Jake Wells Interview, Dec 5, 2013

Mississippi State assistant coach Jake Wells talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about the MSU catchers after the conclusion of fall scrimmages.

You have four catchers, redshirt junior Zack Randolph, redshirt freshman Daniel Garner, junior college transfer Cody Walker and true freshman Gavin Collins. Going down the list, how about talking about Randolph first.
"When you think about it none of these four guys have ever caught an inning in a game at Mississippi State. Even last year, during the fall, Zack and Danny (Daniel Garner) were having to split innings with Mitch Slauter and Nick Ammirati. And they were only getting one or two innings each intersquad game or ever other intersquad. There was a point when they didn't catch an inning at all. You could really say they are brand new at this.

"Zack came in this year as the guy who people felt would run the show because he has been here a year and seen a lot of these pitchers and traveled with us a little bit last season. This fall he progressed a lot at the end of the fall. We put a lot of responsibility on our catches. I think at the beginning it was a lot to handle. He made some great improvement as the fall went on. Hitting-wise, he was a surprise. Offense is a bonus for a catcher at any level. And we don't really talk much about hitting because our team is built around pitching and defense. But going back to his offense, it was a surprise. He and Cody Walker had a pretty good offensive fall. And Garner is going to hit because that is his skill. He can flat out hit. And he had a great fall offensively. Gavin was up and down offensively but he was hurt during the fall."

Garner is the other catcher of the four catchers you have who was here last season. This fall, as you said, he really hit the ball.
"Offense is never going to be a question mark for Danny. He may run into a funk every now or then but he will find his way out because he has a very serious feel for hitting. Offensively, he is going to do a lot of great things for our program for years to come. I would say he is a middle of the order SEC type hitter. Defensively, he has made a tremendous jump. Summer ball was great for him. And he had a better fall defensively. But we still want him to get better defensively. Between he and I, the key word we talk about is being clean. We want him to have clean innings and catch every pitch, throw everybody out. We want our catchers to be so that they aren't noticeable back there. If they are doing that, then that means they are being clean defensively."

Cody Walker is the junior college catcher. He really has shown an outstanding arm behind the plate.
"My first year in the league was last year. And there were some great catchers with strong arms such as Navin at Vanderbilt, Wise at Arkansas, the kid from LSU and the kid at Ole Miss. Those were the dominant catchers in the league last season. And Cody Walker can throw as good as those guys, if not better. That is his dominant skill. He has a lot of skills but catching and throwing is his dominant skill. But he also is good offensively. He had a great offensive fall.

"But going back to his defense. What we are throwing at him is brand new to him. Because of that, there were some struggles that he went through. He's had to try and find ways to improve his skillset. And I think he has made a huge jump in that area. I think what we put on the new guys was a huge shock wave to them at the beginning of the fall. The average fan doesn't realize the responsibility the catcher has in our program. They are another coach on the field. We want them to lead the entire deal. And that responsibility and pressure can be tough on them at first."

Gavin Collins is your other catcher. He was hurt for a big part of the fall but still showed great skills when he was on the field.
"Gavin is a kid who doesn't get sped up. When you are playing in font of 10,000 to 14,000 fans at Dudy Noble Field your body can get a little out of control. But from what we saw from Gavin Collins, as a freshman, he does not possess a mentality of getting sped up. He stays under control in every situation. And that's what you want from your catcher. Then, to have that coming from a freshman, that is unusual. Once he's played in one or two games I think he's going to fit right in just as if he was a senior. I think he's going to be advanced for his age level. We are going to be shocked by what he is doing as a freshman. But you will also see at times the reverse of that and realize he is still just a freshman. And offensively, once he matures, he will be a great hitter. He will also be great defensively.

You mentioned that Cody Walker had that catch and throw dominant skill. What is Gavin's dominant skill.
"He is very well rounded. He's kind of dominating in all aspects. I have made the statement that I believe he can be a first-round draft pick if he stays healthy. He can really receive, he can throw, he can hit, he'll be able to manage a game, he's clean back there, he doesn't get sped up. He does things at a different level than other guys. But you still have to keep in mind that Gavin Collins is still just a freshman. There are going to be a lot of bright things with him and there are going to be some setbacks with him. But he's only 18-years-old and still has a long way to go. Being able to play this year - and Gavin will get some innings for us this year - that will do nothing but help him grow up to be something really special."

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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