Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

One-on-one with Mississippi State pitching coach Gary Henderson

Mississippi State baseball pitching coach Gary Henderson talked one-on-one with Gene's Page about his pitchers.

Konnor Pilkington had an outstanding fall. What are your thoughts about him?

"He had a solid fall. His numbers were good. He threw a lot of strikes. Like everybody else that is 20 to 21 years old, he has some things that he can continue to address to get better at. But we are looking for him to be a very productive pitcher for us on the weekends."

"Konnor is going to be a starting pitcher for us. He will throw on the weekends. He has improved his breaking ball a lot from last year. I know that from talking to him and talking to Coach Cohen. When you don't have a history of working with kids that is how you gauge those things.

Freshman Riley Self was a very impressive pitcher during the fall scrimmages. He was one of your most consistent pitchers during the fall.
"Riley did a really good job of throwing strikes this fall. I think he threw 14 innings, maybe 8 hits, 12 strikeouts and 2 walks. He has movement on his fastball. He also has a slider that he throws for a strike. He is a guy who is going to get an opportunity early on. Where that is, I don't know, starting pitcher, middle relief, toward the end of the game. I really think we are going to give him the opportunity to show us what he can do early on in the spring."

Self already has a big body. Most of the time the guys who project to throw harder are the tall, slim guys who still have room to fill out. Does he still project to throw even harder than he already does?
"I think there is a chance that most of them will. But there is no guarantee. You don't know. If you did know, then the Major League Baseball draft would be five rounds and not 40. There would be one minor league team instead of six or eight. You just don't know. But certain kids are good gambles that they are going to throw harder. Even though Riley is a big, strong body right now, I think he can get stronger. I think he can get better as he gets older."

Jake Mangum is an outfielder who also pitches. He is a lefthander who throws in the low 90s at time. I would think he has a place on the staff.
"He does have a place. But when you have a two-way guy he has to be able to handle the work load. He can certainly handle it mentally. He just has to prove that he can handle it physically. And it is harder than it appears. That is why a lot of guys don't do it. Most of the time when you see these guys who do it, they are big and strong with durable bodies. Jake is a great player who we expect to be great for us this year. And if we can figure out a way to make sure he can do it physically I would absolutely anticipate him contributing on the mound. It would be as a reliever in some short stints, and maybe some matchups."

Cole Gordon is another two-way player. He showed flashes of being a good pitcher.
"He sure did. Beyond the same things that you have to figure out like you have to with Jake, you have to figure out if he can do it physically. He already has a quality secondary pitch. He has a good, short slider that is a good secondary pitch. He just needs some experience. It has been a little while since he has pitched that much. But he has good enough stuff to help out. Cole would also be a reliever."

Keegan James continues to get bigger and stronger. And his velocity continues to get better. I still think he has a lot more in the tank.
"Yeah, you are right, he does. I think he has a chance to be one of our starting pitchers on the weekends. He is another guy whose secondary stuff has improved from a year ago. And I think, from what I have been told, his velocity and maintaining it for a longer period of time has improved. The number one thing that he can do is utilize the bottom of the strikezone better. He can throw strikes. We just need to get him to improve his ability to get underneath the barrel. And he knows that."

Freshman Graham Ashcraft has a world of potential. He seemed to improve his pitching late in the fall.
"He is extremely talented in terms of potential down the road. He gave up a few hits early in the fall intersquads. I think he got motivated to throw some cleaner innings. I think he did a nice job of bringing his fastball down. He has a chance to be a solid three-pitch starter. It will just take some time. But he is certainly someone who will be given an opportunity early on to figure out where he fits and what kind of role we can get nailed down for him. He is certainly someone who has a really bright future at Mississippi State."

Drew Windham is a walk-on who had some solid outings during the fall scrimmages.
"Yep, he did. He will be fighting for a role out of the bullpen early on. He is a really hard worker and a wonderful kid. He has the ability to be a two-pitch pitcher at this point. We'll see how the intrasquads go in January and February."

Spencer Price is another guy who had some solid outings in the fall.
"Right now, he looks like he could a solid pitcher out of the bullpen. When it is going right he has an outstanding slider. He has an advantage over some of the other kids due to him having a season of college baseball under his belt, at Meridian Community College last year. I have been very pleased with his progress and development. Again, he falls into the category where if we can really get him to commit to the location of his fastball that will really allow him to maximize his slider."

Denver McQuary's first outing of the fall was outstanding. I thought he was going to the be the MSU closer, then he started looking like a freshman pitcher at times. But there looks like there is a lot of potential in his right arm.
"There is tremendous potential with Denver. He is very athletic with a very fast arm. Besides having a very good arm in terms of fastball and fastball life and the ability to throw a slider for a strike, he also has a feel for a changeup. And he showed really good command of it late in the fall. He is a really talented kid who I hope can turn the corner and can contribute for us in the spring."

Ryan Cyr had one of the best falls of all of your pitchers.
"He had a really good fall. Ryan has a chance to be a really effective starting pitcher if we can get him to focus on the bottom of the strikezone. The next step for him in his development is a true commitment to throwing the fastball at the bottom of the strikezone. He has a natural two-seam sink life on his fastball. He is a guy who with his stuff if we can get him to focus on throwing under the barrel, getting early contact, getting ahead in the count, then he has a chance to chew up five or six innings for us."

Ryan Rigby didn't pitch much in the fall. But you saw a little of what he can do in the fall. What can you say about him?
"He threw one outing. The only thing I can say about him is we are hopeful he is past his injury. We want to see him get five or six weeks of preparation so he can get stronger and get him to throw strikes once we get going in January. But we are excited about his potential. Again, he is a super kid and a really hard worker."

Parker Ford is still coming back from his Tommy John surgery. But he still showed some good things during the fall.
"I was really pleased with Parker's progress. Like with everybody else, there are some peaks and valleys with his rehab. But I was really pleased with his work ethic and how he pitched in games. He is another young guy who if we can get to truly commit to the process of pitching where it leads to fastball command, then we have a guy who is going to be very good at Mississippi State."

Kale Breaux is a guy who has surprised me a little bit. He came in with tremendous expectations but has really struggled with control. But there is still tremendous potential. He is a lefthander who can throw his fastball in the high 80s and low 90s.
"Not only can he throw in the high 80s and low 90s but he can make the baseball do what you want it to do. The reason he is struggling is because he walks too many people. But he has a history of having good command and throwing strikes. When guys lose command like that so much of it is due to the inability to focus on one pitch at a time. We just have to get him back to relaxing and playing the game one pitch at a time. "

Trey Jolly showed a low to mid 90s fastball at times. So, I see a lot of potential in his arm.
"The biggest thing with Trey is getting some sustained health from him. He was hurt while in junior college and had some soreness when he got here. He didn't throw the last month of the fall scrimmages. But he had a couple of good outings early on. We just have to get him to where he is healthy and we can pitch him regularly."

At times during the fall, Blake Smith looks like your closer. He just has an air of confidence.
"He is another guy that you saw have a couple of fantastic outings. I believe you saw every outing during the fall. Early on, whether it was his first or second outing, he was just fantastic. He had a really good fall. He has a well-above average breaking ball. The key to Blake's success is staying ahead in the count and keeping his fastball down. If he can do those two things, then he has a chance to get to his slider. And his slider has a chance to be a well-above average college out pitch."

Peyton Plumlee looked solid at times.
"Yeah, he did. He was a little up and down. You saw some good outings and you saw some bad outings. But it is pretty typical for guys to be a little erratic early on. I thought he did better as the fall went on. And his stuff is clearly good enough to be successful here. We would like for him to be a guy who we can potentially throw at the front of the game and get through the lineup three times."

Jacob Barton is not someone who is going to overpower you but he has good command of his pitches.
"He does. He has two pitches that he can throw to the bottom of the strikezone for a strike. He has a chance to pitch for us as a reliever. And if he can throw three pitches, then he has a chance to be a starter. Again, he is a super kid who works really hard. I thought he pitched much better toward the end of the scrimmages than he did at the beginning."

Trysten Barlow is one of the few lefthanders on the staff. Last fall he struggled. This fall he showed significant improvement.
"I think there was improvement since last year and I think there was improvement throughout the fall. The biggest thing that I noticed about Trysten is how much better his bullpen work got. It got noticeably better. It was almost a borderline extreme level in how much better he got through the fall. When you see that as a coach There is no guarantee that they are going to carry it to the game, but when you see that as a coach it always makes you feel good about the kid's work ethic and his desire. It gives you hope that it is going to click for him. When that will happen you never know. I have been really pleased with his progress. He will be a reliever for us."

Andrew Mahoney looked good in the fall.
"I was really pleased with him. I was extremely pleased with him and his development through the course of the fall. He is one of our guys, along with Riley Self and Konnor Pilkington, who really make a jump. Mahoney has put himself in a spot, when our games start, he is going to get an opportunity because of what he did this fall. I think initially he is a guy who is left on left because you feel so good about him neutralizing a really good lefthand hitter. You may not shut them down but you keep them under control. I am really proud of his improvement."

What are your thoughts about Jacob Billingsley? He didn't pitch in the fall scrimmages.
"I saw him throw a couple of times in the bullpen. I saw video of him from last year. He has the ability to throw a very good breaking ball. He is a guy who has had a couple of nagging injuries. He had a minor shoulder situation that limited him a little bit. Then, he broke a bone in his foot. The number 1 priority for Jacob is to get healthy and get back into shape. We need to get him healthy because I think he is going to be able to help us."

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