As a part of our preview for the upcoming 2013 Mississippi State baseball season, we reached out to a friend of ours, MsStateBaseball (Find him on Twitter or at his Blog), and asked him to give us his thoughts on the upcoming year. Here is what he had to say:
On John Cohen
John Cohen's first two teams were, let's say, abysmal (according to Mississippi State baseball standards). His 2009 team went 25-29. The 2010 team didn't fare much better, they were 23-33. But after two very good recruiting classes, the 2011 team went 38-25 and was 1 measly win away from Omaha, the home of the College World Series. The 2012 squad entered the season with kinda high expectations, only to be derailed by the injury bug a few days before the start of the SEC slate. Still, the team won 40 games with some of their better, most experienced players on the shelf for a few weeks. This, as the saying goes, laid the groundwork for the 2013 season which some experts expect to be the best one since Cohen came back to be head coach.
This is John Cohen's team now. All of Ron Polk's recruits have graduated or have been drafted by professional baseball. The players Cohen has brought in fit the way he wants to play. Some have speed, some have power, the pitchers are aggressive and they all work hard and expect to win.
On the pitching staff
The first order of business is to find a Friday night starter on the pitching staff. He sets the tone for the weekend. Last year, Chris Stratton didn't explode on the scene until the first SEC series. I expect the coaching staff to have the same sort of "tryout" as last year. The pre-season (before SEC play) will have several pitchers vying for the spot. Kendall Graveman (Sr), Ben Bracewell (RSJr), Evan Mitchell (Jr), Brandon Woodruff (So) and Jacob Lindgren (So) all appear to be the front-runners for the weekend rotation. Whoever shakes out of this group, will be the long reliever on the weekend or the Tuesday night starter. The relievers did an excellent job down the stretch in 2012, led by the closer Jonathan Holder (So). Chad Girodo (Sr) found himself during summer ball and I expect him to have a huge year. A LHP we really need it too. Ross Mitchell (So) and Luis (Pollo) Pollorena (Sr) will solidify the left handed group. C. T. Bradford (Jr) the starting center fielder may pitch some too. From the right side, Trevor Fitts (So), Will Cox (So), Preston Brown (RSFr), John Marc Shelley (Fr), Wes Stokes (Jr) all will get ample opportunity to show what they have and will be counted on out of the bullpen. Just remember this, Holder was nowhere to be seen the first few games, then he came on like gangbusters the last part of the season. So I never count anyone out of contributing to the pitching staff.
On the starting nine
The regular lineup is where I think we will surprise people. Starters C.T. Bradford in CF, Wes Rea (So) at 1B, and Daryl Norris (Jr) at 3B were hurt last year for weeks on end, so they didn't really show what they can do. Bradford will run down balls and throw runners out from CF, Norris will smoothly field balls at 3B and big, ole Rea will catch any ball thrown his way. All three will hit extremely well in 2013. If we can get the same year out of Adam Frazier (Jr) at shortstop, that would be huge. He rarely made a fielding error and he hit .371 leading off. The wild card is RF Hunter Renfroe (Jr). He had a huge summer offensively. He needs to hit 10 home runs and drive in 50+ for us to have a really good year. Those 5 guys are the key to success in 2013. The catcher will be iron man Mitch Slauter (Sr), a former JC player. He caught most of the games in 2012, and is a very good defender. His most capable backup is Nick Amirrati (Sr), another former JC guy. He was drafted by MLB out of HS. He came on strong offensively toward the end of fall practice.
The two open spots are at 2B and LF. Several players will compete for playing time. I predict 2B will be a platoon situation between JC player Brett Pirtle (Jr) who is a switch hitter and Matthew Britton (So) who has struggled with the bat but defensively is pretty good. The LF spot will open with Demarcus Henderson (Jr), but he will be pushed mightily by freshman Jacob Robson from Canada. Robson hit over .400 for the fall and he is a plus, plus runner. I can see Henderson playing in LF and Robson at DH. Speaking of DH, it could be several guys depending on the match ups. What is different this year is Cohen has brought in several junior college players for added depth and experience. I feel confident that we can overcome any injury to the fielders this year. The bottom line on hitting in 2013: those five guys must lead the team; Rea, Frazier, Norris, Bradford and Renfroe.
On the schedule
The non-conference schedule isn't anything to write home about, but still [State will] have some quality opponents. Purdue and Samford made the regionals last year. The yearly games with Southern Miss and Ole Miss in Pearl will add to the RPI. The SEC home slate is a nice one. LSU, Florida, and South Carolina head that group. Alabama and Auburn are the other two [home series]. Dudy Noble should be sold out on those weekends. The away series, as usual, will be tough. The first two away series are extremely hard. We go to Kentucky then Arkansas early in the year. Not only are you dealing with cooler weather but really talented clubs. Both of them are ranked in the top 10 preseason. The other 3 away series are Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss. Probably the last time we went to College Station was a regional several years ago.
My SEC prediction for Miss State is 16-14. Again, the SEC West may be the toughest division in college baseball; only the SEC East may rival it. I don't think we get swept by anyone. Obviously, I would like to win the SEC Regular season championship, but you need 20 wins for that. The two keys to the 2013 season are the weekend rotation and keeping everyone healthy. The hitting will be there. It was coming along when injuries hit last year. I also expect, as I do every year, some newcomer will take off [during] the middle of the year and be a player in the postseason. Like I said at the beginning, this is John Cohen's ball club now. He wants to win like Miss. State won in 1989 and 1990, but now he wants to take it to the next level. That level is winning SEC and NCAA championships.
Make sure to check out MsStateBaseball on Twitter or at his Blog to keep up with the latest MSU baseball commitments, former players now in the major leagues, and much more. A big thanks for his input.