A lot of credit for the success of the 2010 squad goes to a bunch of seniors who appeared to have completely bought into the John Cohen style of play - work hard, do the little things and never give up. Seniors Cody Freeman, Ryan Collins, Nick Vickerson, Jonathan Ogden, Wes Thigpen, Jarrod Parks, Jaron Shepherd and Trey Johnson will be missed.
Now those eight seniors, all position players, have passed the Bulldog torch onto a group of very talented youngsters that are almost all freshmen or redshirt freshmen, including All SEC freshman team members C.T. Bradford (outfield) and Adam Frazier (shortstop/second baseman, 18 starts, 38 games played in), as well as 27-game starter freshman Daryl Norris (first base). Others who will be battling for starting positions in 2011 are freshman outfielder Taylor Stark (started 8 games, played in 20 total), redshirt freshman middle infielder Demarcus Henderson (played in 10 games), freshman catcher/outfielder Hunter Renfroe (started 5 games, played in 14), redshirt freshman third baseman Brayden Jones, redshirt freshman first baseman Wes Rea and redshirt freshman outfielder Cody Abraham. Of those nine players, five were drafted in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. Also expected back is senior-to-be outfielder Brent Brownlee (39 starts, 46 games overall) and junior-to-be infielder Sam Frost (11 starts, 40 games played in).
When you look at the list of players above one thing sticks out among the majority of them, lack of experience. Of the eleven, only five have a significant amount of experience - Bradford, Frazier, Norris, Brownlee and Frost. And Frost's experience was mostly in 2010 when he started 32 games while batting .248 with 0 home runs and 13 RBI. In 2011 he lost his position to Nick Vickerson who moved from third to second.
But of the other four - Brownlee, Bradford, Frazier and Norris - all played significant roles during 2011 and all, for the most part, hit the ball well. Bradford hit .303 with 34 RBI, while Brownlee hit .279 with 1 home run and 24 RBI, Norris hit .277 with 20 RBI and Frazier hit .274 with 14 RBI.
Those numbers may not seem like that big of a deal but when you consider the number of players returning from the 2010 squad it will impress you. Mississippi State, in 2010, lost five of their seven top hitters while returning seven players (six if you exclude Sam Frost who is still on the team) who played significant roles on the 2010 squad. Of those seven, only two had better hitting stats than Brownlee, Bradford, Frazier and Norris - Vickerson (.328, 8 HR, 27 RBI) and Freeman (.301, 3 HR, 26 RBI).
Basically, it comes down to this - of the position players on the 2010 squad who made significant contributions in 2010 six returned (Vickerson, Freeman, Collins, Shepherd, Thigpen, Ogden) and made major contributions in 2011. In 2012, MSU returns four positions players (Brownlee, Bradford, Frazier, Norris) who made significant contributions in 2011. That's a difference of two, but the ones returning in 2012 will, based on what we saw from them in 2011, likely be better hitters than the 2011 seniors with the exception of Vickerson.
Of course, MSU also graduated their top hitter of the 2011 seniors, Jarrod Parks. But he didn't play in 2010 due to redshirting so I would consider him a newcomer. And speaking of newcomers, based on the past five years (2007-2011), there were always two, four even five newcomers who have come in and played major roles offensively. In 2007 it was Connor Powers (.306) and Mark Goforth (.282). In 2008 it was Ryan Collins (.345), Grant Houge (.320), Cody Freeman (.310), Tyler Moore (.299) and Jason Nappi (.274). In 2009 it was Scott Deloach (.353) and Luke Adkins (.279). In 2010 it was Vickerson (.328) and Shepherd (.250). And in 2011 it was Parks (.363), Bradford (.303), Norris (.277) and Frazier (.274). I would expect the same similar number of impact newcomers in 2012. As for who they may be I would guess several current freshmen, Hunter Renfroe (pro scouts and MSU coaches rave about his potential), Taylor Stark (has power potential per Lane Burroughs) and redshirt freshman Brayden Jones (personally saw his hitting ability in the fall scrimmages). And, based on past history, there likely will be an incoming newcomer who will hit well whether it be a true freshman or one of the two junior college catchers.
When you add the numbers up, you can expect the offensive losses of the current seniors to be replaced by improved offensive production from the returning starters and the impact of two, three and even four newcomers. That means MSU should have between six and eight solid hitters in the 2012 lineup. If that happens, then it would mean that the 2012 lineup would be better than 2011.
As for the pitching, MSU will return all but one pitcher from this year's staff (drafted junior Devin Jones). Plus several injured pitchers will be back to full strength and four highly thought of incoming freshmen pitchers will be on the 2012 team.
And if 2011 is an indicator of what is expected to happen in 2012, almost all of the pitchers should show improvement. Caleb Reed improved his ERA from 6.99 in 2010 to 1.55 in 2011, Kendall Graveman improved from 6.66 to 3.65, Nick Routt from 6.52 to 3.86, Chad Girodo from 7.40 to 5.76. Even Devin Jones knocked almost 4 runs off his ERA, going from 8.16 to 4.37. And despite his struggles during the season, Chris Stratton's ERA went from 5.29 in 2010 to 5.21 in 2011.
If the newcomers on the 2011 staff improve their numbers even half that much, the pitching staff should improve dramatically. Consider this, of the newcomers, Evan Mitchell's ERA was 4.62, Taylor Stark's was 2.95, Daryl Norris' was 3.20, Luis Pollorena's was 4.45, and Tim Statz's was 4.64.
Then you can add to the 2012 staff injured pitchers such as redshirt sophomores Ben Bracewell and C.C. Watson and hard-throwing redshirt freshman Wes Rea. If healthy, all have the kind of arms that will get them drafted out of college after their junior seasons.
In addition to those pitchers, the MSU coaching staff signed four freshmen pitchers who should have significant impacts on the 2012 staff. If he doesn't sign a pro contract, 5th round draft choice Brandon Woodruff could have a major impact on the staff during his freshman season, as should 12th round draft choice Jacob Lindgren. Although not drafted, Trevor Fitts was highly thought of by some pro scouts but told them he was coming to college. And while Will Cox didn't get drafted he has excellent command of four pitches and has a fastball that he consistently throws in the high 80s to low 90s. All four could relieve or start.
When looking at the numbers, there should be plenty of pitchers to choose from when it comes to relievers and starters.
I discussed the position players and the pitchers. So, who do I project to play where next season?
I'll talk about the position players first.
Pitching-wise, there is a lot to choose from.
I have heard numerous names listed as candidates for the starting jobs, including Chris Stratton, Nick Routt, Evan Mitchell, Hunter Renfroe, Ben Bracewell, Trevor Fitts and Kendall Graveman. Really you could add in other names such as Tim Statz, Brandon Woodruff, Will Cox and Jacob Lindgren.
The relievers should come from a group that will include Caleb Reed, Luis Pollorena, Taylor Stark, Wes Rea. Daryl Norris, C.T. Bradford, C.C. Watson, Chad Girodo, Andrew Busby, Victor Diaz, Tanner Gaines and any of the guys listed above who don't wind up being starters.
If the State coaches can come up with three reliable SEC starters (the quality of arms are definitely there to do that), then the 2012 pitching staff could be the best ever at Mississippi State due to it's depth.
My pitching projections - starters and relievers.
When you combine the talent of the position players with the overall talent of the pitchers, I think the 2012 club has quite a bit more talent than the 2011 club had. The two keys of success for the 2012 club is how quickly the new position players hit the way I expect them to and finding three consistent SEC starting pitchers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.