As the pages turn to each calender year in college baseball, controlling the base-paths is becoming more of a factor than ever. The nature of the game has changed completely at the college level with the addition of new bats that have taken a toll on power hitters. No one seems to be building a team for the future quite as well as Mississippi State Head Coach John Cohen as he has built a team made for "small ball".
With home runs no longer a definite factor, (especially in a place like Dudy Noble Field) Cohen has built his staff around defense and speed. Last season, the Bulldogs stole 45 bases on 72 attempts. The numbers weren't incredibly big, but they have progressed each season under Cohen. The Bulldogs never seemed to be out of ballgames because when the hits weren't coming, they could make something else happen by way of being patient at the plate and finding a way on base. With just a combined .251 batting average, the Bulldogs had a lot to improve on over the course of the year but were without major component C.T. Bradford in the lineup.
Bradford has been a force for the Bulldogs defensively, but also is a guy that can make things happen once on base. He was injured earlier in the year only to come back and play several games making a significant defensive impact but still struggling to produce offensively. Another shoulder injury sidelined him for the season and the Bulldogs were without a major player.
Fast-forward to the SEC tournament. State was playing with guys like Tyler Fullerton and Demarcus Henderson because of the lack of depth. Both were guys that the coaches didn't want to rush but both made huge impacts during the year defensively and while on base. Henderson beat out several bunts for hits with his freakish speed and showed Bulldog fans what they had to look forward to.
Let's get into this speed, shall we? We'll start with what State has back. In the outfield, you will be hard-pressed to find a faster group. Bradford should be back 100% and Henderson made up ground during his redshirt freshman season playing lots of outfield and he turned into quite the player. Beside him in center is a guy that everyone is waiting to fulfill his true potential.
Hunter Renfroe went back to play summer ball this past year and did nothing but set records and become the first player in Cal Ripkin League history to have his number retired with the Bethseda (Maryland) Big Train. A freakish athlete, Renfroe might be one of the best to ever wear the Maroon and White. The problem is, no one has seen him put it all together. The whole country saw those talents in the outfield this past season as several tried to test his arm in the outfield only to be gunned down. But his speed is what is dangerous. He's able to cover lots of field out there and he could be a big time factor down the stretch.
Offensively is where this speed will eventually become the biggest factor. Cohen loves him some small ball and I don't expect that to change. And now the addition of several elite speedsters will make this team even more dangerous. In the off season, Cohen got junior college outfielder, Derrick Armstrong from Columbia, Tenn., Junior College. What Armstrong lacks in hitting power, he makes up for in pure speed. Cohen also went north of the border to Canada and found to incredible talents in Jacob Robson and Kyle Hann. Both can turn a single into a double on a routine blooper into the outfield and get great jumps off the bag. These three alone give State even more weapons.
Adam Frazier and Sam Frost also have been known for good speed on the base paths and they will help the young guys progress throughout the year.
Speed is the future and speed is now for MSU. Give me stolen bases and small ball all day in college baseball over the 450 ft. home runs because that is what will get MSU to the next level and Cohen knows as much.