Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Cohen Keeping an Eye on Drafted Recruit Class, as Off-Season Coaching Carousel Spins

It was a proud program moment when a record number of Diamond Dogs went drafted over the weekend. Now though the aftermath is evaluating who will take the money and run; who may stay around; and how the recruiting class has been impacted.

Or, it seems, not impacted nearly so much as feared?

Mississippi State saw eleven active players called in the 2016 Major League Draft. That blew away recent classes with a largest-group of eight in 2003; and exceeded the ten total taken in the much-vaguer format of 1966. Pro baseball went to a draft system in 1965.

Records are records and to be celebrated. The obvious down-side is…this is a great big chunk of the varsity roster that will be playing on professional fields from now on. It also should include a pair of undrafted seniors who have finished college careers.

But there is no panic in the coaching office. This was anticipated by Coach John Cohen and staff, at least as far as the varsity. In most cases, the scholarship money that had been invested in the eleven underclassmen was committed to incoming players already. That is standard college procedure everywhere these days with NCAA caps of 27 players on athletic aid and a total 35-man roster.

The final list of drafted Bulldogs, varsity or recruited:

RHP Dakota Hudson – 1st-#34, St. Louis

RHP Reid Humphreys – 7th-#200, Colorado

LHP Daniel Brown – 7th-#201, Milwaukee

OF Jacob Robson – 8th-#235, Detroit

RHP Zac Houston – 11th-#325, Detroit

1B Nathaniel Lowe – 13th-#390, Tampa Bay

C Gavin Collins – 13th-#392, Cleveland

LHP Vance Tatum – 18th-#553, Kansas City

RHP Austin Sexton – 18th-#556, St. Louis

C Jack Kruger – 20th-#606, Los Angeles Angels

OF Brent Rooker – 38th-#1143, Minnesota

SIGNEES:

LHP Walker Robbins – 5th-#166, St. Louis

RHP Colin Holderman – 9th-#280, New York Mets

RHP Graham Ashcraft – 12th-#371 Los Angeles Dodgers

3b/C Dustin Skelton – 36th-#1092, Toronto

Post-draft opinion is nine of the drafted underclassmen are going to sign at some point before the July 15 deadline. While the coaching staff continues to court prospects for future signings, the best ‘recruiting’ State could do this month is to keep a pair of the drafted Dogs on campus for one more season together. The impact of just a couple of returnees on the offense would be tough to over-state.

Because if all the drafted position players choose to leave, along with a pair of departing seniors, Mississippi State would lose:

--40 out of the 47 home runs hit or 85%;

--94 out of 132 doubles or 71%;

--70% of RBI;

--73% of all extra-base hits.

And these eight players had combined batting average of .316, compared to the team’s overall average of .308.

However if, as many want to believe, just two of these Bulldogs pass on the draft and return for 2017, the losses would be much less. Those two players are OF/DH Brent Rooker, who has the luxury as a redshirt sophomore of waiting another year if he so chooses; and C/DH Jack Kruger, a junior this year who might well opt for a senior season at Dudy Noble Field.

Keep that pair, just these two, and then State will ‘only’ lose 47% of home runs, 45% of RBI, and so on. Suddenly the 2017 batting order would have not just a star at the top in SEC batting leader Jake Mangum. There would be proven muscle behind him in Kruger and Rooker; along with some rising hitters who have shown punch in less-frequent opportunities. When healthy, MIF Luke Alexander did slug a pair of homers with another double before wrist issues sidelined him in April.

And while he’s only had a few real-game chances to show it, in batting practice and scrimmages corner IF Cole Gordon has blasted balls as both a redshirting ’15 freshman and this past fall as a reserve. Rising junior Ryan Gridley should be about to hit his peak production as a college players as well. Also, once healthy again MIF/OF/C Hunter Stovall can certainly sting a baseball and get around the basepaths.

Losses in the pitching staff are significantly stronger. Hudson and Sexton each started every weekend, 17 in all, with 17 wins between them. And by post-season Houston had taken over the third spot. So essentially State has to replace the entire tournament rotation; though LHP Konnor Pilkington did start 11 times himself and as a sophomore will be the core of a rebuilt rotation.

But the numbers are a little unnerving. Taking away the six Dogs who pitched, including late-reliever Humphreys, and State will have to replace:

--27 victories;

--109 combined appearances;

--44 starts;

--363 strikeouts or 63%;

--354.1 innings or 62%.

And, these pitchers combined for a batting average-against of .254 with a 3.25 era. All of them are expected to sign professional deals. Curiously, there were no active seniors on the 2016 pitching staff. Redshirt senior Trent Waddell sat out the season.

However. The armed forces have hardly been gutted. Yes, the cream has been scooped and the rotation ravaged. At the same time, a year ago this month the rotation was sheer speculation. Few could have predicted what Hudson/Sexton would become until after strong summer showings. Houston was only supposed to be a right-side middle reliever. Pilkington was a signee. Humphreys hadn’t thrown a live pitch in three years.

So while it’s risky to predict State will simply promote and replace…there is proof it can work out just fine. And State has a deep roster of pitchers who got various amounts of 2016 experience to build upon now as they compete for larger and longer roles in 2017.

The really good news is that while Cohen said last week he was concerned with as many as 12 recruits being drafted, only four were. Even if all do sign contracts, and most figure they will, that leaves a healthy class of personnel State was counting on intact. Though of course, Mississippi State does not announce recruiting classes, here are the 16 known to have either actually signed papers or committed:

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.

Though not to do with drafts, there is one developing story involving the 2017 team. Cohen’s top two assistants are both being linked to open jobs in the SEC.

Pitching coach Wes Johnson is being courted by Arkansas for the same post, as Steve Robertson reports. A native of Sherwood, Ark., who played at Arkansas-Monticello, he is an obvious target for a Razorback program looking to rebound from missing the SEC Tournament and NCAA play for the first time under Coach Dave Van Horn.

There is also the potential for other programs to show interest once the University of Texas hires a new head coach; and that produces ripples among staffs around the region. Johnson hasn’t even been a full year in Starkville. He was hired in October 2015 when long-time pitching coach Butch Thompson took over at Auburn. Under his tutelage, and combined with the sort of staff he inherited, Johnson made State more oriented to strikeouts and power pitching with the clear results.

Meanwhile eight-year Cohen aide Nick Mingione is being considered for the open job at Kentucky, which just saw former Cohen assistant and head coach Gary Henderson abruptly resign. A Florida native, Mingione worked under Cohen at Kentucky 2006-07. He is regarded as one of the most aggressive recruiters in the SEC and beyond.

Cohen himself is hearing his own name bandied about in connection with the open Alabama job, inevitable as a Tuscaloosa native. No one can see such a lateral move at this point in his career though since Alabama also operates without lottery-based scholarships like State. Their program does have a mostly-new stadium of course.

But Mississippi State is finalizing plans and schedule for its own entirely-new venue with a target to open by 2019 at latest. Construction on the $55 million project should begin in June 2017.


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