By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Nice guys can finish first. They just need a healthy aggressive streak.
Chris Stratton found that a few months ago, and it’s pushed him to an elite level. Mississippi State’s junior right-handed pitcher, described by his coach as a deferential “people-pleaser,” was rewarded for his season’s work on Monday with the Ferriss Trophy, which is given annually to the top college baseball player in the state.
Stratton, a Tupelo High School product, beat out Ole Miss second baseman Alex Yarbrough and Delta State pitcher Colton Mitchell. All three players are juniors.
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Stratton is 9-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 107 strikeouts. He was a weekend starter as a freshman but lost that job late last season, and MSU’s coaches knew Stratton had more to offer.
The turning point, according to pitching coach Butch Thompson, was the meetings head coach John Cohen had with players after fall workouts. Cohen told Stratton that he had all the tools, he just needed to “run your own show.”
Stratton, ever polite, replied with an inscrutable, “Yes, sir.” But Thompson saw a change after that.
answering the challenge
“I think when we kind of threw him off the cliff, and (said) don’t put it on the catcher, you’ve got nowhere to go, that was one of the biggest pieces,” Thompson said. “I applaud coach for saying it, and I applaud Chris for jumping and realizing that would complete him, and it did.”
Stratton began the 2012 season in the bullpen, but an injury to Friday night starter Ben Bracewell opened the door for a return to the rotation. Stratton has done exactly what Cohen hoped he would.
“He’s been able to focus, but there’s also been that little edge to that focus that’s kind of taken him beyond,” Cohen said.
Stratton didn’t suffer his first loss of the season until Friday, at Florida, and is being projected as a first-round pick in this summer’s Major League draft.
He said he’s been able to “go out and compete, and just attacking hitters and not being scared with the stuff I’ve got to go after them.”
Stratton is the third Bulldog to win the Ferriss Trophy, and the first since 2007, when Ed Easley won. Thomas Berkery won in 2006.
“You try to be the best anywhere you can be,” Stratton said. “If you’re the best in Mississippi, that’s a step forward.”
Yarbrough, a junior, is hitting .405 with 40 RBIs and only one error at second base. He said there was “no disappointment” with not winning the Ferriss and added that Stratton was “more than deserving to win this award.”
Mitchell, also a junior, is 8-0 with a 2.99 ERA, and he tossed the first perfect game in Delta State history in April.