By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There were times last season when Wes Rea had no feeling in his right arm, which makes it sort of hard to hit a baseball. He’d often skip pregame batting practice altogether.
But Mississippi State’s big first baseman played in all 64 games, batting .249 with five home runs and a team-leading 41 RBIs. With a new season less than two weeks away, Rea is feeling much better and says he’s poised to have a breakout year at the plate.
The third-year sophomore has gotten past the shoulder injury that affected him last year. A cyst had grown over one of the anchors that had been inserted in his right shoulder when undergoing labrum surgery in high school, and that calcium deposit was “cutting” on his nerve.
“It’s a total 180 as far as feeling and confidence and my swing and everything at the plate,” Rea said. “It’s totally different this year. It’s a totally different swing, a totally different approach, and confidence is back. So it’s good.”
Rea basically took the summer off and also slimmed down, going from 290 pounds to a listed 272 this year. That’s not the only noticeable difference in him.
Senior pitcher Kendall Graveman said Rea was swinging lights-out in the fall, and he hasn’t let up.
“Not only Wes’ ability and he’s performing better, but the mental aspect of the game, and he’s not swinging at bad pitches,” Graveman sad. “He’s doing things that he knows he needs to do to be successful. He relaxes more now at the plate.”
Shortstop Adam Frazier, who led the Bulldogs in hitting last year with a .371 average, has noticed a more disciplined Rea who has a “better mentality at the plate with what he’s going to do, a better plan.”
High IQ, high hopes
One big trouble spot for Rea – what coach John Cohen calls “swing-and-miss.” He struck out 68 times last season, second-most in the SEC, and endured a 1-for-41 slump at one point.
Cohen said he believes Rea will be better at making contact on a more consistent basis this season and likes his two-strike approach. He’s also expecting Rea to become a better all-around hitter.
“He has such a high baseball IQ, and I think that’s what most people miss,” Cohen said. “They see the gigantic body and they just assume that they don’t have as much baseball savvy. He has tremendous baseball savvy.”
A year’s experience should help Rea, too. He said being a freshman last year contributed to his troubles.
Still, he had a big impact on the team, especially defensively. Rea had a field percentage of .991, and he’s earned the respect of his teammates so much that they voted him a co-captain along with Graveman.
“They’ve just seen me, my work ethic, they know what to expect out of me,” Rea said. “They know they’re going to get the same thing out of me every day. I think it’s a big trust factor there.”