A Q&A With MSU Asst Coach Butch Thompson

In a five-part, series, Gene's Page talks with the the Mississippi State baseball coaches about the position players they coach. The fifth-part of the series is with MSU assistant coach Butch Thompson, who is responsible for the pitchers.

What are your thoughts about Ben Bracewell?
"Ben had a positive fall based on the goals we implemented for him. We have fought his entire career to keep him healthy. And we are super excited that he posted every single day of the fall, including the games he was scheduled to pitch in the fall. For every time he was asked to pick up a ball and throw he was able to meet all of those milestones. I think because he threw every day he lost a little spin, a little life on the rotation on his pitches. His command suffered. We have to discover his command again the days we have with him before Christmas break."

Jonathan Holder had a good fall.
"Jonathan, in my humble opinion, may be the most important pitcher that we have. His ability to lock down and finish a game may be the most important role that we have. If he can lock down games like he did last year, then we can build backwards and build a pretty nice pitching staff. Jonathan threw more since January than he has ever in his life. But he finished the fall in mid-season form."

Chad Girodo had a great fall and showed increased velocity.
"Chad has grown so much. And I give all the credit to his pitching in summer ball. It was a good journey for him. We have thrown Chad out of the bullpen but with limited success. But he's never quit. He continued to grow and develop. Now, he has a chance to have a sincere role for us. I think he has a chance to continue to pitch after this year professionally. He throws 70% strikes. That says a lot for a left-hander. There are not many left-handers that throw 90-91 miles per hour with a real curveball, a changeup and still throw 70% strikes. I think professional baseball sees that about him. We trained him as a starter. Chad is a winner and I look for him to have a big year."

Jacob Lindgren is another very good left-hander on the staff who throws hard.
"Velocity is not everything but the reason I like it is because a 90 miles per hour fastball only gives a hitter four-tenths of a second reaction time. And Jacob was up to 94 this fall. He has a two-seam fastball. We are working on a changeup with him. But what separates him from other college left-handers is I doubt there are 10 other college left-handed pitchers who can throw a slider 86-87 miles per hour. That is a real pitch for him. We trained him as a starter this fall. We'll see how that goes. We think he can start or be in the bullpen for us."

Luis Pollorena is another lefty who had a good fall.
"Luis is a consistent performer who had a great fall. We worked on some things that would allow him to get more tilt, more angle. We are really trying to get a changeup going. I think the last piece of his puzzle, as a veteran pitcher, is to get an off-speed pitch that goes down and away from right-handed hitters. Basically, his entire arsenal comes into a right-handed hitter. If he can get a secondary pitch that moves down and away from a right-handed hitter, then that will complete his repertoire."

I'm really high on sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff. He was shut down in the early part of the fall due to a sore arm.
"I don't want to put expectations on Brandon. I just want him to be the best pitcher that he can be. He was a fifth-rounder out of high school. And he only had five appearances his senior year of high school. The workload he has to do to prepare his body and his mentality is much different than what he has trained for his entire life. So, it's a process. He pitched a season for us, then pitched in the summer. We did get to the point this fall where he had a little bit of discomfort on the lateral side of the elbow. (Baseball trainer) Jason Wire and (team doctor) Rusty Linton looked at it and saw what is called a stress reaction. If you continue to throw with that, then it turns into a stress fracture. Since it's a bone, there is nothing you can do with it other than let the bone heal. We shut him down due to that. But now he's back throwing. He threw some light deliveries with me yesterday. I believe Brandon can be a top-tier starter in the SEC, a premium draft pick. I feel everything is in front of Brandon."

Trevor Fitts had a great fall.
"We did one change with him. We were on the third base side of the rubber with him. That's something that I was taught to do as I was coming up. But it seemed like every other inning, every third inning and the pitch was up then the hitters took really loud swings against him. The hitters were telling us something with the swings they were taking against him. About a month ago we moved him over to the first base side of the rubber. Since then, some neat things have happened. His ability to sink the ball, to locate the ball down and away from right-handed hitters seemed to have come into focus for him. From a breaking pitch standpoint, he was a high school curveball pitcher much like Chris Stratton. We started the evolution from a curve to a slider. The two-seam fastball and slider share space so well. Basically, Trevor led us in strikeouts this fall. He works at this thing as hard as any pitcher that we have. He doesn't give any days away. Because of all of those things I don't know how he won't have success as long as he stays healthy."

Redshirt freshman Preston Brown showed positive things in the fall.
"Preston is like my mini-Graveman. He has the sink and the reaction that reminds me a little of Kendall (Graveman). Preston has that natural sink. He has a slider, breaking ball and a changeup. So, we may have to simplify his repertoire. I think Preston is ready to pitch for us in some type role. Another pitcher I compare him to is Ross Mitchell. Ross is in the settler role for us. He can come in behind a starter and get through the lineup at least one time and settle things down for us. Preston has that same type ability but from the right side."

Will Cox also showed improvement in the fall.
"Will went out to California to play summer ball. We really believe in the coach out there. He keeps them on track on what we are doing and adds to it. We've had Caleb Reed out there, Chad Girodo out there. And now Will Cox. Will is much more mature now than he was as a freshman for us. He had six starts as a freshman. He has real movement on his pitches. And he's a guy who throws across his body. He's a challenge to hit. Last year, I saw some nervousness from him. Now, he is much more relaxed. He may have our best changeup, especially against left-handed hitters. We have trained him in the starting role for us."

Tanner Gaines is another right-hander.
"Tanner is in his third year with us. He had 6 appearances for us last year and threw 8 innings, allowing just 5 hits with 8 strikeouts and 2 walks. He is a right-hander who can throw 90. He has a breaking ball that if it's on, then he very competitive. If it's not own, then it is more challenging for him to get outs. I need to do a better job of helping him have a plan B. If you don't have a plan B in the SEC, then it's tough to get outs. But he's got a great plan A."

Ross Mitchell is a good left-hander for you.
"Ross is Ross. I love him because he's his own man. He had a phenomenal year for us last year. I want him to continue to do what he has done. I also want him to develop spin on the ball. We aren't trying to develop more velocity. We are trying to develop more movement on his pitches. Not much is going to change with him. He's in that settler role for us. But, as a pitching coach, you know that someone who throws 82 to 83 miles per hour can get off-center sometimes. But I haven't seen any signs of him changing."

Kendall Graveman just continues to get better each year.
"Kendall is probably my leader on the pitching staff. He is a guy who has hung in there. He is a 3.75 (gpa) Mechanical Engineering major. He finishes my sentences. He coaches the other six guys and holds them accountable while I'm coaching the other six on the other end. Whether he wins or not, he will be one of the most important people in our uniform. But I'm betting on him to win some games. I believe in everything that he does. He is convicted in everything that he does."

Evan Mitchell has a great arm. He touched 96 on my gun in the fall
"Anytime you can touch 96 and 97 any (MLB) scout will have awareness of that. Not many people can throw that hard. But he's still a developing pitcher. Evan knows that. It doesn't matter what kind of stuff you have, your ability to get ahead in the count and stay ahead is everything, especially at the college level. He just has to become a complete pitcher in the intangibles and the nuances of the game. Evan probably only pitched 15 to 20 innings in high school. Because of that, he may be 100 to 200 innings behind some of our other guys. Evan could blow it out and be our Friday night guy or he could be in our bullpen like he was last year."

True freshman John Marc Shelly showed a strong arm during the fall.
"We think he is a reliever type arm. We want to develop him like we did with Holder, Lindgren and Woodruff. We want him to get three to six outs for us. Using him to set up Holder would be the perfect role for him. He can throw 91 to 92. He had an up and down fall because the strikezone eluded him at times. But everything is intact."

What are your thoughts about freshman Callahan Brown?
"Callahan is a right-handed pitcher who just went through his first fall and is still learning his way around. His strength and conditioning work has been very positive for him. And I think it will be as he continues to move forward. I thought his best outing was his last when he threw in the Maroon-White World Series. I like how he ended the fall while making some adjustments. He has a nice body, throws about 88 miles per hour with some movement. He has an average breaking ball compared to the rest of the SEC. That has to become better. And he needs to make his changeup a very usable pitch."

Wes Stokes is a junior college transfer who had a good fall.
"Wes Stokes' greatest skill is his mentality. He comes to the park and works hard. He's very competitive. His fastball is a little straight and gets hit sometimes. But he never fears contact and comes right at hitters. When a pitcher does that, you feel like he's close in making adjustments. Fear is probably the biggest factor in guys who won't go right at hitters. And Wes does a great job of that. I think that is because he has thrown two years of (junior) college baseball. His breaking ball is a little below SEC standards, so that's something that we will continue to work on. We do think he can get some swing and issues because of his changeup, a pitch that we feel is his best pitch."

Alexander Deise is another true freshman pitcher.
"Alex is a big left-handed pitcher who is from Nick Route's high school. His command is not currently up to the standard that will allow him success. And he had a bunch of big misses that were hard to block. We are in the 45% strike percentage. We are always slow to make adjustments to freshmen pitchers. You want to wait to a certain time and it's probably the right time to meet with Alex and figure out the adjustments that we want to make."

Freshman Myles Gentry had a solid fall.
"I am so excited about Myles. I think our coaching staff and even our players are excited about Myles. We have made adjustments with Myles much earlier than we usually do with a freshman. But we had a conversation with Myles and told him we had 12 other right-handed pitchers who had similar stuff. I think due to having that conversation with Myles we made an adjustment in his arm slot. Now, he has put himself in a unique position. And he still has his quick arm that can throw 86-88 but from more of a drop down slot. He has shown that he can come into every ballgame and throw to 1, 2 and 3 hitters. That is a need for every pitching staff on the college level. We are excited about the potential of the role that Myles could have."

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.

Gene's Page Top Stories