Even though your internal thermometer still says it's winter outside, it's once again time for bats, cleats and cheap seats. The opening pitch will be tossed this upcoming Friday night as Mississippi State kicks off its 2012 season with a series against Pac-12 foe Washington State.
State looks to pick up where they left off at the end of last season when they got red hot, winning the Atlanta Regional against Georgia Tech and taking National #1 seed Florida to the brink, falling just a few outs shy of a bid for their first trip to Omaha since 2007. With first pitch just days away, we've asked some people who know the diamond dawgs well to come in and help us get your ready for another season at the college baseball cathedral, Dudy Noble Field, Polk-Dement Stadium.
We have a lot of information to help you get ready for this season, so we'll be dividing it up into 3 posts. Post 1 (this one), will feature the first portion of our Q&A with Todd Littell. Post 2, which will follow this afternoon, will feature the second portion of our Q&A with Todd. Post 3, which will go up tomorrow morning, will wrap up our talk with Todd as well as give you some links, an anticipated starting lineup card, and even a quote on the 2012 squad from Baseball America senior writer Aaron Fitt. Lots of good stuff in all 3 posts guys, and I encourage you to check them all out.
Our first post kicks of with a Q&A with Todd Littell. Todd Littell, known to many as Todd4State on Sixpackspeak.com, has stopped by to answer a few questions on this years team. For many of us who have frequented Sixpack over the years, Todd has become the go-to resource on bulldog baseball info. You can find the first part of our Q&A with Todd after the jump #HailState
Q1: Everyone knows the strength of this years team will be the pitching staff (if they can stay healthy). Who do you expect to carry the offensive load this year with guys like Jared Parks and Nick Vickerson are gone and graduated?
Todd: I think you have to look at the top of the order and it starts with CT Bradford and Adam Frazier. I think Brent Brownlee will have good year because he is a fifth year senior. One thing people need to remember about the offense is that at this time last year, there were a lot of concerns too, but no one knew that Jarrod Parks was going to hit near .400. I'm not quite as worried as some people may be about the offense because John Cohen's forte is hitting. He is one of the best hitting coaches in the country, so I think we will be OK, but there's no doubt that we should be even better next year because we will have a ton of experienced hitters.
To me, the real question is how much power are we going to have, because we have some guys that have power that are unproven, but as people say: power is one of the last things that comes to a lot of hitters. I think the difference between this years team offensively and last years team is we were very experienced last year, but this year we are more talented. So, I actually think we will see a similar offensive performance to last year but we'll be relying more on our talent than our experience.
I can't wait until we have a team that has both talent AND experience. I know the coaches can't either.
Todd: Chris Stratton and Nick Routt will be the Friday and Saturday starters. To me, they are very similar that it doesn't really matter which one pitches Friday and which one pitches Saturday. Having Routt back 100% will make a huge difference for us simply because he will be able to pitch deeper into games and that will help save the bullpen. Both Stratton and Routt pitched for the same team in the Cape Cod League, and both pitched very, very well. In fact, their team, the Harwich Mariners, won the Cape Cod League Championship. The Cape is definitely a pitchers league, but I think that will give both Stratton and Routt confidence going into this season. Especially Stratton: he is learning to maximize his outings and that he doesn't have to strike everyone out. I thought he did a really good job of that in the Cape, and I think State fans are going to notice that he is a lot more efficient this year, and again, that will help the bullpen out.
The Sunday spot is up for grabs. I think Evan Mitchell is probably going to be the favorite early on. He has maybe the best stuff on the team, but he needs to continue to develop as a pitcher and gain strength and be more durable. I think Kendall Graveman also has a really good chance at getting the Sunday spot. He pitched in the Cape Cod League as well, and he has SEC starting experience. He went 5-0 last year and he likes to attack hitters. To be honest with you, I think Graveman will end up with the Sunday job.
Ben Bracewell is a strong possibility as well. I think he profiles more as a closer than anything, so it will be interesting to see what the coaches do with him next year once he is 100% healthy. More than likely, I suspect Bracewell will be a midweek starter and then once SEC play starts they will move him to the bullpen. And then there's always the possibilty that a freshman like Trevor Fitts, Will Cox, Brandon Woodruff, or Jacob Lindgren could get the Sunday spot, but with what we have already, I think they're going to have to be just absolutely dominant to get a spot.
As far as first out of the bullpen- obviously that depends on the situation in the game and the status of your bullpen, but here's how I'll look at it- if it's the Championship Game of the College World Series, and my team is in a jam, who would I call on to get out of it? And the answer is Caleb Reed without question. He's a senior who wants the ball, and he's an All-SEC guy and he can do whatever I want him to do. If we need him to pitch seven innings of relief, he can do that. If we need him to get one out, he can do that too. He's a great example of a guy that doesn't light up the radar gun, but he is still overpowering because he throws strikes and he has a lot of movement on his pitches, and then you never know when he is going to drop down on you. That's tough for a hitter. Again, he pitched in the Cape Cod League with Stratton and Routt, and I actually think he has a future in pro baseball, but they will probably want him to drop down and be a submarine pitcher if I had to guess.
Q3: any guesses preliminarily at a starting 8 in the field for State when play starts Feb 17th?
C- Mitch Slauter and Hunter Renfroe will probably platoon at catcher, and I think we will see Renfroe play a lot of other positions as well - mainly DH and the outfield.
1B- Wes Rea and Trey Porter will probably platoon at first in the beginning of the year. Rea is a right handed hitter and Porter is a left handed hitter, so it will depend on who is pitching that day.
2B- Matthew Britton will start at second base. This is the one position on the team that has the most competition. You could see Philip Casey, Sam Frost, and Demarcus Henderson play here as well. And again, we may see a platoon here if Demarcus Henderson plays well because he is the only right handed hitter out of this group.
3B- Daryl Norris is the favorite. He has totally changed his batting stance for the better. It will be much more closed than what it was last year, and I think that will help him out. Brayden Jones has a chance to get in the lineup here if he hits well. If that happens, you will probably see them move Norris to first base. Nick Flair has a ton of talent - he was drafted by the Pirates last year, but he has had some injuries and I'm not sure how much he will contribute this year. It's all going to depend on his health.
SS- Adam Frazier. He wants the job, and I think he has earned it. He doesn't profile as a shortstop as far as the pros, but he is one of the hardest workers on the team, and I think he will do a great job and take a big step forward this year.
LF- Brent Brownlee. He's a fifth year senior and I think he will have a very good year for us. The biggest thing is he needs to stay healthy and stay away from Arkansas fans. Defensively, he's good enough to play center field for most teams in the SEC. I'd like to see him steal at least 10 bases, but I think the coaches may be reluctant to run him at times because of his injury history.
CF- CT Bradford. According to John Cohen, he played with a sports hernia last year, and he had a pretty darn good year for a freshman. Now that he is healthy, he should be even better. I'd like to see him steal more bases and be more efficient stealing bases. Having a better number two hitter should help with that, as well as experience and being healthy. It would not shock me to see him hit .400 one day. He also has a very accurate arm from the outfield.
RF- Brandon Woodruff. I think he is a legit dual position player that can be a starting pitcher one day and a position player the next, which is very rare. He was a fifth round draft pick by the Rangers last year, and that's the highest we've had a signee drafted probably since Paul Maholm. The biggest question is how quickly can he transition from playing 1A baseball in Mississippi to the SEC? In my opinion, he was the most talented player in the state of Mississippi last year as far as high school players go; if he played at Madison Central or Tupelo, he would have been the player of the year, but he is from Wheeler.
DH- Taylor Stark. I think Taylor will play a lot, and you certainly could see anyone I mentioned above as our DH, but Stark is going to be our fourth outfielder to start the year, and I think he will start quite a bit depending on who is struggling, who needs a day off, and etc. He's a great option to have because he can legitimately play all three outfield spots because of his speed, and he also has some power. And he will contribute as a pitcher as well out of the bullpen.