Butch Thompson Talks MSU Pitchers

Mississippi State associate head coach Butch Thompson talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about the MSU pitchers after the conclusion of fall scrimmages.

What are your thoughts about the pitching staff now that you have seen them during the fall?
"After looking back at the fall, (I am) now are trying to look at the positives of everything. One thing that I believe is we have more starters than we had last year. I feel like we are deeper there. The elephant in the room is the loss of Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder (in the bullpen) and fitting the pieces in there. You'll see Tatum and Fitts be the two guys who will kind of replace Holder and Lindgren I feel like the move to the bullpen of Fitts and Tatum will help enhance and embraces who they are even more.

"As a starter, Trevor wasn't allowed to pitch with his breaking ball because (as a starter) you are always trying to go five, six or seven innings. His breaking ball is a swing and miss pitch, and he can throw it for a strike as well as he can his fastball. And when you come in and see a finish line really close, three to six outs, then you can throw your breaking ball, which is more to his strengths.

"I feel like we peeled everything back on our pitching staff, which I think created some challenges - the new baseball, more three-ball counts. We threw 22% more three-ball counts than we did last fall. Our first-year pitchers threw 24.3 pitches per inning. We did that three years ago with that freshman class. So, this group reminded me of that gropu. But I'm glad that happened in our fall. I think that helps us going into the spring. We can now focus on that.

"I liked how we finished the fall. I thought the fall world series was competitive. I thought that I saw some guys get 10% better because they were on a team and playing for a series win.

"I ended the fall thankful for all that we went through. Now we have to make adjustments. And, hopefully, we can come back knowing exactly who we are, what we are trying to do. We don't have to wait until February to put them in roles."

One of the new guys is freshman Paxton Stover. He had a pretty good fall.
"Paxton is a lefty who throws 85-88 (miles per hour) and spins a fastball so well. He came to a (baseball) camp (of ours) and that is why we liked him. He also has a changeup and his slider is better than we thought when we recruited him. I think he is an inning-eater and has a chance to pitch as a freshman. I don't want to put too much pressure on him but we will continue to train him as a starter. He could be a mid-week guy or a long relief guy based on the way our season starts. He could get some starts early and we could see where he is."

Cole Gordon is another freshman.
"Cole is 15 to 16 months off of Tommy John surgery. It was good for him just to get back on the mound. He was healthy and didn't miss a start. His velo was really down, 84-85 (miles per hour), but we think he is going to be a 90-92 guy. In the fall world series he was 87, so I was thinking that I'm starting to see (the velo increase). It was brief, just a moment but it was kind of a foreshadowing of what is coming. It is really hard to gain velocity, especially for our new guys, because our strength and conditioning program is so important to us. It wears them down. Now he has the break and can get his feet back beneath him."

Paul Young is another one that had Tommy John surgery. He wasn't able to pitch in a game during the fall scrimmages.
"Dr. Linton and Dr. James Andrews did his surgery. He threw off and on this fall (in the bullpen). We are going to start the day after Christmas throwing him. He needs to be right there with our other pitchers on January 12th throwing bullpens. But it is still going to be 12 months off of Tommy John surgery for him when our season opens up. It will be a gametime decision on where he is at. But he needs to be getting innings and participating in our pre-season squad games. Even if he is not ready opening day, we hope he will be ready by the first of March so that he can help the club."

Sophomore Austin Sexton had some good moments in the fall scrimmages.
"His changeup was really good at times. I think the most anybody threw in the fall was 5 innings, and he had some 4+ inning outings where he really got the changeup going. I think his ball is lower in the strikezone than it was a year ago. I think he is a little stronger. We are going to continue to train him as a starter. I think this will be a good year for him to bust out as a starter. We are really (throwing) heavy with the two-seam fastball and really in love with his changeup. He is throwing his changeup to both lefties and righties. He is also throwing a four-seam fastball. His breaking ball is ok. We feel like it is a really good neutral count or behind-in-the-count pitch, maybe not to put someone away with two strikes."

I really liked what I saw from freshman Jesse McCord. He was unhittable at times.
"We didn't really hit him, whether he was great or average. It didn't really matter. Guys didn't square up on him. We are going to keep training him as a starter. I can see him as a Sunday starter as a freshman. I can even see him as a Freshman All-American. That is probably putting too much on him.

"I think his changeup is one of the top two or three that I have coached in my career. I remember Nick Routt as a freshman and thought his changeup was as good as anybody that I have ever coached. Jesse has a changeup in that category. And he is so athletic. In some aspects he reminds me of Kendall Graveman from that standpoint. I think he can help us this year."

Dakota Hudson didn't seem to come back from his back issue during the fall. He had trouble throwing strikes and was a little down with his fastball velocity.
"Yeah, it was kind of a wash. One thing that we are doing with him is lowering his pitching slot a little bit. And Dakota has bought into that. He has been throwing over the top for four years. We are going to punt that because we feel like that has been a long enough time for it to come into focus, and it hasn't. We are doing with him much like what we did with Chris Stratton. We are going from the four-seam curveball over the top to the two-seam slider. We did a couple of bullpens with him at the end of the fall and they were promising."

Do you see Trevor Fitts and Vance Tatum being your closers?
"I do, righty and lefty. We will do with them the same we did with Holder and Lindgren, Call them more competitive moment guys instead of your traditional closers, where they just come in and get three outs. There might be times when they throw 50 pitches to execute it.

"Vance is one of our most competitive guys and throwing him in the bullpen you really see that competitiveness. We threw him a lot in the bullpen last year. He just needs to continue to master a routine out of his bullpen."

Preston Brown was a starter last year and a starter in the fall this year.
"He wound up being our Pitcher-of-the-Fall in our awards ceremony at the end of the fall. He was also Pitcher-of-the-Fall last fall. He had that shoulder issue last season but it looks like he is 100% back now. I thought he was our best pitcher this fall. I believe he threw five innings in one of the last two times that he pitched. He has a fastball, changeup, breaking ball and knows what he wants to throw. He is one of our most mature guys as far as sequencing versus righties and lefties. If he really prepares and has a great month leading into the season, then I think he has a very sincere chance of challenging for one of our top three starting spots on the weekend."

Aaron Dominguez, a freshman, had his ups and downs, which you expect from a true freshman.
"I thought he pitched with a good mindset at the end of the fall. I think he was lost early because he wasn't pitching with an identity or much intent. But right there in the fall world series I saw him doing a little bit more. You could see what he was trying to do. He was very competitive and worked quick. He finished one of the games in the world series for his team. To me, he finished on a high note. I think he is a reliever early, maybe a long reliever type."

Logan Elliot had a few good moments but also some really bad moments in the fall.
"Logan is one of our drop down guys, low, low three-quarter guys. Those guys are supposed to dominate the same side hitters and he didn't. But I think he will figure it out. He is a slender guy who I think the strength and conditioning program really worked against him. I think it knocked him down the longer we went in the fall. He will freshen up and we will make some maintenance adjustments on how we train him.

"He and Myles Gentry are a couple of drop down options versus righthanded hitters. We will spend all of January bringing them in spots just to get one, two or a small group of righthanded hitters out. That is how we will train them leading into the season."

You made an adjustment with Levi Mintz and he really showed some improvement this fall compared to last fall.
"He is a guy who was throwing from the over-the-top arm slot for a year and a half with us. The balls were either spiking or being left up in the strikezone. We moved him down more three-quarters like we did with Chris Stratton and are doing with Dakota Hudson. Now we are seeing his ball sink or slide to the side of the plate, more of a side to side than a vertical approach.

"His strike percentage improved and his breaking ball became really good. I thought his velocity increased a couple of miles per hour. He got some confidence late in the fall from that adjustment. In the fall world series his team brought him in in a two-out situation and he got a big strikeout.

"If he can get right back to that slot and manage it through January, he might be a viable option as far as a swing and miss right on right guy."

Zac Houston had some good outings at times.
"What I like about Zac potentially fitting in our bullpen is he is big, which offers him a little deception. He threw more strikes this fall. His primary pitch is a fastball. Tatum has a pretty good breaking ball that gets some swing and miss from it. We have a couple of drop down righties and a couple of lefties that we can put in the pen. We have Fitts. Zac adds value because he can followup somebody like that. I think he is going to be someone who can throw with some real velocity and pitch heavy off of the fastball. He could be our top velocity guy in the spring. His slider is ok and is definitely a pitch that he will use. But I think he will be able to pitch heavy off of his fastball. That gives him some uniqueness in our bullpen."

Ben Hudspeth had an injury early in the fall and didn't get to pitch much.
"He had the knee surgery. It's going to be a gametime decision with him. Hopefully, he can start throwing in January. We'll have to keep monitoring to see when he can start throwing. I think he has two months to go."

Freshman Andrew Mahoney is another young guy who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
"He is a fastball, slider guy. We are hoping that he will come back similar to Cole Gordon after 15 to 16 months off of the surgery. We are just going to make it simple for him. He will throw fastballs and sliders against lefthanders. Once he masters that, then he will get more."

Jacob Billingsley is a redshirt freshman with a great curveball.
"He is a righthanded breaking ball option out of the bullpen. We'll keep training him that way. We think his breaking ball is his best pitch but we have to keep working with him on commanding his fastball better down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. He had to come home from summer ball after 14 or 15 scoreless innings. His shoulder (issue) flared up a little bit with him during the fall. But he came back really strong in the world series.

"He's got a great breaking ball. We hope he will have one more phase of growth so that he can help us out of the bullpen."

Lucas Laster had a good fall once he got going.
"He finished the fall really strong. His last outing was really good. There were some really defensive swings that entire outing. I think he has a chance to be in that same category as Preston Brown of competing for one of our weekend rotation spots. He just needs to work hard during the break, then come back and have a good phase in January."

Myles Gentry is another drop down righty out of the bullpen.
"He and Logan (Elliot) are very similar but I don't want them to think they are competing against each other. We want both of them to have success and be part of our bullpen. Once you bring in a drop down guy the other team (uses) their lefties. If might be, if both are throwing competitive enough, that you can use both of them. When you bring in a drop down righty, the other team will bring in a lefthanded hitter, then you can bring in a lefty for one or two batters, then you can come back with another drop down righty when you get back to the righthanded hitters. So, I really want those two to step up their game. Then, if we can find the right lefty to fit in between them, they can both serve a purpose on our staff."

Ross Mitchell is a fifth-year senior.
"Could our rotation be good enough with a young guy like Stover or McCord coming on and being great freshmen? Last year we got to SEC play and we didn't think our rotation was good enough to keep Ross in the bullpen. So, we moved him to a starting role. And in five of the ten SEC weekends he threw a complete game. We still think that, potentially, Ross can do masterful work out of the bullpen when teams don't prepare for him. That is where he was when he was 13-0 on the College World Series team. We'll continue training him in pitch counts. We'll continue building his pitch count to 80, 90 pitches. Then, we will see how the starters come on."

Daniel Brown is a newcomer who came from junior college. He started off strong, then tailed off a little bit.
"In his last two outings he had more three-ball counts than he had in the rest of his starts in the fall. He pitches from the stretch only. This didn't happen in the fall but we really wanted to see Daniel pitch out of the bullpen. He has a quick, sneaky arm. He is that smaller lefty in statue who has a strong lower half. I think he is going to throw with some velocity from a lefthander standpoint.

"He picked up a slider this fall and really liked it. In fact, he liked it so much that he started throwing it too much. We still want him to pitch off of his fastball. We are going to take a look at him as a reliever a couple of times in January. An arm like his would really help the bullpen. But he will still be a candidate for the role of a starter."

Trent Waddell didn't pitch much in the fall but was effective when he was in the game.
"He comes from a surgery ridden background. When I saw Trent pitch in junior college, and he only threw something like 4 innings in junior college, I really wanted him here to help him figure out pitching. I think he has a good arm. We have rehabbed it a ton. He throws in a downhill plane. He has a breaking pitch that he can throw for a strike. When he is on, he can throw it for a strike at will and it survives. I think he is one of those (lefties) who I am talking about using in a short stint. I think he could be that left on left, get you a couple of batters, guy. And that is how I think we want to try and use him.

"He also has a chance to come in at first base as a defensive replacement. He is one of our true dual guys, he and Cole Gordon."

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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