Why so many hours on the January job for the staff? Simple, Cohen reminds. "When you're doing four kids at a time, it takes a tremendous amount of time on the coaches' part." But then it is time well-invested given the urgency Mississippi State has over the coming 2011 season. Or is it, opportunity?
Cohen looks at it as the latter based on evaluations of all fall practices and scrimmages, and what the Diamond Dogs did individually before the semester ended. "We already had high expectations for them to do during the break, and everybody has come back in great condition. So we wanted to get to competing every day." Thus the all-day schedule that began yesterday.
Great winter condition is not quite the same as ready-to-play condition of course, and Cohen said this is part of the January practice plan.
"And baseball is all about mental toughness. We want games to be fun and easy compared to what we're doing in practice, so it's more conditioning now than anything else." Speaking of fun, the coaching staff has structured work days to get the ‘fun' part out of the way; thus batting instructions and practices are generally held in the mornings, indoors.
"We all like to hit," Cohen said. "But I don't like using time hitting when the weather is good, because when we have it this time of year it's got to be defensive stuff." So it's B.P. in the A.M. followed by pitching and fielding in the afternoons. Evenings, even.
With the calendar now reading 2011 it is almost time for Mississippi State to finalize the spring roster. Though technically this can be delayed right up to opening day, Cohen said today that the squad list has been trimmed to 38. Yesterday oft-injured righthanded pitcher Paxton Pace told the coach he was done. "Paxton decided not to play any more yesterday. He's just deal with a lot of pain every day, to his credit he tried to battle through it but couldn't. I feel horrible for him, he's had nothing but issues since he got here." Pace will remain enrolled at State.
Three other, younger players will not. As reported in late fall, infield recruit Garrett Pitts is transferring to Meridian Community College. He will be joined by walk-on first baseman/lefthanded pitcher Nolan Thomas. And walk-on first baseman Jake Smithey will transfer to Itawamba Community College. All knew where they stood in the position-pecking orders after teammates submitted their fall semester ratings.
"After evaluations they felt junior college was in their best interests," Cohen said. "They have a chance to be pretty good players but you can't blame kids who want to play. They went through fall with a totally clean slate and open mind, eventually these things happen. It's always about the best interests of the kids and our program."
When fall baseball ended there were some other uncertain health situations, and Cohen said today there a couple are still wait-and-see with no redshirt decisions finalized. A high school shoulder problem will keep freshman Wes Rea from pitching as a rookie but State coaches like his big bat and impressive glovework at a position needing to be filled. "It's not out of the realm of possibility he can play first base this year," Cohen said. "He moves a lot better than we thought."
There is encouraging news as well about sophomore reliever Ben Bracewell, who at one time last fall was forecast to miss all of 2011 after a summer clean-up procedure on an old elbow ligament problem. Now, Cohen can't rule out activating Bracewell for the second season at some point.
"The last couple of pens I saw him throw were really good. Really, really good. I mean better than last year." Besides, Cohen said, Bracewell is not a kid to sit and watch. "He's got a Jeff Brantley-type personality, he's aggressive."
Juco lefthander Tim Statz has been delayed getting on the mound but now "He looks really good, he's going to be ready to go." Another health redshirt of '10, righthander Michael Dixon, is on rehab schedule after elbow surgery a year ago but that same schedule would not let him back on the mound for real until later this season. "We just have to wait and see," Cohen said.
With a January 28 start to team practicing, the Diamond Dogs will have three preseason weeks to work on lineups and rotations for their February 18 opener against Akron.