By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Adam Frazier’s offense took a big jump last year. If his teammates can follow suit, this season could be a special one for Mississippi State.
Frazier, a junior shortstop, led the Bulldogs last season with a .371 batting average, a 97-point jump from the previous year. Otherwise, MSU struggled to hit in 2012, posting a collective average of .251, which ranked 11th in the SEC.
As State opens preseason practices today, there is a belief among players and coaches that the offense will be much improved from last season. Frazier said other hitters have made a “big jump” this past offseason.
“Baseball’s a mental game, and once the confidence is there, then that’s all it takes for some guys,” Frazier said. “Guys being in the league last year, they know what it takes this year, and they kind of understand what pitchers are going to do with them. That’s what happened to me.”
MSU went 40-24 last year, won the SEC Tournament, and reached an NCAA regional for the second consecutive season. A strong pitching staff carried that team, and most of it returns intact, the notable loss being first-round pick Chris Stratton.
The defense is expected to be strong, too, and if the offense comes around, big things could be in store. Baseball America has high expectations of the Bulldogs, placing them at No. 5 in their preseason rankings released on Thursday.
So who’s likely to break out at the plate this year? Fifth-year coach John Cohen rattled off several names, including center fielder C.T. Bradford, third baseman Daryl Norris, first baseman Wes Rea and outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
Rea and Renfroe are two who could bring more pop to the lineup. Rea, a third-year sophomore, slimmed down this offseason and now weighs 272 pounds. He hit .249 with five home runs last season.
Renfroe, a junior, batted .252 with four homers last year. He went to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League over the summer and bashed 19 home runs.
“If just a few of those guys or all those guys make a significant jump,” Cohen said, “you’re talking about a different type of ball club than we’ve had in the past.”
Frazier and Bradford, who missed most of last season with injury, will likely sit atop MSU’s batting order. Cohen loves that combination, but Frazier knows the lineup has to be strong throughout, and he believes it will be.
That should make for added confidence as MSU tries to live up to its preseason billing. Frazier said that the last couple of years, “We just felt like we were all right and could upset some people, but now I think we’re the targets.”