Ripken Collegiate League: RHP Victor Diaz, C/RHP Hunter Renfroe.
All of those guys but Routt and Stratton will be redshirt freshmen or sophomores next season, and coach John Cohen sees great benefit in his players performing in new settings.
"It just continues the maturation process of these kids," Cohen said. "You're out of your comfort zone. You're with a whole new different group of guys. You've got to prove yourself. Geographically you're a great distance away from your parents and your friends."
Cohen wants to see his players perform well in the summer, but he's not overly concerned with statistics and such. He'll take a week at some point to travel around and watch his guys, and what he hopes to see are players adjusting to new circumstances.
"All these kids want to come home, and it's human nature for them to get homesick. But if they stay in that one spot and they gut it out and have success there, what they gain when they come back is incredible."
Cohen recalled his time as an MSU player, when then-assistant coach Pat McMahon was in charge of placing players in summer leagues. Cohen's assignment was far, far, far from home.
"I remember him looking me in the eye and saying, 'You're going to Kenai, Alaska. You're going to get homesick like everybody else does, and you're going to stay there, because if you come home early, you're going to have to deal with me.' And by god, that's all it took. And it was a wonderful experience for me."
To Cohen, the talent among his young players is evident. It's simply a matter of developing that talent, and that's what he believes will return the Bulldogs to their former place among the SEC's elite.
Guys like Bradford, Frazier and Mitchell made significant contributions this season, while others redshirted and will get their shot in 2012. Expect Jones, Rea and Renfroe – among others – to step right in next year.
Cohen didn't have to lean on freshmen as heavily this year as in the past two, which means he can bring them along at a pace he prefers.
"If you had intrasquad offensive game against the guys who redshirted and our freshmen guys versus our starting guys, just from an offensive standpoint, the guys who didn't play, depending on who they're facing on the mound, they might beat up the team that's on the field," Cohen said. "But the team on the field, the older guys, are going to make less mistakes, they've experienced a lot, and they're going to defend it better. And they're not going to get overwhelmed by situations.
"That's why bringing this group of freshmen along at a slower rate in my opinion is really going to pay huge dividends down the road."