Butch Thompson Talks MSU Pitchers

In part-four of a four-part series with the Mississippi State baseball coaches, Gene's Page talks with assistant coach Butch Thompson about the Mississippi State pitchers.

What are your thoughts about each of your pitchers after watching them in fall practices and scrimmages?
"C.T. Bradford didn't throw much this fall. He threw two innings for us. He's just had surgery and it is going good. He is actually starting to run now. He's a solid ball player who we need 100%. And I think we did everything right to assure that will happen in the spring. But we did put aside the pitching during the fall because it probably bothered him more to pitch due to the injury. C.T. and I really think that he can pitch. I'm a believer in him as a pitcher. I don't think that is over with but I can't say for sure that he will be pitching every day or in the middle of our pitching staff.

"The reasons I like him so much as a pitcher is because he is left-handed, he is competitive, he's a Bulldog and he's a winning ball player and person. I think he would have great success. He just hasn't pitched consistently in practice or games. But I still believe in him as a pitcher."

What are your thoughts about freshman walk-on Preston Brown?
"Preston is one of our walkons. He was in our top four in swing and misses (during the fall). Because we now have, in year four, a certain level of depth and experience with our pitching staff, I think it is perfect for Preston's development to use this year to get stronger. He's got a good fastball and a good slider. During late fall I started calling him Mariano Rivera because we have been working with him to just throw a cutter and slider. He's got good movement on his pitches and he has a bunch of pitches. I'm excited about him."

Junior Andrew Busby.
"I put most improved by his name. He is more confident. His work ethic is so much better. He got up to 91-93 (miles per hour with his fastball) and he started throwing a really good curveball. We put his changeup aside and had him focus on throwing his fastball and breaking ball. Andrew, in his second year, is getting more tilt on his fastball. But it's hard for a pitcher to grab a role on an SEC pitching staff if you are consistently in three-ball counts and consistently behind in the count. That's the last piece of his puzzle. His skill level is where we need it, and I'm excited about that. But to functionally pitch on an SEC staff he has to be able to commanding the strikezone."

Redshirt sophomore Ben Bracewell looked really good in the fall after having shoulder surgery.
"I'm going to tell you something very interesting about Ben Bracewell. We sat down with the three catchers at the end of the fall and asked them who their top 3 or 4 pitchers were. From talking to the catchers, Ben's combination of stuff, late movement, his competitiveness, they feel he is one of our top guys. I don't know if that surprised me more than it was a confirmation of what we were already feeling about him. The last thing to come after shoulder surgery is velocity and I think he has his velocity back.

"Right now, we are leaning toward starting him as opposed to throwing him out of the bullpen. I'm hoping it's best for our team and best for his health. We don't know if it will be in SEC games or mid-week games. That's what is so good about the first few weeks of our season. Week 2, 3 and 4 we are going to need 5 to 6 starters. Ben is going to get some of those starts. Then, it will shake out, as it always does. If he can go once a week and give us six innings, then I think he will compete for (for a starting spot)."

Freshman Will Cox had a great fall.
"Will's numbers were the best (in the fall). He led us in WHIP, which is walks plus hits divided by innings pitch, with a .84. He had less than a hit and walk combined per inning. He is the epitome of filling up the strikezone. That is his strength. He throws a changeup that follows a similar path as his fastball and it kind of looks the same coming out (of his hand). His slider is kind of hit and miss. He is a 6-4, 235-pound kid. He's a pretty exciting freshman based on where he is starting at. I think the only thing that might get him into trouble is if he throws too many strikes. In the (Bulldog) World Series he threw his five innings in both of his starts. I think he was a huge reason in his team winning the World Series. He's a starter for us."

Another freshman, Trevor Fitts, started the fall pitching really well.
"In the World Series he lined up against Cox and got hit a little bit more and threw a few more balls. But, for the most part, he still did a good job of pounding the strikezone his last couple of outings. He only had 10 three-ball counts the entire fall. Fitts' strength is a come-at-you type guy. He has the Bulldog mentality. He has a 90-92 fastball, 89-91 fastball, a good breaking ball. And I think a changeup is also in him and will come, although I don't know if it is ready for a high level right now. But he definitely has two pitches. We want to look at him in the bullpen during our training camp in January and February. But I am going to train him in pitch counts as a starter because that is who he is and what he has done in the past."

Redshirt freshman Tanner Gaines.
"I like Tanner's athleticism and his velo. He has continued to work hard and he's not going to stop competing. He is so much better than he was last year, but too many baserunners reach due to his command. Either he or Andrew Busby is going to shake the command bug they have and come into their own with their command and help this pitching staff a lot. I hope it's both of them, though. His breaking ball is good at times. There is life to his fastball. I think he has had a straight fastball in the past but we are really working hard to create some movement and action on his fastball."

Junior lefty Chad Girodo.
"Chad could go either way and I mean that in a very positive way. Chad will come out and show life on his fastball at times, then he will get hit at other times. I think he is really close. He came here as a soft-tossing left. Now he doesn't know if he is a hard-throwing lefty or a soft-tossing lefty. He has battled an elbow a little bit and that might be the reason his velo is there some days and not other days. He will get a little break and do some rehab with his arm. I still feel if we started tomorrow he might be a sixth starter or more suited as a guy who would can come in during the middle innings. I also think, based on last year, he could come in and get a lefty out with his cutter."

Junior Kendall Graveman showed a little more velo this past fall.
"We went to a four-seam fastball (with him), hoping that would give us a few more pitches within the strikezone. That also jumped up his velocity, which might separate his stuff from the top end to the bottom end. He is probably our best defending pitcher because he is athletic on the mound. He could be a guy who could really boost our bullpen. He had 30 swing and misses (during the fall), which was second on the pitching staff. Christ Stratton was first with 39."

Freshman Jonathan Holder.
"He started the fall as a dual-position player but we have kind of put the hitting aside. We have done some extra work with him as a pitcher now that he is no longer hitting. I think this will help him as a pitcher. Really, from a WHIP standpoint he did a really good job but the contact he did give up was really hard. He was more of a flyball pitcher than a groundball pitcher and the balls got up in the air and a couple got deep (and ended up being home runs). I think he can throw strikes. He's another freshman who has great size. He has a great split finger but if you don't get the two strikes and ahead of the count it's kind of hard to use. But there is a strikeout pitch in there, he has a great frame and there is a total focus on pitching now, so we should see him moving forward."

Freshman lefty Jacob Lindgren.
"Jacob was a 12th rounder with the Cubs. I thought he got better as the fall went on. He's not very tall but he has a very strong frame. He kind of looks like a big league middle reliever. I thought he had our best left-hander breaking ball. He also showed velocity, up to 92-93, which is just one piece of the puzzle. But I think he pitches comfortably at 88-90, with a great breaking ball. His changeup is very spotty at this point. If there was a left on left matchup to get one lefty out, I think Jacob would be who we would call on right now. I think we will start him out similar to Girodo, middle relief and left on left matchup. But if he continues to throw strikes the way he did late in the fall, then he could get more innings."

Sophomore Evan Mitchell looked really good in the fall.
"We wound up shutting him down late in the fall. He is a guy who threw about 20 innings between his sophomore and senior years of high school. I think the season last year, then pitching in summer ball and coming back in the fall, I just felt his body had met it's match. I am too excited about him to keep pitching him when he has a grimace on his face. We have him back up to 180 feet on the long toss. And he feels great. And I feel great where is is now. His athleticism is off the charts. I think his fastball (velocity) will continue to climb. He has a very quick arm. If you told me he was throwing 97-98 I would have a tendency to believe it at the middle of the season. I think he is going to be a (SEC) rotation guy for us. I believe most of our guys graded him out at either 1 or 2 on our pitching staff."

Redshirt freshman lefty Ross Mitchell.
"He was our only guy who didn't walk a hitter this fall. I think he developed a survivable fastball that he threw in the strikezone. He got hit and gave up a bunch of singles. His off-speed stuff didn't get hitters off of his fastball. Due to that, we actually started working on a split-finger fastball with him. We have to get him a second pitch to share space with his fastball, a second pitch that can create some timing issues and deception. He was basically a one-pitch pitcher this fall, which got him in trouble."

Sophomore Daryl Norris.
"Daryl is a strike thrower. He had a 1.09 WHIP. I thought he started off well. He was our most efficient pitcher early in the fall. I felt he got a little tired late and had a rough outing in the fall World Series. He can come in and throw strikes for us when we need him to, and I think he is still going to be able to do that for us. His velo is still down a little bit since high school. But we will work him a little more on pitching in December. He wants to do that so he can develop as a pitcher."

Junior lefty Luis Pollorena.
"Luis had a bad fall last fall and an even worse fall this year. So, I expect a great spring out of him (laugh). The one knock, and I shared this with him during our fall meeting with him, I had of him was I thought he was our energy provider last spring and a big reason why we got to post-season but this fall he didn't play with that same type energy. He is the kind of guy who makes five guys better but he kind of got into his own little world this fall and that's not who he is. What he does best is get everybody going and make our team better. I don't want him to lose sight of that."

Senior Caleb Reed.
"I didn't think he had that extra gear to his fastball or life that he had in the spring. But we used him 30+ appearances (last spring) and he went to the Cape (Cod League) and pitched, then pitched the entire fall and didn't miss a day. He is who we are - he wants the ball, he wants to pitch. But he needs a break to get ready for the spring. He still finished with a WHIP under 1, he was .975. in the fall. His numbers were really good in the fall. Caleb is one of those guys who can tough 91 (miles per hour with his fastball), but he's better at 88 with movement and sink. And I think he knows that."

Redshirt junior lefty Nick Routt.
"I am happy with Nick. Nick showed great velocity this fall. He showed a bunch of balls at 90 miles per hour and touched a little more than that. He led us this fall in first-pitch strikes at 66%. And he didn't miss an outing this fall. To me, that is winning for Nick Routt. But he and I have been frustrated by the lack of off-speed development. He basically pitched the spring with one pitch. That second and third time through the lineup was difficult for him. This fall, during his last two outings, it was actually a curveball that wound up doing some special things for him. I think he really started getting a lot of swing and misses. I believe he had 12 strikeouts in his last nine innings. If we can hold that breaking pitch, then I think that will make him an even better starter than he was last year."

Sophomore Taylor Stark.
"He was slow starting this fall. The arm was just not turning around. He got more and more electric as the fall went on. I think he realistically could pitch at the back end of a ball game. He was up to 93 (miles per hour with his fastball) with a real slider to go along with his fastball. He is ultra quick and has a 1.1 break time to the plate. He is very Bulldogish. If he comes right at the opponent, then I will tip my hat if somebody can perform against him. He is also probably going to get a ton of opportunities to get to play in our outfield every day."

Senior lefty Tim Statz.
"Tim Statz is a guy we are probably going to put in the bullpen and see if he can pitch every day. We dropped his arm slot which freed him up. He wants to be different and not be vanilla. He is a senior who wants to pitch. There are two reasons I think the dropping of his arm slot is going to work - 1) he is the one who made the decision to drop down, and 2) this is his last year and he is willing to do whatever he needs to pitch. But he is still crawling with the (arm slot) change. He may give up 5 runs in one inning or strike out the side. We need January and February to lock it down for him. If this works, I think he will be able to pitch just about every day for us and give us a different look since there are not a lot of drop down lefties. He also still has a changeup, which will be a good pitch against right-handed hitters."

Junior Chris Stratton.
"The biggest thing I can say about Chris is he led us in swing and misses with 39. The other positive thing I can say about him is all of his pitches have gone to another level. His stuff is better than it has ever been. I think most of his pitches probably grade out to at least average to above with Major League Baseball pitchers. We are going to revamp his stretch a little bit during the break because we think he gets into a little trouble out of the stretch. I believe in Chris and the way he goes about everything. He is an artist out there."

Redshirt sophomore left C.C. Watson.
"He is coming off his shoulder surgery and will be at nine months when the season starts. So, it is going to be close for him. The report I have on him is he is in the middle 80s right now (with his fastball velo). The velocity has not fully returned but he is probably right at where he should be at this point. He is working his tail off every day. He is able to give us two quality bullpens a week. He did not pitch for us this fall so January and February will tell the tale for him. Once we come back January 9th, all the rehab and everything that he has been through should be in his rearview mirror. He should start the spring training camp just like every other pitcher."

Freshman Brandon Woodruff.
"Brandon is a freshman pitcher who was a 5th rounder with the Rangers. He is another freshman with a big frame, which I love. I think he is going to be incredible. I think, due to pitching in high school and helping the Tupelo 49ers compete for that national championship (during the summer), he came to us a little tired and fatigued. So, we threw him less in between than the other pitchers, which I think kept him from being as sharp as he could have been. He gets a ton of swing and misses. He has a fastball and curveball that have a chance to be major players for him. I also believe he has more poise and presence than the typical freshman, which I think will serve him well."


Links to the first three parts of this four-part series:

Part 1 - John Cohen talks about the infielders

Part 2 - Lane Burroughs talks about the catchers and outfielders

Part 3 - Nick Mingione talks about the first basemen and outfielders


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Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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