You and Nick Mingione are the primary hitting coaches. How do you guys work together on hitting?
"Coach Mingione and I completely work together. It is a total team effort. And the most important thing is our hitters swing the bats well. We are concerned with what is right, not who is right. It doesn't matter who gets the credit for helping a certain hitter. We just care about our players becoming the best player that they can be and help us win games."
When a new player first gets to Mississippi State in the fall what is the first thing that you and Coach Mingione do with them hitting-wise?
"Early in the fall when we first hit together we just want to watch them. We let them showcase where they are right now. We provide competition in batting practice, challenging them to take every swing. It's more quality then quantity with their swings.
"Early in the fall we let them hit, let them be themselves, have freedom of mind to showcase where they are at that point. The main thing is we want to watch them take some batting practices and hit in some games before we start to help them. We want to know them before we try to help them.
"Early on when they are practicing that is when you can really lock in on their swings. We try to design a routine for them where they have their own tee drills, have underhand toss drills where the ball is coming toward them at a very slow speed and where you can really break things down. Before we start our official fall where they face live pitching and are competing in games, a lot of the work is based on making sure their swings are right and getting them ready to face live pitching.
"Once the official fall starts it is more about their approach at the plate, what pitches they are swinging at, their timing, their on-deck routine, their pre-game batting practice routine. Their swings are really worked on outside of games. It is difficult to focus on your swing in a game."
After the official fall is over what do yo do with the hitters?
"That is when we work really hard on their swings. We are asking them to do some potentially uncomfortable things. And that is the time when we make the most swing adjustments. Most of these players already have pretty good swings. Just to name a few, Gavin Collins, Jack Kruger, Nate Lowe, they all already had really good swings. It is more brushing up and fine-tuning some things."
You do something that I consider unique. You have a Major League Baseball player that you use as an example for each of your hitters. Explain why you do that?
"All of these guys are much better hitters than I ever was. I can offer them advice. They also had a high school coach, a summer travel ball coach, their dad to offer them advice. But there is no argument when I put them up to a Major League Baseball player who has the same body style and their swings are very similar. There is no argument because they want to be that guy some day. I gain instant credibility when I put them next to a Major League hitter.
"But what we do is pick one, two, maybe three Major League hitters who are similar to our players and compare their swing to our players swing through film.
"As my old high school football coach used to say, 'film don't lie.' And we film from a lot of different angles during games and batting practice. And video is always available for guys when they want to watch it. We film mostly for the coaches because the swing happens so fast and you don't really know what is happening until you look at the film and slow it down."
Speaking of comparing players to Major League hitters, who do you compare Jake Mangum to?
"Jake is more of a combination of guys. I have to compare his lower body to somebody. I have to compare his upper body do somebody. If you break down to the nuts and bolts of his swing, it is really, really good. It obviously starts from a very wide position. He does a toe tap. He keeps the weight in his back leg really well. That is why he can hit different pitches and hit them well. His upper body is very, very simple. His hands don't move much at all. I think his swing is very repeatable. And his swing path is very flat which means the bat stays on the same path as the pitch. It is a very level bat plane. He also doesn't hit routine fly balls. He also doesn't swing and miss much. When you don't hit routine fly balls much and don't swing and miss much you are going to get a lot of opportunities to get base hits."
It isn't just his body and his swing. It appears the college game hasn't intimidated him mentally and emotionally. A lot of coaches say freshmen have to learn to slow the game down once they get to college. He seemed to be able to do that really quickly because he is leading the SEC in hitting as a true freshman.
"He is one of the smartest baseball players that we have on this team. And his dad played in the NFL which is a big environment to play in. He also played for a very good high school program and a very good travel ball program. And he was well coached by the coaches at both. He played against good competition throughout the country. That really prepared him for this. With him, you have a really smart baseball player who is very well coached, is really tough, has great arm strength, can really run well, has a really good swing and has a good IQ. Add all that together and you have a chance to have a really good player."
You coached Nate Lowe in junior college. When he played for you down the stretch he was one of your better hitters. Now he has become one of the better hitters on this team.
"Yeah, he started off a little slow then caught fire and became, arguably, our best hitter and possibly the best hitter in junior college baseball. Nate is another very smart baseball player.
"When he got to me in the fall of junior college I had to fix a few things. He was really good at hitting to the middle and to his opposite field side which was to left field. But he wasn't good at pulling the baseball. And that is where you have your most power. I helped him with pulling the ball and hitting velocity. He still has some room for improvement with those things. But he is very hungry for more baseball knowledge and works very hard on his swing. And he already has a really good swing."
As a coach what do you look for in a player that is being recruited to play for Mississippi State?
"Obviously, it is a complex thing. If it is a first baseman, a third baseman, maybe a corner outfielder you look for more power. Center field , second base, shortstop you look for more defense, more fast twitch. At catcher defense outweighs everything.
"In a center fielder you are looking for a plus, plus runner. All the center fielders in the SEC can all really run well. And they are all really good defenders.
"If you are a good runner, then I feel that you need a have a shorter, simply swing that allows you put more balls in play and allows you to utilize your speed.
"From the defensive standpoint of a catcher you look for the arm-strength, the ability to receive the baseball, to block the plate, have some leadership skills.
"From the first baseman and third baseman you look for power in most cases.
"For all of the guys, from an offensive standpoint I look at their swing, where they are right now and what adjustments are we going to have to make when he gets here. You also have to consider whether their swing is going to work at this level. You have to decide if he does have a flaw can it be fixed. You also look at what else he brings to the table, his makeup, his toughness, what is his ceiling and how good can he be one day. As an example, we have a young player in our program who redshirted this year, Brant Blaylock. He can run a 6.5, 6.6 sixty, has a great arm, is a good defender, has power. He has all the tools. Now you just have to work with him to develop it."
What do you ask the hitters to do during the summer when they go play summer ball?
"Obviously, we are sending almost all of our players to summer leagues. If you look at professional baseball they play over 160 games. Playing is how you get better. We will talk to all of them in our exit meetings and tell them what needs to happen from now until we start our fall. We'll help them with what they need to focus on during the summer."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.