"I Don't Think We're That Far Away"

Even though the 2015 team finished weeks ago, Bulldog baseball remains a June topic worth discussing. Tuesday Coach John Cohen met with media to field questions about the general state of the program.

It had to be general as there were not many details offered for specific Mississippi State questions. Cohen had to hedge answers about possible underclassmen departures, a few health situations, and any potential drafted Bulldogs from both the 2015 roster and the signing class.

Cohen has stated there are 19 in the class (Mississippi State like many other programs does not publish signee lists) and as many as 11 could be drafted. Baseball websites show four or five players known to have signed with MSU as rated highly enough to go in early draft rounds. Though as Cohen noted, even late-draftees are prone to taking professional offers.

The draft is June 8-10.

Also, Mississippi State is still working on the 2016 schedule which is nothing close to ready for publishing. That might not be finished until fall.

Much of the following transcript was provided by John Galatas of Media Relations.

Can you give an overview of the season? “Obviously we’re very disappointed. If you look at all phases of the season in terms of our overall productions and really the health of our club, everything was pretty disappointing. I’m not a big believer in the ‘luck’ part because I believe you make your luck.”

“But just by viewing what some of the teams in our league have done in the postseason, and the way we competed against them during our regular season… I mean we’re one crazy play away from at least taking two out of three from a very, very good, older, experienced LSU club. Or a pitch or two away from taking two out of three from a really good Texas A&M club.”

“So I don’t think we’re that far away. But for us to recover from the many things that happened to us during the course of the year was going to take a tremendous task. And we just didn’t answer the task the way I wanted us to.”

“I’m excited about the group we have coming back. We have seven kids playing the Cape Cod league right now. We have 20-some kids playing summer baseball. And I feel like we can have a good club coming back.”

How important is summer ball to developing those guys, especially pitchers? “Well the summer is always big for everybody, for every college baseball player. The development of our kids during the course of the summer, just like it’s always been pretty important.”

Do the staff sit down and assess where you are as a program and what might be done differently in the off-season? “I think any successful organization is always assessing what is going on in their organization. We’re not different. Every successful business does that. Anybody who is not doing that really is not doing their job. Anybody who is status quo in anything they do isn’t a very successful person. So yeah, of course. We’re evaluating everything we do from do from every phase of our program.”

Is there anything you’ve specifically identified? “Yeah, there’s a ton of things. Especially some of the things that we’re going to do in terms of our pitching. And some of it has to do with the way our personal kind of sets up for our ballpark and for the way we’re going to try to play.”

“But yeah, we’re constantly working through all those dynamics.”

You have a high-rated recruiting class, how confident are you about a lot of those guys coming to campus? “I don’t know anybody who recruits at the highest level who feels confident. Because what we’re competing with are dollars. And in our society money wins a lot over development, over long-haul assessment of a young man’s life. Dollars can win a battle in a hurry.”

“But we’ve been in close contact with all our kids. We’ve been in a ton of homes. With our process, you have to recruit and re-recruit and the re-recruit again. We’ve done that. We feel like we’re in as good of a position as we can possibly be. If this entire class shows up, I think it can be one of the best classes in the country, if not the best class in the country. We’ll see what happens.”

”You have to have a little bit of a crystal ball because you sign somebody or commit somebody and at that point in time they aren’t ranked in the top-500 players in America and they become a second- or third-rounder, and they are staring a six, seven, eight hundred to one million dollars. That’s tough when you start out with someone who is not on anybody’s radar and they end up being a big-time player. I think if you’re recruiting somebody from the get-go ranked in the top-20 or 30 in America and you get them, you plan on, ‘there’s a good chance we’re going to lose this.’ If it’s somebody who isn’t on anybody’s radar and all of a sudden two months before the draft he creeps up on a radar and becomes a top-5 round pick, that’s when it gets you.

“The only way you can prepare for those things, quite frankly, is to be super aggressive in your numbers. So it’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about it.”

With 19 players signed, all the underclassmen and walk-ons, does that mean there will be players not coming back? “Yeah, you just don’t know. We don’t know at this point in time. We’ll know a lot more next week.”

“We have certain challenges that are really hard to talk about from an administrative standpoint in terms of putting together a baseball team that really put us in a position to make sure we have quite frankly a good product to put on the field. We have to have good players. We certainly don’t want to go through what we did this year, and in knowing what we went through this year we want to make sure we have the best possible roster to represent Mississippi State in the best way.”

Is there anybody from this past year that is not going to be back? “There’s still some discussions. In any form of a university, there is some transition. I’m sure there will be some of that, but I’m just not in a position to talk about that yet.”

This class has several elite pitchers who’ve said they’re coming to school, how big an impact can they have? “It’s really hard to tell. You really, in some ways, the year you are having at that moment is defined by what happened two and three years from that point in time. I think they will all have an impact, you just don’t know at this point in time. It’s a little bit of a flip of a coin.”

“When you look at SEC rosters for the most part and see the amount of kids on a roster in the Southeastern Conference, then look at the amount of kids on a roster who are actually contributing a ton to that pitching staff, in some cases those a pretty small numbers. We don’t want it that way. We want as many people to contribute as possible. It’s a jump. To go from the high school level or junior college level to the SEC, it’s a jump. How quickly somebody makes that jump is really hard to say. There’s no question that there is opportunity for all those kids.”

How many are you concerned might be drafted? “It’s hard to say. We lost a kid who was a 40th round pick last year. We’ve held on to kids who went in the fifth round. It’s really hard to say because every family is different. When you’re posed with that question, it’s hard to know how somebody will react. Somebody calls your house and says, ‘How about $150,000? How about $700,000?’ Until you’re put in that situation, you really don’t know how you are going to respond. It’s hard to say. It’s different for every family. Every family’s socioeconomic situation is different. We just have to wait and see.”

Conservatively guessing how many would you like to see come here? “I think we have a chance to get all of them. Even some of them whose folks are mentioning a late first round or second round, I still think we still have a chance to get every one of them. The only thing good about the draft for us is when they call one name, it pushes one name one pick back. That’s the only thing that really helps us. This is one of the things you enjoy about your career. It’s a challenging deal. I don’t know if there are any other sports that have to deal with this. Certainly, if you recruit at a very high level, it’s something you have to deal with and you think about all the time.”

The players injured this season, when are they projected to be back? “We’re nursing some injuries. I don’t want to discuss them at this point in time because I’m not 100 percent sure where they are going to be two months from now. We had some injuries that hurt us. It’s not an excuse because every team in America that’s good or has a chance to compete at the highest level has injuries. The ones who can minimize that I think are the ones who have a better chance than most. We’ll get through the summer. We’ll have some kids in town who we will rehab, and hopefully will be ready to go in the fall.”

You talk about not wanting to be in the same roster position as last year, what was that position? “We felt like the catching position, we felt like we were going to have one of the best guys in the league, and we had a guy who really struggled with injuries the whole time and he’s still recovering from that injury.”

“We had several things, to be honest with you, we didn’t mention to the media or to people outside the confines of our locker room because we didn’t want to use it as an excuse and we just didn’t want it out there. We really had a wounded unit this year. Our kids know that’s not going to fly with me. It’s not an excuse and we’re not going to use it as an excuse here. Because everybody else has to deal with the same thing.”

What do you attribute some of the hitting problems, such as slugging, to. Is it the park, the personnel? “I think it’s all of the above. Overnight, we used a new baseball. There was no transition, no nothing. Some coaches got together in this country and decided we needed a new baseball and we got a new baseball.”

“I think it affected us a little bit differently than other people because of the nature our ballpark plays. Everybody on our team who is successful is a sinker-oriented type of pitcher. Sinker guys are all about the amount of friction you can create of seams, and when the seams are lowered it’s going to affect everybody. We were not out in front of (the new baseballs). We felt like we were out in front of the bat situation. We felt like we knew what was going to happen with the bats that they were going to be deadened over the last five years.”

“But we didn’t know within a one year period the seams were going to be as dramatic. That’s something that changes the game a little bit. The ball is going to fly a little bit more and it’s going to get through the infield a little bit quicker. If you look at power numbers overall it’s not a tremendous difference, but I think it’s something with this class have addressed. But at the same time, we got to play in a ball park that doesn’t yield a whole lot of power.”

Do you have to change the type of pitcher you recruit now? “I do think with the new ball situation, velocity is a much bigger issue than sink. In a recruiting standpoint, you’re trying to get the best player you can get. If that guy is really good and has a great career before he gets to you as a sinker guy, I think you don’t run away from that. It’s pretty apparent we had as good a breaking ball swing-and-miss stuff at the end of the game as anyone in the country for the last three or four years. That’s something we didn’t have much of so we know that’s something that has to be addressed and we have to have that at the end of ball games.”

Zac Houston and Dakota Hudson were two higher-velocity guys, do you see them having a big role? “Those guys have to be good for us. We have a lot of young arms coming into our program and we need those two guys who are going to be juniors to make a jump. I think both of them will tell you that. Both of them showed flashes this year, but we are going to need more than that. They’re the first guys who would tell you that. They want to right some things they perceived as wrongs during the course of this year. They want our program to make a jump, and they know personally they need to make jumps.”

The potential for this team, is it on the current roster or in the incoming players? “I think there are a lot of factors with that. You look at a Luke Reynolds as one example. He is a guy who got punched in the face a little bit at the beginning of the year and even in the fall. Then he started remembering that he was a pretty good player coming in here.”

“Guys like Luke Reynolds and a fully-healthy Collins. I think we had a freshman shortstop (Ryan Gridley) this year who I think has the chance to be a really good player. I think we have a dynamic center fielder who started to figure some things out as an offensive player in (Jacob) Robson. Yeah, there are some positive things coming back. From a talent standpoint, we’re adding to the top of our program and the top of our league with the kids coming in, but we’ll know more about that after next Monday and Tuesday.”

Do you anticipate any draft risk to the current roster? “Again you’re never 100 percent on that. We have some draft eligible guys. We’ll wait and see how that pans out also.”

With two years using adidas bats, and noticing in the NCAA Tournament many adidas schools use other bats, are you considering a transition? “That’s an interesting subject because especially what’s happened within the last five years with the changing of the bats, it’s so hard to know what bat is performing more than anything.”

“But I think our kids like swinging the adidas bats. It’s never been an issue for me to look out there and see who is swinging what and make decisions based on that. Our kids our swinging adidas bats right now because they chose kind of in a testing period that’s what they wanted to swing. At this point, I don’t anticipate any changes there.”

How is the relationship with adidas after the issue? “To be perfectly honest with you, that’s an administrative thing. I haven’t had any conversations with adidas. I really can’t answer that question. I know, in terms of their service to our university and our baseball program, they have been phenomenal and have been a really good group to work with. Outside of that I can’t speak to what has transpired over the last several months.”

You’ve been able to talk to prospect and fans about the planned new stadium. What has been the reaction? “It’s been great. It’s not about our players, our coaching staff, it’s about our fans. Our fans deserve to have a venue that’s one of the better venues, if not the best venue in the entire country. I am a Mississippi State fan. I’ll tell you just to go the football games as an example, to see the facilities at football as a Mississippi State football fan who has been a football fan here for a long time, you stick your chest out and say, ‘this is a real SEC top-of-the-line venue.’ To me, the people who get the most of it are fans.”

“That’s why I think with our facility here, the people who are going to get the most out of it are our fans. There will be tremendous benefit for our program as well, but I think our fan base is very deserving of having a facility like this.”

How has fund raising gone? “It’s been very positive. We’ve had a ton of positive response and it’s gone very well, but I can’t speak to exact numbers. Just the response and doing speaking engagements and being in contact with Mississippi State people all over the country, it’s been a tremendous response.”


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