Butch Thompson Talks Summer Ball

Mississippi State baseball pitching coach Butch Thompson talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about how the current players are doing during summer ball play.

Q - You are the coach who organizes where the current players go during the summer. How is it determined who goes where?
A - "With our current guys we have the entire fall and entire season to coach them up. You always have a feeling about your roster, what kind of talent you have and maybe where they should go during the summer. Let's say a Chris Stratton needs to go to the California League or the Cape Cod League because he's never been out of Mississippi. You want to help him because his (pro) journey is going to take him to different parts of the country. At some point in time you have to get different experiences for all of these guys to make them better players. They go play with players from different schools and they might pick up something about a breaking ball or a fastball because they are exposed to different methods. I think that is healthy.

"We had a sense of where Gavin Collins should go and it was another place than where he is now, the Cape Cod League. But as the season went on I felt like he needed to continue seeing the best arms in America and working with them and catching them. I thought he was ready for it so I got him in the Cap Code League. I felt like he could grow there the most."

Q - Are you concerned that he is only hitting .230 right now?
A - "I think he will hit. With all the great arms that he's seeing everyday, that will help him hit even better. If he was at a lower level place with less competition and he hits .400, I think it is all relative. But I think getting to play against and seeing those great arms will round him out because we really think he's going to hit well for us.

"This is not an exact science. What you are always trying to do is place guys where they can have success and develop."

Q - Your players have had success in various summer leagues.
A - "The New England League has been good to us. The California League has been good to us. We actually have six in the California League this summer. San Luis Obispo is a great area. And we've added Santa Barbara this year. We have Jake Vickerson and Cody Walker playing there. Bethesda, Maryland, the Big Train has been great to us. They love our players up there. They fight over Mississippi State guys. And I want to send our guys where the people think the world of them. It helps our brand, our program, our guys.

"We mentioned the Cap Code League. And Lima, Ohio is a diamond in the rough for us. We have four guys there this summer.

"At all of those places you have to feel like you have competent coaches there that will underscore what you have been working on for an entire year. You have to feel like your guys will get better in each situation where they are. And you want them to have a good experience."

Q - Do you tell your guys to work on certain things when they go off and play during the summer?
A - "Coach Cohen does a great job with our guys. He meets with each guy before we start fall ball and then he meets with them after the season. He will tell them what their strengths are and what we want them to enhance. And I'll try to tell the (pitchers) to work on two or three things. If you tell them to work on ten things, then they won't get better at any of them. If they can dominate those two or three things then that is fine.

"We also talk to them about their body composition. We don't want them just playing. We want them to be on a workout plan so they can continue to grow and build their bodies."

Q - Do you have any input on how much playing time each player gets at the different places?
A - "All of the pitchers have to call me Monday. They will tell me how the last week went, how they are doing with those two or three things that they are working, what is next for the upcoming week? I do ask them questions about the coaches and if everybody is treating them good. I also converse with the coaches during the summer. I want to make sure the guys aren't being overused and that they have a role on the team. But I try not to coach their teams. I try to respect them and allow them to coach their teams. Whether our guys are starting or relieving I feel like they have to earn their way on another staff. They have to earn their role."

Q - What are your thoughts about the young pitchers, young guys like Dakota Hudson, Austin Sexton, Vance Tatum and Zac Houston who played some for you this season?
A - "These are important years for them. With guys like Jonathan Holder and Jacob Lindgren gone, you see a void in the staff. Now you wait to see which names are going to step into those spots. This is an important year for a Vance Tatum, an Austin Sexton, a Dakota Hudson, a Zac Houston. They need to get going and assert themselves this year. The more they can get done in the summer, the more they can go out and put it into practice during the fall. We don't want to give our summer away. We want to use it to set them up for the fall."

Q - Two young pitchers who have really impressed me with their summer numbers are Zac Houston and Jacob Billingsley.
A - "The two guys who have done the best as far as going out there and getting outs and doing the best jobs for their teams are Zac Houston and Jacob Billingsley. Zac had the ankle injury at the end of the season so he was delayed getting (to his summer league team). But he's pitched great for his ballclub. In his first two or weeks up there he earned Collegiate League Pitcher of the Week."

Q - What do you have Houston focusing on this summer?
A - "He threw some occasional innings for us late in the ballgame and threw his fastball to the string, but he has to have the ball come out of his hand in the stretch the same as he does in the windup. If he can focus on that and accomplish that then he will do well for us. He says he's growing. And I'll see it firsthand when he gets back on campus."

Q - Several of your redshirt hitters are having great summers also.
A - "The guys who redshirted, what a huge summer for them. Brent Rooker is swinging the bat great. And Dylan Ingram is leading his league in RBIs. We've got some good young guys but they needed at-bats. They needed to do more than just lift weights and watch SEC games. By going out this summer and doing so well, that helps them so much. What they are doing is exciting for the future."

Q - Ok, in a lighter vein. I was talking to you earlier and we talked about music. You mentioned something that surprised me. Your choice of music. So, I'll ask you this question, what does one of the top pitching coaches in collegiate baseball listen to when he's driving from place to place during the summer?
A - a"I haven't talked to any great ones but I can tell you what I listen to (laugh). I'm having a weird summer. This entire month of July I've had my radio on XM 76 which is (the) Symphony Hall (station). I've been listening to Bach and Mozart. This time of year you are watching five games a day, especially at the Perfect Game Tournaments and that music is relaxing (when you are driving from game to game). It's probably strange to see a guy in a Ford pickup with Symphony Hall music going on (laugh).

"My wife was in the car with me the other day when we were going to dinner and she asked me if there was something wrong with me and if I needed to go to the Doctor? She had gotten into my car and it was on Symphony Hall (laugh)."

Q - How did you wind up choosing the Symphony Hall station?
A - "You are in the car so much and all the country songs are coming around for the third or fourth time and some of them are kind of depressing (laugh). I found Symphony Hall and I'm kind of stuck on it right now. It's relaxing and easy sounding music."

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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