Thompson Talks Pitching

Mississippi State assistant coach Butch Thompson, who coaches the pitchers for MSU, talks about his fall impressions of the pitchers.

Overall, what are your thoughts about the pitching staff as a group after watching them during the fall scrimmages?
"Our goals during the fall was our health, development and strength in that order. And also for the guys to have a chip on their shoulder. I think our pitching staff is well aware that success for our program has a lot to do with them preparing for the season and doing some good things on the mound.

"One of the things we did early on during the fall was have them throw 80%, command the ball and get a feel. The year before I got here we had walked the least amount of guys in the SEC. And that is important. I always want that to be the identity of the pitching staff that I am a part of. And that has not been the case in our first two years. So, we tried to reach back to things we did in the past to make that happen.

"We did a deal of 20 pitches per inning (during the fall scrimmages) where the guys were trying to develop efficiency by getting three outs in 20 pitches. That was a huge part of what we built around in our fall intersquads."

There were several pitchers that weren't able to pitch in the fall scrimmages due to health issues. How are those guys doing?
"Taking the fall off were Nick Routt, Michael Dixon and Tim Statz. They have all started throwing now and are pointing toward the season. It looks like January will be a big time for them. With all the other guys coming out of the fall healthy and adding those three guys as well Paxton Pace, who threw a little bit in the fall, after they get caught up to speed we will be as healthy as we have been since I have been here at Mississippi State."

Where does Chris Stratton fit on this year's staff?
"Chris, who is our number 1 pitcher, is very healthy. We did a drill the other day where they really move their feet and throw for velocity, kind of an end of the fall type deal. And he was 96 to 98 (miles per hour) in doing that drill. We are excited about where he is at right now."

Chris didn't have as good of a fall this year as he did last year as a true freshman.
"We tried to do some different things with Chris arsenal-wise. With Chris, efficiency is so important to him. His curveball is a great pitch for him but it's about a 40% strike pitch, so we tried to add a cutter or slider, whatever you want to call it, and played with the two-seam fastball a little bit. We stretched Chris this fall and he was a champion. Probably half the pitches he threw were either a new pitch or a weakness pitch because we were trying to develop them for him."

You mentioned that he threw 96 to 98 miles per hour. The hardest I've seen him throw is around 94 miles per hour.
"It's basically like if you are long tossing the ball. So, you have all of your momentum going. To me, it gives them a sense of health and also lets them know what is in their body. It also allows them to finish the fall on a high note."

Who would you rate as the number 2 pitcher?
"Devin Jones. We did very little with Devin Jones (in the fall). We just asked him to get his body going at 80%. He has really embraced the 80% concept and I don't think he has lost any velocity. He did some great things in the fall. He had the least amount of three-ball counts on our pitching staff. He just did a really nice job for us. I thought he had the most efficient fall of any of our pitchers. He basically has put himself in position to get an opportunity to be one of our starters."

Who is the next pitcher?
"Chad Girodo was 90-91 (miles per hour) his last outing. The guys took horrible swings off of him, especially on the breaking ball. With the way he finished the fall, that will win in our league."

Why did his velocity increase so much?
"We really closed up his delivery and he wrapped a little bit more. We did some things with him because deception is the key with Chad. He is probably our best command guy but he has gotten hit. He's always had command with a good pickoff move. But he knew deception was an issue for him last year, too many balls were hit hard. I think he added deception (this fall). It wasn't just that he was throwing hard that last outing, those guys were swinging and missing and he was rolling through them pretty quickly. By adding velocity and adding extra life on that fastball, it made the curveball better, which made it a tougher adjustment for the hitter."

Do you feel Chad can be an SEC weekend starter?
"If he maintains what he did at the end of the fall he can pitch against anybody."

Nick Routt was an SEC starter as a freshman. How is he doing?
"Once Nick left the Florida game last spring in the second inning we have really tried to figure out what is going on with him. We have done three MRIs, put him through a throwing program three times trying to get him back to 100%. But something was just not right. It's great with him right now. Dr. Linton did a nerve replacement on him (where he moved the nerve over). And it's pretty exciting where Nick is at. Nick's arm is firing. He's going at it 100%."

Who is next on the pitching staff?
"My most exciting new guy is a freshman, Evan Mitchell. He came right at you as a freshman. He threw hard, showing 91-92 (miles per hour), and he showed a second pitch, a slider. He is also a very athletic kid. You have a good arm, a good secondary pitch, a good athlete with a good mindset. With the luxury of some guys returning, Evan doesn't have to be thrust into the role like Chris Stratton, Chad Girodo and Kendall Graveman did last spring. Because we are going to need a fourth, fifth and sixth starter at times, Evan has the opportunity to get something like that. He also has the opportunity to be a three or six out pitcher in the back end, like a 7th or 8th inning pitcher. We don't have to throw him to the wolves like we did the young guys last year."

Kendall Graveman is one of those young guys from last spring.
"Kendall can do anything - he can start or he can throw out of the pen. He really made some strides in some areas. Our guys ranked him pretty high as a pitcher. His first-pitch strike ratio was third on the staff. His pitches per inning was second on the staff. His three-ball count was fourth on the pitching staff. His ability to throw strikes was what hurt him last season. And I can see him getting even better than he was this fall because one outing he's dominating, and one outing his consistency is not there. Consistency is what we are looking for from Kendall. I want to see a model of consistency from Kendall in January and February.

"We took Kendall backwards a little bit this fall, much like I was talking about Stratton. And we've seen some good results out of that. And I think he's better due to adding to his arsenal and also just the ability to cut down his three-ball count."

Caleb Reed had a good fall.
"I'm tickled to death about Caleb because the ball is coming out of his hand better than it ever has. Caleb wound up throwing so much last year and it wasn't due to his stuff but because he did things the right way. When things weren't going well I knew what I could get out of Caleb. I knew I would get his heart and his mind because I knew he had totally bought into what we were doing. I don't think he is a Friday night starter but I do think he was made to be a bullpen guy. He was kind of over the top and not very deceptive as a freshman. Last year, he was more underneath and it's such a challenge for those kind of pitchers to get left-hand hitters out. In year three, what Caleb is doing is a mixture of both slots. Hopefully, that will be his ticket to compete against right and left hand hitters."

C.C. Watson.
"He had a good fall but we still haven't gotten him back to the velocity that he had when he came in here as a freshman. He has a good arm and a really good curveball, which has been his trademark his entire career. Health was huge with him. That was a concern of mine. He came back the second term of summer school and all the way up to (now) he has been able to throw every time he was asked to throw. He was actually in the top 10 in every pitching category that we kept. So, to me, we accomplished our mission with him.

"But, from an ability to go out and pitch and get some guys out right now, he still has some work to do in that area. But nobody outworks C.C. Watson. He is probably the hardest worker on our pitching staff.

"I think he is our left-handed specialist. With his breaking ball and if he can keep the pitch count in his favor, I think that is what he is made to do. We can really focus on that in January and February."

Who are some of the other new guys?
"Victor Diaz had a good fall. He is on that bubble of being able to find a spot. I think he, Luis Pollorena and Andrew Busby, are guys who are battling for some kind of role on our pitching staff. I don't think they have quite grabbed it yet. They had up and down falls. The talent is there, their stuff is good enough and they are SEC pitchers. But from time to time they didn't breeze through their outings, through the lineup or through the innings. We have some refining to do with all three of them.

"I think Victor is going to be a great pitcher who will be able to get lefties out because he has a great changeup. And you can see flashes from him but his consistency was kind of in and out.

"Luis has great awareness and can control the running game. The guys love him and I think our fans are going to love him once they get a feel for his personality. Luis picked his velocity up a little bit late. He had pitched a ton in the spring for his junior college, pitched zero innings in the summer. And I just felt that he never really got it going where he felt comfortable in the fall.

"Andrew is a (junior college) transfer who came in here kind of behind from a health-wise and conditioning-wise standpoint and I could see that in his arm. I felt like the last couple of weeks was the first time when he finally got over some of his ailments. There were also some adjustments that needed to be made for him to have success in our league. He's a 6-5 guy who is slow to the plate. We have to adjust that. We aren't there yet with him, but I do recognize the skill that he has."

Another new guy is freshman C.T. Bradford.
"C.T. is arguably the best pitcher on our pitching staff. I think he might be a closer candidate right now. I don't care how young he is. He comes right at you with his fastball. I don't think he throws faster than everybody else, it's 88 to 90, but it's always a strike and the hitter always feels like he has to swing. His WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched) was number 1 on the pitching staff. And I think he is a winner.

"He was Mister Baseball in the state of Florida and there have only been 18 of those. Eleven of those eighteen have played in the big leagues. And 10 of the 18 were first-rounders. I don't know if people in our area realize how prestigious of an award that is. And to this point he has lived up to every bit of that award. He comes to play every day and never takes a rep off. It is very impressive to watch that day in and day out."

How did Daryl Norris do?
"Daryl is a righthander who I love. He is another one of those winner kind of guys. He works so hard at everything that he does. He is a dual guy like C.T. Bradford. I think he is going to have a chance to impact us offensively as well as pitching. He divided his reps and had some really good moments during the fall. I did think he lost a little bit of steam on the pitching mound toward the end of the fall. I thought his arm slowed down a little bit on the mound as we got toward the end of the fall. He was working hard to get defensive reps at first base, to pitch and to hit. He probably stretched himself thin doing that.

"He is kind of in the same situation as Evan Mitchell and Kendall Graveman, a fourth, fifth starter or a three to six out guy in the bullpen."

Will Taylor Stark pitch for you?
"We'll start back pitching with him in January. He had a pulled hamstring that derailed his entire fall. He has a great arm with a great slider."

Will Cody Abraham pitch for you this spring?
"He might. He has a good, hard slider. Instead of trying to do too much with him, we will probably hone in and see if he can be a lefthanded specialist in January and February."

What are your thoughts about Ross Mitchell?
"Ross is a lefty who we have to get stronger and more filled out. He's a three-pitch guy who saw the strike zone elude him at times. When he filled up the strike zone and commanded the count he had real success. He threw first-pitch strikes as well as anybody on our team but after that he got deeper in the count. He threw a ton of pitches to every batter. But him being a left-hander with fastball movement he's not that far away."

How is Ben Bracewell doing with his shoulder surgery rehab?
"He is (almost) doing too good. It is the best I have seen an arm fire after the type surgery that he had. He has not had a setback. It has been amazing. But his rehab is a nine to twelve month rehab which would be in the middle of our season. I think he can come back after this season and be as good as any pitcher that we have. I think he is going to be better than he was before. That's how excited I am about him."

How is Michael Dixon's rehab going?
"Under the advisement of his doctor, we started him back up on November 16th. He is still at a very introductory state of his throwing program. He has thrown (the ball) and felt great. But I take it with a grain of salt because everybody feels pretty good at the 60' and 90' ranges. It's when you advance to the distances of 120' and 150' and really get on the mound and start turning the arm around when you get a true acid test.

"I think it is important for Michael, Paxton Pace and Tim Statz, who will start throwing on December 1st, to be on par by January 5th with where the pitchers are starting back up at. They need to be able to start enduring the same workload as the other pitchers."

How is Wes Rea doing with his pitching rehab?
"He is coming off shoulder surgery. His throwing program has been delayed due to one thing after another. Hopefully, he'll begin throwing once we get back from Thanksgiving. He's swinging the bat and doing conditioning and is up to speed in those areas. But he really hasn't started advancing on his throwing program yet."

What are your thoughts about Hunter Renfroe as a pitcher?
"Hunter is a phenomenal athlete. I pointed him toward the mound once a week (this fall) and let him throw. He is working so hard at hitting and catching we just showed him where the mound was once a week and he went out there and threw. And (his stuff) was electric."

Do you see him pitching much this coming season?
"I do. And I think he's going to be able to do whatever he wants to. He might be a big-league catcher in a few years, too. I just think he's going to be a phenomenal player. But like any human in the world who is coming from high school to the SEC there is some natural growth that he has to do and learn some finer points. But there is no denying that he has a great arm. There are just some command issues that we have to work on."

Where do Tanner Gaines and Jordan Faulkner fit on the staff?
"Tanner probably improved as much as any pitcher that we had through the fall. He started the fall a little erratic but we tried to make his arm more shorter and compact. And I thought he did a really good job of starting to throw more strikes during the end of the fall. I'm proud of where his growth is but we still have a lot of work to do with him. And he's aware of that. He's so athletic and there is so much arm strength in him. We do a run and go and gun them at the end of the fall just to have them leave on a positive note. And he was throwing the ball 96 miles per hour off the run and go. I know he's not standing in a balanced position and pitching but it kind of lends insight into how talented and how athletic Tanner is.

"Jordan has walked on two years in a row. He came from Meridian Community College. He has real stuff. He can throw a baseball 90 miles per hour and has a good curveball at times. And he can show a changeup to lefties. But he had too many three-ball counts this fall. Becoming more efficient and staying ahead in the count is his whole deal."

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Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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