Over the next three draft days a half-dozen or more Mississippi State players are projected to hear their names claimed by professional franchises. In fact, if things go really, really well, the ‘modern’ draft record of eight Bulldogs drafted in 2003 could be matched. That’s given the number of well-regarded, draft eligible underclassmen and for that matter some seniors with value too on this team.
The draft begins Thursday evening at 6:00ct with the first round and a couple of auxiliary rounds. It resumes Friday with the regular second round; and wraps up Saturday.
During which time of course these same Diamond Dogs, drafted or not or just not knowing yet, will be playing NCAA Tournament baseball. Mississippi State hosts Arizona in the super regional best-of-three series starting at 5:00 Friday.
John Cohen used Wednesday’s press conference to vent about the annual timing of the MLB draft. Which, he admits, is not going to change. “I’m not offering a solution! But I think it’s unfortunate they should have that distraction.”
Then again the other 15 active super regional clubs have the same distractions. And it is always better to be playing ball during the draft than everyone scattered for summer ball or sitting at home watching the draft. Most of these Bulldogs haven’t been through it before, but “They’re dealing with it great,” said Cohen.
If projections hold one Dog for sure will have done with the draft a day before State plays. RHP Dakota Hudson’s exact value continues to fluctuate but is always in the first round. It will be a serious shock if State’s ace isn’t grabbed Thursday evening, and a little surprising if not within the first ten-twelve picks.
After that, top Dogs of most interest have been rotation cohort RHP Austin Sexton, OF/RHP Reid Humphreys, 1B Nathaniel Lowe, and LHP Daniel Brown. Then come several eligible underclassmen who want to find their slot before deciding to exit early, or not, including OF Jacob Robson, 3B Gavin Collins, OF Brent Rooker, C Jack Kruger, OF Cody Brown, RHP Blake Smith, LHP Vance Tatum.
All have to balance their own ambitions with proper preparation for this super regional and the opportunity to end their college careers in Omaha before moving on to professional baseball. Or, not. Hence the potential distractions.
“Kids respond to it differently,” Cohen said. “I think our kids do a good job of blocking out a lot of the periphery. But when you’re talking about your professional future it’s difficult. But I think our kids have a great attitude about it. They’re excited about it, who wouldn’t be?”
Speaking of the future…it won’t just be drafted, or not, Bulldogs enduring a few anxious days.
The coaches may be more nervous than everyone else. Cohen compared the upcoming draft period pressure to trading on the New York exchange. Certainly stakes are high.
We have a recruiting class that’s hanging in the balance,” Cohen said, adding “And I think Mississippi State fans still want us to win next year.” He even compared this to being a ‘broker’ for the ‘investment’ being made in futures for fans to pay dividends…or fail to if both recruiting class and varsity roster bear (pun intended) too much damage.
“When you’re talking about 18, 19 year olds…hey, how about $500,000? How about a million? How about $150,000. Every family is different and every family is different. Going into the draft we have to be a financial expert on about 30 kids, every Division I coach at a high level has to do that, especially in the SEC.” By which Cohen meat the conference, not the government securities sheriffs.
The twist is “It’s something we enjoy doing,” Cohen admitted. “You just have to pull out the magic 8-ball and shake it and hope you hit it right.”
As metaphors ran amuck, Cohen did remind how State’s 2015 class could have taken more damage than it did. And it did, with some premier prospects taking pro offers. Fortunately enough fine freshmen showed up, led by SEC leading batter Jake Mangum, versatile fielder and hitter Hunter Stovall, rotation lefthander Konnor Pilkington, and more. So did most of the transfer talent.
But, Cohen suggested, what if Lowe had taken the slot-money accorded a 10th-round selection and passed on college? “I mean, what’s our club look like right now without Nate Lowe? That’s the difference between winning a SEC Championship and finishing in last place.” No, he didn’t mean Lowe specifically, as major as were his contributions.
But the point holds that without the influx of freshmen and transfers, that 2015 team which did finish dead-last in the SEC would not have claimed the 2016 championship. They would have been a much-improved club almost regardless but likely not now hosting a super regional and two more wins away from the College World Series.
Such fine margins, “It’s something that keeps you up at night,” Cohen said.
And this 2016 recruiting class, which had the Mississippi State coaching staff working into wee hours anyway to scout, evaluate, recruit, and sign, is absolutely amnesiac. Cohen does not release fall or spring signee lists, so the following list of sixteen players (eleven high school, five transfer) is compiled by Gene Swindoll.
Cohen did acknowledge that this is a group that could get hit hard over the coming three days. “I’m going to have to say we’re pretty concerned about twelve kids. Which is good news/bad news. The good news is you’re recruiting the right guys. The bad news is it can get destroyed in a heartbeat.”
But if Mississippi State evades enough damage…the 2017 Diamond Dogs will win.
UNOFFICIAL MISSISSIPPI STATE SIGNEES/WALK-ONS:
HIGH SCHOOL --
Douglas Ashcraft RHP Huntsville AL; Will Brooks IF/OF Madison MS; Marc Coffers OF Barron Collier HS Fla; Denver McQuary RHP/MIF Houston MS; Mitchell Miller LHP Loganville GA; Walker Robbins 1B/LHP George County MS; Riley Self RHP/1B/3B Magnolia Heights MS; Hagan Severance OF Ravenwood TN; Dustin Skelton C Magnolia Heights MS; Reed Smith MIF Russellville AL; Cole Whitman LHP Pelham AL.
TRANSFERS --Harrison Bragg 3B Tacoma WA; Chase Goldwater OF Temple CC TX; Colin Holderman RHP Heartland IL CC; Trey Jolly RHP Hinds CC; Peyton Plumlee RHP Northwest MS CC.