Robson Leads Hot Offensive Start To 2015

Everybody knew Jacob Robson had speed on the paths and in the field. What few expected was getting his season off to such a blazing start at the plate.

For that matter, the young man himself said he had no idea at the time he was posting a near-perfect opening weekend for reaching first base safely. “Not aware, no,” he shrugged, hearing the news after one of Mississippi State’s victories. For that matter Jacob Robson did not seem especially excited, either.

“I just take it one at-bat at a time,” the Diamond Dog centerfielder said. “Most people when they’re going good don’t think too far ahead. I stay true to that now, I’m not thinking about that one at-bat I had. I’m trying to take things one at a time and living in the moment right now.”

It’s a heckuva moment by any measure. Or moments in Robson’s case. For the debut weekend of his sophomore season, he came to the plate 17 times in four games. After 16 of those, there Robson was standing on first base. Or second base as he did rap a double in Saturday’s beat-down of Cincinnati.

There are no records available for reach-base streaks, much less to begin a season. But long-timers can’t recall any Dog of any era making a faster such start. Even if he wasn’t aware at the moment of his exact stats or streak, Robson is surprisingly not surprised.

No, the third-spring soph expected better from his adidas bat here in 2015.

“I’ve changed up a couple of things. Coming into the spring I worked with Coach (Zach) Dillon and he’s been excellent helping us all out. For me personally I’ve taken a little bit of effort out of my swing. There’s a better chance of me hitting the ball and putting it in play.”

Yes, classic batting wisdom is again true. Less effort yields more contact of the right sort. First-year assistant coach Dillon’s lessons certainly showed in the four-game weekend as the Bulldogs batted a collective .343. Yes, this was against a lot of young and un-polished pitching from Cincinnati and Miami-Ohio. And yes, a 23 strikeouts-to-31 walks rate isn’t what Mississippi State wants come SEC season.

The bottom line is these Dogs came out swinging better at most strikes and taking a lot more balls in their first public test. ‘Taking’ includes getting hit by pitches, ten total times. Twice it was Robson getting plunked for free passes, though even for an Ontario native taking a baseball off a limb on a cold February day isn’t fun.

Hitting, is. Robson batted safely six of his ten official appearances. A few of those were cases of legging-out infield singles which is absolutely part of his plate-plan this year.

“I know as a speed player putting a ball in play is essential, even if it’s not the hardest ball. As you see if I hit a high chopper there’s still a chance. So I’ve got to keep putting the ball in play.”

Now the statistical on-base rate was ‘only’ .765. This down-plays what Robson really did though as twice he reached on fielders choice grounders with somebody else getting out. Ahhhh, but both times the same play produced a RBI, and that’s a stat-sheet tradeoff Robson gladly takes. Heck, he even happily accepts a walk, as he did five times the first weekend.

“It feels good to see all that hard work pay off. Myself and the rest of the team put in countless hours in the off-season leading up to this weekend. I’m just glad it kind of paid off for me and I know it will for other guys, too.”

Robson was one of the three guys starting all four games, along with shortstop Seth Heck and leftfielder/DH Reid Humphreys. It was no surprise seeing Robson set in centerfield as in fall ball and preseason camp he staked claim to the open job.

The surprise was reading Robson’s name fifth in the batting order. His speed and better bat control shout ‘leadoff’ or two-hole hitter at most. Yet swinging him mid-order proved perfect for the first weekend. It certainly benefitted the big fellow batting behind Robson. First baseman Wes Rea batted .375 in his three starts with a weekend-leading seven RBI out of the six-hole.

“He’s a steal threat so the pitcher is worried about him, so I give him a lot of my credit,” Rea said. “They’re more prone to make a mistake when that happens. A guy lays down a bunt and runs a 3.7 to first base, that’s a huge factor at the plate for sure.”

For his part Robson knows the advantage of having the big Dog coming up next, as long as Robson can reach and get the defense worried about running.

“Wes is going to hit the ball hard. Even if I don’t steal I have a chance to score from first, or go first-to-third and use my speed. At the same time he’s a really mature hitter at the plate so he knows when it’s a good time for me to go, when to lay off, when to swing. This weekend the biggest thing was I didn’t even run that much when he was up. Just the thought in the other team’s mind puts a lot of pressure on and makes them make mistakes.”

As noted in a pre-season feature, Robson’s progression as a hitter results from several reasons. For one, he’s healthy. Robson played the first 18 games of last season before going out March 23 with injury. He is able to book 2014 as a redshirt year, fortunately. “And two years ago I was pretty young,” he said of scuffling through a rookie season on campus fresh from Canada.

So there is the natural development of both body—he now weighs a listed 180 pounds—and baseball mind. The skills have advanced too. Robson talks of working on keeping the back knee down, staying under pitches better and driving the ball more. “The big thing is I work on my hands, I feel if my hands are in the right spot then my feet will work with it.”

And, Coach John Cohen said, work against the other team’s glove-men. “When you have a guy like Robson that can really run, and some guys in our order that are going to hurry a defense, there’s going to be some throwaways.” The two opponents did commit eight official errors on opening weekend including a crucial three-run gaffe on catcher Josh Lovelady’s roller. Those didn’t count as ‘RBI’ but are very much part of State’s offensive playbook.

And Robson was the first of three runners coming home on a rushed throwing error. “It’s just putting pressure on,” he said. Just don’t think that Robson is feeling his own pressure to keep his sizzling start going. Or, does he?

“I set pretty high goals for myself.”

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