A Q&A With MSU Head Baseball Coach John Cohen

In a one-on-one interview with Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen, Gene's Page talks with him about keeping all of his signees that were drafted in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft and about how some of his young players did during the summer baseball leagues.

You kept all three of this year's recruiting class who were drafted, two of whom turned down money that probably would be considered 2nd or 3rd round type money. Aren't those the kind of players you need to keep to get to where you want to be here at Mississippi State?
"It is crucial to our program every single year to keep getting the right type of players. I think coaching is important but there is no substitute for the skill level that is showing up on campus (this year). We are really pleased with this group, and not just the three guys who were drafted, because I really think we have a nice group coming in who are really talented guys who are going to be able to make an immediate impact."

Will Cox, a pitcher/hitter from Amory High School, is one of those talented players.
"I think Will Cox is the most underrated player in our entire recruiting class. He didn't get as much exposure as a lot of the other guys for whatever reason. Brandon Woodruff gets a lot of the focus because he is the highest draft and he should get a lot of focus because he is a very talented guy. And (12th round draft pick) Jacob Lindgren obviously had a great senior year which created a lot of interest. But when you look at Tyler Fullerton, he can really run. Trevor Fitts is a very talented guy. We are very excited about Jonathan Holder from the (Mississippi) gulf coast. Jonathan may have the best breaking ball in the entire group. Matthew Britton is a very athletic young man from Cullman (Alabama). Philip Casey is a guy we believe will have a chance to win the shortstop job right away. He's an outstanding talent from the Houston (Texas) area. And Nick Flair is going to be a great player for us. And we are very excited about our two junior college catchers."

You kept all three of your signees that were drafted. Some might think that's part luck. But I'm sure you did research on them to determine what it would take for them to go pro or attend college. What kind of research did you do?
"I call it the A-B-C theory. If you only sign A+ players, the A+ meaning top 5 round draft picks, and all your opponents sign B players who could end up one day being an A player. If you lose everybody in that draft class because you sign nothing but As, then who do you replace them with? You replace them with Cs. And your opponents went out and got B+s, Bs and maybe a few A-s. You are replaceing yours with Cs. That is what you have to stay away from.

"Some C players can end up being an A+ player but for every 500 C players only 2, 3 or 4 end up being A+ players."

Brandon Woodruff is an A guy based on that criteria. Was he a guy you simply took a chance on?
"You are going to recruit Brandon, who is an A guy, no matter what because he is a great athlete and a great person. And we also want to take care of our state. That is very, very important to us. That's why we are going to go after the best players in our state. So, you get as much information on them as you can and you make your call. Sometimes you make the right call, sometimes you don't. That has happen to everybody. It has happened to South Carolina, LSU, UCLA, Texas; you sign that A player who you lose or you sign a B player who ends up being an A player down the road.

"You don't have a magic wand or crystal ball. I just feel so fortunate to have (MSU assistant coaches) Lane (Burroughs) and Butch (Thompson) because they do such a great job in the evaluation process. They help to move the needle forward, which helps elevate our program in every way."

You didn't lose any of your drafted signees. Will you be able to learn something from that that might help you in the future when it comes to signing draftable players?
"You always learn something. You learn by talking to the parents. And, quite frankly, you are always learning by talking to the (pro) scouts. The scouts in our area are all unbelievable people. The scout who drafted Lindgren is a guy named Jim Crawford who is a legend, not only in the state of Mississippi, but in the deep south. Jim Crawford knows more baseball than 20 other people that I know. The Texas Rangers scouts are really well organized, very communicative, a great organization. They were so upfront with their dealings with Brandon Woodruff, and, quite frankly, with us. And the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted Nick Flair, their scouts were just unbelievable people.

"The scouts in our area who we have dealt with have the kids best interest at heart. They want to sign their players but they also completely understand the college game. I just feel very fortunate that we get to work with a great scouting community."

You work with the scouts. There is give and take on both sides. What do you give them?
"At some point and time, when they are drafting our juniors and seniors, they want to know everything about them. And they want to have access to your players. There are some programs that don't allow access to their players to the scouting community. We do that totally because we want to have great relationships with scouts. Their job is hard enough; we don't want to make it more difficult. That's how you have a relationship where there is give and take. We will help them and they will help us."

Nine of your players have either won their league championship or are playing for a championship this summer. How much does it help your program to have guys who are winning championships?
"It helps because winners continue to win. Adam Frazier, who played for a friend of mine, had a great summer. I felt he would because he is a talented young man who works so hard. When you are a freshman who is away from home for nine months, then you take two months and go even farther away from home, that says a lot about you. And a lot of our kids did that and they stuck it out."

You also did that as a player. Didn't you play in the Cape Cod League?
"I played in the Cape Cod League and in the Alaska League. I remember Pat McMahon (who was an assistant coach at MSU) calling me into his office and telling me that is where I was going to play. And those experiences were just phenomenal for me. Coach McMahon did such a great job of placing all of us and giving us great opportunities that you will remember for the rest of your life.

"You get to play against great players from all the great conferences. That is a pretty neat experience. But when I say that (about the Cape Cod and Alaska), there are now great players in all the leagues. The California Collegiate League (where Adam Frazier played) is outstanding. The Cal Ripken League is very, very good. Everywhere you go there are great players. Everybody has a great league now."

We talked about your guys who helped lead their teams to championships. Another of your guys who went to New York to play summer ball is Demarcus Henderson. He started out slow but hit better in the second half of the season. Does it concern you that he wound up hitting just .203 during the summer?
"There are two characteristics about Demarcus that we love, 1) he is very, very athletic, and 2) he wants to be good. When those two things come together you are going to have a good player. How quickly it will happen, you don't know. Due to that, it doesn't bother me that he went out and hit .200. What would have bothered me is if Demarcus had left during the middle of the season and come home because things weren't going very well for him. He stuck it out and kept playing despite never being that far away from home playing baseball. I think it was a great experience for him. And I think he has a chance to end up being a great player for us."

What do you take from Daryl Norris and C.T. Bradford not hitting quite as well as you might expect them to based on what you saw during the regular season?
"If you look at the average number in the Cape, I think it was something like .225 to .230. A large number of players, when they first go to the Cape, probably struggle a little bit. And I think C.T. was probably a little worn down from the season when he went up there. But we have a lot of faith in C.T. and Daryl and we believe they are going to be very, very good players for us."

Redshirt freshman Wes Rea is the exact opposite of the other players I just mentioned. He performed really well during the summer hitting the ball.
"What he did is very exciting. And he needed to go out and play because he was injured when he got to Mississippi State. Now, I think he is finally starting to feel healthy on the field again. There is no doubt that he can hit. And, for his size, he is a very good defender at first base. I think he has a chance to be a great player for us also."

Hunter Renfroe had a great summer. You have always said he is going to be a good hitter. So I guess you weren't surprised with how well he did during the summer, were you?
"No I wasn't. He had a great summer. I think he is a very exciting player who brings a lot of tools with him that you don't see as much with a catcher. He is a legitimate 6.8 runner (in the sixty yard dash) who is catching. He's also a guy who can throw the ball 98 miles per hour off the mound. He's a guy with power. He's a guy who can field and hit. Again, he is a guy with great tools who also has great makeup. And he wants to be good. Those are the guys who you want in your program."

What do you do with a guy who can catch so well, hits for average and power who also can throw 98 miles per hour?
"You can't ignore the catching because it is just hard to find catchers that are as athletic and explosive as he is. But you have to think that he is so athletic that he can play an outfield spot. We lost some outfielders from a year ago, so we aren't counting anything out with him. We are going to try to display all of his skills this fall. There is no doubt that he is a very talented young man and we have to find a way to display his skills."


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 swindoll@genespage.com.


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