By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Butch Thompson looks at this 2012 Mississippi State pitching staff and sees shades of the group he had at Georgia in 2004.
The veteran pitching coach had some good arms that year, and they led UGA to the College World Series. One of those pitchers, Brooks Brown, was taken in the first round of the Major League draft two years later.
“I think this (staff) is deeper, and now I think that’s our biggest problem, is putting these guys in the right role,” Thompson said. “And if they still can’t go six or seven innings like we want, we might piggy-back more often with starters combining, because our strength is in our depth.”
It’s a good problem for Thompson and head coach John Cohen to have. There are several candidates to for weekend starting roles, middle relief has been beefed up, and senior Caleb Reed returns as one of the best closers in the country.
In today’s opener against Washington State, sophomore Ben Bracewell will start and be followed at some point by Chris Stratton, who’s been a weekend starter the previous two seasons.
That approach will continue through the weekend as Cohen and Thompson try to pin down a rotation. Kendall Graveman, Evan Mitchell and Nick Routt will also get hard looks, which means Luis Pollorena can return to full-time bullpen duty.
“Everybody’s going to know their role, instead of having to guess who’s going to pitch this day, who’s going to pitch that day,” Reed said. “You can’t really get focused in when you’re trying to wonder what your role is. That’s a big key factor for us.”
Another big factor is the progression of some young but talented hitters. MSU lost seven starters from last season, including the designated hitter’s spot. Cohen said he’s got a dozen guys in the mix for the nine positions and feels like he’ll have it figured out soon.
C.T. Bradford and Brent Brownlee return in the outfield. Junior college transfer Mitch Slauter takes over at catcher, and sophomore Daryl Norris will start at third base. Competition is on-going at the other spots.
“We do have some left-to-right matchup opportunities,” Cohen said, “and we’re going to take advantage of those, especially at first base and in the outfield. We also have some guys we feel are really solid defenders who late in the game will play that role.”
MSU batted .281 last season with just 30 home runs. The lineup has a little more pop this year, with guys like Wes Rea and Hunter Renfroe expected to play big roles.
The Bulldogs went 38-25 last season and reached the NCAA Super Regional round, falling to Florida. Cohen, entering his fourth season, looks to build on that.
“As good as we did last year, nobody still has us to go anywhere hardly,” Reed said. “We finished strong last year, and we’re going to start off strong this year.”
STARTERS: RHP Ben Bracewell; RHP Evan Mitchell; LHP Nick Routt; RHP Chris Stratton
MIDDLE RELIEF: LHP Chad Girodo; LHP Luis Pollorena; RHP Taylor Stark
CLOSER: RH Caleb Reed
PROJECTED FIELD STARTERS: 1B Wes Rea, 2B Sam Frost, SS Adam Frazier, 3B Daryl Norris, C Mitch Slauter, LF Hunter Renfroe, CF C.T. Bradford, RF Brent Brownlee
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: SS
Matthew Britton, OF/IF Tyler Fullerton, LHP Jacob Lindgren, 1B Trey Porter, RHP/OF Brandon Woodruff
WINS LAST 5 YEARS: 38, 23, 25, 23, 38
SUMMING IT UP: “I think we have very good hitters in our program. but the majority of them are inexperienced. As they grow and get better, we’ll have a great team.” – Head
coach John Cohen