By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State had one of the most successful seasons in school history last spring, finishing as the national runner-up at the College World Series.
Seven of those Diamond Dogs started their professional careers after the Omaha run, leaving several key roles to fill on the roster for 2014. A No. 2 nationally ranked signing class arrived on campus this fall, and coach John Cohen got his first chance to work with them as fall workouts began Friday.
“The fall is important for everybody, especially the new guys getting acclimated,” Cohen said. “For the freshman hitters, it’s all about if they can see spin and read the breaking ball and have quality at-bats. I think it’s a little easier in the outfield because the game doesn’t get to you as quickly as it does in the infield or behind the plate. The fall gives you a pretty good preview of where they stand.”
A total of 19 newcomers (11 pitchers, eight position players) were added to the roster this fall, including six junior college transfers.
Two key holes, shortstop and right field, were once occupied by Adam Frazier and Hunter Renfroe.
Frazier was taken in the sixth round by the Pirates and set a school record for hits in 2013. Renfroe was the 13th overall pick in the draft, taking his five-tool talents with him.
“When you have a shortstop last year that had 107 hits, you wonder who’s gonna be the guy that gets 107 hits,” Cohen said. “That’s tough because nobody in the history of Mississippi State baseball has had 107 hits. How do you replace Hunter Renfroe? I don’t know many players in the history this program that have been like Hunter Renfroe. I don’t know many in the history of the Southeastern Conference that have been like Hunter Renfroe.
“Those are going to be difficult guys to replace, but certainly we feel like we have very good candidates.”
Cohen identified Kyle Hann, Matthew Britton, Brett Pirtle and newcomer Seth Heck as potential replacements at shortstop.
The Bulldogs also must break in a new backstop. Mitch Slauter and Nick Ammirati both graduated leaving the catcher position with no experience at the Division I level. Junior Zach Randolph of Amory and freshman Daniel Garner both redshirted last year, while junior college signee Cody Walker and true freshman Gavin Collins are also vying for the spot.
“It’s going to be a battle behind the plate,” Cohen said. “We feel we have several good candidates. Our returning guys have gotten a lot better and the two new guys we have in the fold are very, very talented. We have a lot of competition going on behind the plate, and I think each one of those guys brings something different to the table.”
Mississippi State held three workouts followed by five-inning scrimmages over the weekend and will practice again on Wednesday. Pitchers Brandon Woodruff and Ben Bracewell were unable to participate while still recovering from arm injuries.