Baseball Signees Update

[Premium Article] As we continue to update the recent <!--Default For Mississippi State is to ignore-->Mississippi State baseball signees, the emphasis still seems to be on the newest group of arms that head coach Ron Polk and his staff are bringing into Starkville. Of course, with juniors Paul Maholm and Jonathan Papelbon and sophomore Todd Nicholas all draft-eligible, it is easy to see why a lot of this year's class has seen their share of mound duties.

Caledonia's Josh Johnson recently finished up his senior season, and showed strong signs of getting back his fastball velocity after suffering arm problems early in the year. Johnson, who was also recruited by Ole Miss and Delta State, signed with MSU months ago and is a 6-foot, 175-pound, right-handed pitcher.

"My season really started out slow with my arm injuries," said Johnson. "And right when our season was almost over, I really started to warm back up. I really came around at the end of the season and had my fastball getting up to around 95.

"At the beginning of the year, my fastball was only around 88 or so and guys were starting to hit me pretty good. But now I am averaging over 90 or so."

Johnson also noted that he will continue to work on his strength while counting down the days that he will arrive in Starkville for his college career.

"I am really going to hit the weights and try to stay in shape," said Johnson, who is not expected to be drafted. "I really struggled to keep in shape after my arm troubles. I was used to throwing about every three or four days but I had to rest a lot early on.

"But I am excited about getting over to MSU and look forward to the opportunity, and see what it is all about. I have always been a State fans and grew up around the baseball atmosphere. And there is just no place like the 'Left-Field Lounge'.

While the arm troubles will probably keep Johnson from drawing much attention from the MLB scouts, another MSU signee throwing from the right side may get a few looks. Taylor Bennett, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound pitcher from Covington, Tenn., noted that his intentions are still to be in Starkville in the fall of 2003.

"There was a chance and still is a chance that I will be drafted around the middle rounds," said Bennett.

"But I am not worried about that at all because I really want to play at MSU and want to be a Bulldog. And that is what I told Coach Polk when I signed.

"Growing up, I always had a dream to play either at MSU or at LSU. And MSU gave me that opportunity and there is not a better coach in America to play for than Coach Polk."

The hard-throwing Bennett has enjoyed a senior season with his fastball averaging around 92 or 93 miles per hour. And this upcoming summer, this polite and aggressive thrower hopes to continue to develop his changeup. Bennett is currently 5-1 on the year with a team-leading 58 strikeouts with his lone loss coming in a 2-1 setback to nationally-ranked powerhouse Germantown, Tenn.

In his last outing, Bennett tossed a five-inning, one-hitter against Haywood High School with eight K's.

"My season has been pretty good and have I thrown the ball well all season," said Bennett. "I hope to throw a little better but right now, I have been satisfied with my performances. My fastball is getting up to 92 or 93 consistently.

"I have worked on my changeup this year and it has really helped me to be a better pitcher on the mound. And that will be the main thing I focus on this summer and in the offseason, trying to better my changeup."

Bennett was highly recruited before inking with State, receiving heavy interest from Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas and Clemson.

"The main things I loved about State was just the game atmosphere there," admitted Bennett. "You have a lot of fans at the games, with all of the grills and smoke in the outfield. MSU is a baseball school and I also liked the pitching coach Schoenrock. It just seemed like a great place to play baseball and I can't wait to get down there for college."

Paul Jones is a recruiting correspondent for Gene's Page. Paul, also a sports writer for the Starkville Daily News, can be reached by email at

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