By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – When looking at Connor Powers and what’s surrounding him, there would seem to be a couple of big-time concerns on his mind.
For starters, Mississippi State’s slugging first baseman has no home runs and four RBIs in nine SEC games. He has nine homers and 43 RBIs total for the Bulldogs (16-13, 3-6 SEC), who host No. 10 Arkansas (22-6, 6-3) this weekend.
Then there’s the fact that when the 6-foot-2, 242-pounder from Napierville, Ill., stares out over the infield from his post, he sees three faces who weren’t in Starkville a year ago.
And yet Powers sounds totally unconcerned about both issues.
First, his power outage. Powers, drafted in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer, hit 19 home runs as a junior, sixth in the SEC. He did so while adjusting to a new position – he was a third baseman his first two years – and made just one error in 422 chances (.998).
“I think I just missed a couple of pitches this past weekend probably,” Powers said of the trip to South Carolina. “Georgia, I walked a lot, and Florida I hit the ball hard, I just got out.”
Powers is still hitting for average, at a .310 clip in SEC play and a team-leading .390 overall. Second-year coach John Cohen isn’t concerned, either.
“If the Yankees are playing the Red Sox and it’s the ninth game of the season, and Derek Jeter is hitting .175 nine games into the season, I don’t think a whole lot of people would be freaked out about it,” Cohen said.
Cohen noted that Powers, who usually bats third in the order, doesn’t have a lot of protection in a lineup full of newcomers. Which brings us to the infielders.
The normal starters have been junior college transfer Nick Vickerson at third base, juco transfer Jonathan Ogden at shortstop, and true freshman Sam Frost at second base. They have a combined fielding percentage of .944.
“For me, it’s really not that much of a challenge,” Powers said. “Coach Cohen does a really good job with the infielders, especially in practice. They take it upon themselves, and they have pride in what they’re doing. They all take extra ground balls, and they stay after (practice), and I haven’t really had to get on any of them, to be honest with you.”
When Wes Thigpen is catching and one of MSU’s many freshman arms are pitching, then Powers is the only familiar face on the infield. To Cohen, that makes Powers’ presence invaluable.
“You lead through your actions,” Cohen said, “and you point at certain people and say, ‘Hey, he’s done this before, he was drafted, I want to follow that guy.’”
Cohen is changing up his pitching rotation this weekend. He’ll start sophomore right-hander Caleb Reed tonight in place of struggling freshman Kendall Graveman, and Sunday’s starter could be Chad Girodo, Devin Jones or Tyler Whitney.
“He’s doing what a normal freshman would do in his surroundings – he’s trying to do too much,” Cohen said of Graveman (1-2, 6.75 ERA). “He’s not real good with the marathon, being what a starting guy’s all about, he’s more of a sprinter type guy.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight: Arkansas LHP Drew Smyly (3-0, 1.60 ERA) vs. Mississippi State RHP Caleb Reed (0-2, 4.20)
Saturday: Arkansas RHP Brett Eibner (2-2, 4.05 ERA) vs. Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton (3-3, 3.75)
Sunday: Arkansas TBA vs. Mississippi State TBA