By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – For the first two years of Hunter Renfroe’s career, Mississippi State coach John Cohen would tell anyone who’d listen just how good this kid could be. It was just a matter of putting things together.
Well, Renfroe has put things together this season. The junior outfielder from Crystal Springs, who grew up in an Ole Miss home, has become one of the nation’s top players. He’s hitting the cover off the ball, yes, but he’s flashing all five tools Cohen has so often bragged about.
Renfroe has a .429 batting average, tied for fifth in the country; 13 home runs, tied for second; and an .865 slugging percentage, best in the nation. He also has 42 RBIs.
He plays right field with little trouble, making just one error this year and, if opposing runners weren’t so wise to his arm strength, would likely have more than one assist.
Oh, and the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Renfroe is also tied for the team lead in stolen bases with eight.
So when, and why, did everything come together for Renfroe? He said it started happening for him offensively near the end of last season, when he went 7 of 13 with two doubles and a home run in a series at Florida. That weekend’s work raised his average from .235 to .257, and he finished the year at .252 with four home runs and 25 RBIs.
“Me and coach Cohen worked on some stuff, the toe tap stuff, getting my load down, making sure I can get everything on the backside and see the ball late,” Renfroe said. “After that everything started coming around, I started seeing the ball, I started hitting the ball hard, I started not getting fooled so much on sliders.”
And now he’s becoming what Cohen envisioned.
“I’ve coached great hitters, I’ve coached great runners, I’ve coached guys who had incredible arm strength, I’ve coached guys who are great defenders, I’ve coached guys who’ve had an unbelievable feel to hit for average,” Cohen said. “But I’ve never been able to say that about one guy.”
Renfroe was named SEC player of the week on Monday after another stellar weekend. He went 8 of 14 with three home runs in a sweep of Texas A&M. The Aggies tried to find different ways to pitch him, but like most teams this season, they couldn’t solve Renfroe.
He believes there is a psychological element at work when pitchers face him.
“I look at it, if I’m pitching up there and I see a guy like that, I’m like, I kind of want to pitch around him and not screw up,” Renfroe said. “When you do that, you kind of get in the pitcher’s head, and that’s when he starts throwing fastballs right down the heart of the plate.”
Love for the game
Renfroe said he began playing baseball when he was 2 years old, and he’s never really slowed down, except for that summer he took off after his eighth grade year to ski and wakeboard on Ross Barnett Reservoir.
He played with several other kids who grew up to play college or pro ball – in other words, his team was loaded.
“We always played up (in age) in tournaments because we just killed our opponents,” Renfroe said. “We actually won the older age group state championship and they wouldn’t give it to us because we were younger.”
Renfroe said whenever he’s done playing, he’d like to coach.
“I wouldn’t see myself not around baseball,” he said.
For now, it appears Renfroe has plenty of playing days ahead of him. The season he’s having has created first-round draft pick buzz, but that’s not something he’s thinking about right now.
He’s too focused on helping the No. 16-ranked Bulldogs (30-9, 8-7 SEC) maintain the momentum they’ve gained recently. Entering this weekend’s series against Auburn (23-14, 5-10), MSU has won seven of its last eight games.
First pitch tonight and Friday are set for 6:30, and Saturday’s game is at 4 p.m.