Talking Fall Baseball with Coach John Cohen

Here is a sneak preview of a Question and Answer session David Murray had with Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen for the next issue of Dawgs' Bite magazine. With fall baseball scrimmages set to start this coming Thursday, I thought many of you would be interested in a few snippets from David's very extensive Q&A with Coach Cohen.

Opening Day is still months away, yet all October there are plenty opportunities to watch the 2011 Diamond Dog squad taking shape. A smaller shape, too, since Coach John Cohen had 44 players reporting for fall baseball and only 35 can wear the uniform come February. Of course the big fact is just how critical this semester will be in getting Mississippi State finally turned in the desired direction. The first two seasons were frustrating, and if this has taken longer than hoped Cohen does see opportunity in year-three if fall ball plays out positively. Prior to the opening of team camp the coach discussed the squad and the process of reshaping a roster than can return Bulldog baseball to winning ways.

DB: Is there a target date for paring the roster down to 35?
"At the end of fall meetings you do that. Because you want the kids who don't make the roster to have other opportunities. And quite frankly we have some guys who will not make the 35-man roster who are injured and won't be able to play during the course of the season. But, 99% of the kids who don't make the roster really were told ahead of time of the restrictions that we had, and that it is going to be a tough road for them. But to their credit they wanted to try out. You don't have to make that decisions until February but we will when we have the meetings at the end of the fall."

DB: Run through some health situations.
"The two biggest injuries that we're concerned with at this point in time are Nick Routt, who we think has really come around. He's throwing 40 pitches at a time in kind of a BP-segment off the mound. We're very optimistic he'll be full-speed at some time during this fall.

"Ben Bracewell obviously is not going to pitch for us at all. That really hurts because Ben had some experiences in some key situations where you think he is going to make a huge leap this year. Mentally he is ready to make a huge leap. But we knew right from the beginning last fall when we were able to throw him one or two innings once a week, and he just experienced pain from the moment he walked on campus. But if anyone is tough enough to come off this I think it's Ben and he will be incredibly productive in the future.

"Michael Dixon had surgery (fall 2009). Dr. Rusty Linton just felt the elbow without looking at a MRI in his physical and said exactly when Michael was going to hurt his arm. And he did. What's shocking to us was Michael was throwing 94, 95 at that time. He's a really tough kid. Usually the Tommy John recovery is 12-to-17 months, somewhere in that range. But he made some huge strides this summer and I won't be surprised if he can't pitch for us this spring at some point. He's only throwing now at 75-80% but it's a real arm, the only thing Michael needs is time to work on locating pitches. If he can do that he can be a really dominating guy.

"Jarrod Parks looks great, he is a physical specimen. He's worked so hard to get in shape. The back is still a little bit of a factor but he's going full-speed in practice every day. If we can keep him healthy that's a huge pick-up for us because I think he is a real middle-of-order SEC type hitter; a real defender on the infield. Is that going to be third base, is is gonna be first base, I don't know. But not having him last year was a blow to our ball club and he didn't get as much attention. But he is a very good player, a very tough kid mentally and physically.

"Brent Brownlee has been doing great, I'm really pleased with his progress. He is just one of those kids that for whatever reason has just had awful luck. We're a better team with him out there. You just mentioned two kids that could have changed the nature of our club last year, if you have Brownlee playing defense in the outfield and Jarrod playing some defense in the infield it changes our team. But, it wasn't going to change our pitching which was the biggest factor. Brent is a phenomenal athlete we'd love to see have a complete season without any injuries."

"C.C. Watson had a couple of nicks at the end of last year, we feel he's completely healthy. Jonathan Ogden had surgery, he really played on a broken foot the entire season and he's healthy now. Cody Freeman just had surgery on his left shoulder and we have every reason to believe he is going to come back."

DB: Last year you had a stretch in the order that couldn't run or steal. Does that changes with this roster?
"Yes. Even a David Bishop, he has some power but he has the ability to run a little bit too. Cody Abraham can really run. C.T. Bradford can really run. Garrett Pitts came here for our testing and ran a 6.6-sixty the first day. Hunter Renfroe is an above-average runner for his size. Taylor Stark can fly, I mean he's a 6.4-sixty guy. Even Wes Thigpen is a great runner for a catcher, Vickerson runs better than people think. Demarcus Henderson can really run. Ryan Collins runs better than average, Brownlee is a speed guy. Sam Frost can really go and has a good idea what he's doing at this point."

"Brett Bozeman is not a runner, he's going to swing at first base and give us some depth behind the plate. Wes Rea is definitely not a runner but he fits for a lot of reasons. He can be that 20% or 30% that is real power, but he can really defend at first base. He's very athletic for a guy that is 6-5 and weighs 285 pounds. Daryl Norris has tremendous power but actually runs pretty good, too. At quarterback (which he played in high school) you've go to be able to run away from that defensive end!"

DB: Two months from now do you expect to have a lineup and rotation, or is it more likely we'll be working right up to Opening Day?
"Well, I really like playing a lot of guys early. The way the schedule works out this year I think we're going to have some opportunities to get a lot of guys involved and really see what they can do. I can really envision playing 14 or 15 positional players.

"And of course what you need in college baseball is six arms to step forward. To move into the tournament and be successful in a tournament scenario you really need six arms. Out of those, three log a lot of innings for you; then those other guys need to be situational and need to understand their role. Now, everybody is going to carry 9, 10, 11 arms with them. But you really need six guys to step forward. If you don't have six guys that can carry the load for you, it puts so much pressure on the two or three. When you can leave a game early in the sixth inning and you know the guys behind you can come in and do a great job out of the pen it alleviates so much stress. Because now you're not trying to make perfect pitches, you try to be much more economical. I really think Kendall and Girodo, C.C., Devin are going to make a jump. I really do. Obviously Stratton. I think we have some leadership in the sophomore and junior guys that are going to be able to do some things this year."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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