Cohen Playing The Summer Waiting Game

Curiously for a veteran baseball coach, patience remains a difficult virtue in John Cohen's world. Never more so though than summer, when the coach must wait—and wait, and wait some more—for signs from drafted Diamond Dogs and recruits. Will they be on the 2012 roster, or accept an offer, or…just play the waiting game?

"No, it's not easy," Cohen said Thursday. "But every day the picture gets a little bit clearer."

That actually is the optimistic view from Mississippi State's baseball offices these days. Because definitive decisions by several Bulldogs, current or incoming, of obvious interest remain weeks away. Meanwhile all Cohen and staff can do is stay in-touch with everyone much as possible. Everyone as in folk on both sides of the amateur/professional divide.

"These things take time," Cohen said. "You talk about drafting fifty-plus guys, sometimes it takes a while for these negotiations to unfold. So I wouldn't be surprised if we don't know definitively until middle of August." That being the NCAA's deadline for high school and junior college recruits to either sign a contract or enroll in college.

This summer schedule applies most specifically to two premier prospects from State's 2011-12 recruiting class. Outfielder and righthanded pitcher Brandon Woodruff, the first-team All-State star at Wheeler, MS, High School, had his name called in the fifth round by Texas. And southpaw pitcher Jacob Lindgren of St. Stanislaus, MS, High School, also a first-team All-State pick by the coaches association, was drafted in round-12 by the Chicago Cubs.

Neither has signed, nor are they expected to make their difficult decisions anytime soon. That is based on conversations State coaches have had with both prize players including this week. "We stay in touch with them, in fact Butch (Thompson) talked to them yesterday," Cohen said. "Brandon is playing for the Tupelo 49ers. And Jacob is playing for the Elite team out of Baton Rouge."

Woodruff is in good Bulldog company, too, because also on the 49er roster is righthanded pitcher Will Cox of Amory, MS, High. Other examples of State recruits staying busy with summer baseball are Cullman, AL, High shortstop Matthew Britton playing with the Florida Bombers—"that's a team that has produced several big-leaguers," Cohen said—and Sugar Land, Texas, middle infielder Phillip Casey playing with an Elite club in his home town.

Of course primary attention is on draftees Woodruff and Lindgren, and other than that final August deadline there is no real timetable to follow. Just time spent waiting and watching.

"Again, I know it takes a while for organizations to get through all their picks," Cohen said. "The good news is both of the scouts who drafted these kids are friends. They're really good people, straight-up, so I feel very fortunate about the scouts we deal with. They've done this before and it's an honest line of communication."

Cohen was satisfied how State's varsity came through the June draft with no unexpected damage. Fans, now, might have been surprised when pitcher Devin Jones was drafted in the ninth round by Baltimore, based on the righthander's erratic junior season. Not Cohen, who has forecast the Eupora native has every chance to reach his fullest potential as a professional. Jones did sign a contract and is already playing for pay.

All other drafted Dogs were seniors. Third baseman Jarrod Parks (24th round) signed and has already started showing his plate prowess in the Los Angeles Dodger organization, while second baseman Nick Vickerson (20th round, Texas) has inked as well. And just this week outfielder Jaron Shepherd (33rd round, Colorado) signed his rookie deal. Also, shortstop Jonathan Ogden and catcher Wes Thigpen have secured free agent deals, both with Detroit.

Meanwhile, just about all the rest of State's varsity '11 roster are scattered around the country for summer league play, honing their games for 2012 college competition. One, lefthanded pitcher Nick Routt, is being tracked more closely than the rest of his Bulldog peers. Because while Routt was not drafted in June, he is fair game for a free agent offer from any franchise. The speculation is scouts who have tracked Routt since his 2009 freshman season, and watched him miss most of '10 with elbow issues before a successful mid-season return this spring, want to see how he pitches some more first. Then, should their club need a late left-handed addition to the farm system or have some free cash not spent on un-signed draftees, a move might be made. Or, not, just another aspect of the summer waiting game.

At the same time State coaches keep track, as does this site, of summer stats from underclassmen returning to starting spots in '12 or now ready to compete for every-day duties after redshirting. Such as corner infielder, pitcher, and slugger Wes Rea. He missed the first season recovering from a high school injury, and now seems very ready to contribute.

"He's playing first base every day in Danville (IL) and doing real well," reported Cohen, who certainly expects Rea to not only add needed power next spring but pitch regularly in relief. "I think he's progressing nicely. I know he had a three-RBI game the other day, we were texting about that."

Another Dog getting back to strength is soph infielder Demarcus Henderson, who played backup shortstop the first half of this season before sidelining. Vision issues with contacts got to the point Henderson needed corrective eye surgery, and he will receive a medical redshirt if desired down the career-line. The operation seems to have helped already, Cohen said.

"I've heard he's played great in the field. Offensively, he's struggled to get some balls to fall for him." But that means Henderson is making contact now, something he really struggled with in fall and spring and hopefully the surgery will solve. He is playing in Amsterdam, N.Y., in the Perfect Game league.

Routt is in the Cape Cod league, as are OF/LHP C.T. Bradford and RHP Kendall Graveman. So was 1B/RHP Daryl Norris until this week; now the sophomore has moved down the Atlantic coast to Maryland and the Cal Ripken league. "It was a case we needed him to get more at-bats," Cohen said. "Now he's playing a bunch of first base."

Norris is now teamed with lightly-used C/OF Hunter Renfroe at Bethesda, and the soph has gotten off to a flying summer start. "He has caught and played a little outfield, but mostly caught and DH'd," Cohen said, not at all surprised how Renfroe is whacking the ball with a wood bat. "He's a very talented young man, he's going to be a really good player. We brought him along slowly because we had a senior-dominated lineup (at catcher especially) but he's special."

Cohen also reports that middle infielder Adam Frazier "is having a great summer" playing out in San Luis Obispo, CA. The coach will take Frazier and friend's word for it; that is one trip he won't be able to make in July. But, "I'm going to see our kids in the Cape and New York, and I might even get to Bethesda. I'm leaving I think the day after the Central Mississippi Extravaganza (July 21 in Jackson).

Getting out and about may not speed-up the summer for coach and players, but it will make the waiting game a little easier to bear. Besides, Cohen just likes watching how State players perform outside SEC confines.

"More than anything it's great for these kids to go get out of their comfort zone here, meet new people, and kind of ‘coach' themselves. It's just a wonderful time for them, and there's nothing like competing even if you're not putting up great numbers."

Besides, the only numbers that count this time of year to college coaches are '27' and ‘35'. As in the roster of on-scholarship players and total personnel allowed for the coming season. At the moment Cohen has such things lined-up, but any moment now an eligible Dog could put pen to paper and force State to recalculate its 2012 club.

Until then, all Cohen can do is…wait. Just like his peers.

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