The first thing you notice when you watch Small pitch is his fastball velocity. He has topped out at 98 miles per hour from the left side this season. Very few people in the world can do that. Current Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson has seen some hard-throwing pitchers during his 18-year career but he has only coached one that could throw as hard as Small can as a freshman.
"I have only had one freshman that topped out at 98 (miles per hour)," said Johnson. "He came to us throwing 95 and he stayed right there. But you can't compare him to Ethan because he was already a monster (size-wise). He was a defensive end in high school football. Comparing him to Ethan is like comparing a cherry to a green apple."
Small is still filling out his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. Johnson expects even more velocity in the future as he adds more weight and strength. Small is doing his part to achieve that goal. And he has already started seeing results.
"I have hit the weights pretty hard, but I think specific drills that Coach Johnson has us doing with the weighted ball is where my big (velocity) jump has come from," said Small. " You throw those as hard as you can every time. If you can throw a 21 ounce ball 70 miles per hour, then you know you can throw a 5 ounce baseball harder than you could before because your arm is used to throwing something heavier."
The big jump that Small is referring to occurred since his senior season of high school baseball.
"I was throwing my fastball 88 to 92 miles per hour in high school," said Small. "In the first game of my senior year I was throwing 90-92, 93, then I settled into the 89-91, a few 92s, range."
When he got to Mississippi State, Johnson immediately put him on a program that improved his velocity.
"Coach Johnson has helped me by putting us on a program that promotes velocity," said Small. "You are constantly changing weights which confuses your arm. I feel like that increases the fast-twitch muscles in your arm. And that allows your arm to go faster."
According to Johnson, Small has completely bought into his pitching program.
"Since I got here he has really bought into the weighted ball system," said Johnson. "He has taken off with it because he is a tireless worker."
Johnson almost didn't have Small as one of his pupils because Small originally committed to another SEC power-house.
"I committed to Vanderbilt the fall of my sophomore year in high school but it just didn't work out," said Small. "Their main recruiter and their pitching coach, Derek Johnson, left to be the (Chicago) Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator and I didn't feel comfortable with that situation. So, I backed off of that (commitment)."
In stepped several other colleges, including Mississippi State.
"Mississippi State, Tennessee, Louisville and Austin Peay were looking at me after that but I pretty much knew that (Mississippi State) was who I wanted to pursue," said Small. "I wanted to go where I felt the most comfortable and where I would be able to develop as a pitcher."
Former Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson, who is now the head coach at Auburn, was the main reason for his interest in Mississippi State.
"Butch Thompson was the key piece in that situation," said Small. "He's gone but I am really comfortable with Coach Johnson just as much if not more than I was with Coach T. I am really confident that he is going to get me to where I need to be."
Where he feels he needs to be is in the Major Leagues. He could have started that process by being drafted and going pro out of high school but he felt the time wasn't right.
"I wasn't drafted after high school but I talked to a lot of scouts," said Small. "There was a lot of interest from them as far as my frame and what they could add to me, and I had a few (draft) offers (if I was willing to sign) but I felt it was best to come to Mississippi State because I felt I could get more coming out of here as a junior."
So far, Small is on-track to achieve his junior goal. He has seen his fastball velo spike several miles per hour, averaging 93.1 miles per hour and topping out at 98, since arriving on the MSU campus. He hasn't always seen the results on the field that he would hope for but, according to Johnson, it is coming.
"He is going to be that guy," said Johnson. "He has a power fastball. And the slider is coming. In the bullpen he is pretty confident with it. But in a game he is not quite as confident. Obviously, that is a progression that he can make. The changeup is coming as well. The changeup is ahead of his slider right now from a confidence standpoint as far as throwing it in a game."
As of now, Small is a spot reliever for the Bulldogs. But Johnson projects him as a starter. He will begin the transition from reliever to starter this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
"This summer I will be going to the Cape Cod League, playing for the Wareham Gatemen," said Small. "I want to work on putting up 0s in multiple innings. I believe I can do that and the summer will be a great time to work on that."
Johnson expects Small's summer experience in the Cape Cod League to be very beneficial.
"It is big for him (to play in the Cape Cod League) but I think he is ready for it," said Johnson. "For him to be able to go up to that league and get some innings as a starter I think that is not only going to be big for him but big for our program as well. I'm excited for him and I'm glad he is going to get that opportunity."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.