Sophomore first baseman BRAD JONES. During the fall he looked good defensively but was inconsistent offensively.
"He has made some progress. He was pressing a lot because he felt like with (Matthew) Brinson gone, this was his opportunity. We talked about it. He is a better hitter than he showed during the fall. He was up in Danville, Illinois this year and carried the team as a three hole hitter. They loved him as a leader and a player. He just didn't have a good fall offensively, but defensively he is the best that we have."
Senior TYLER SCARBROUGH played second base last season but also played first base some this past fall.
"He is going to be a factor this year. There is no question about that. Scarbrough was basically a hitter that we had to find a spot for. It wasn't going to be at second base due to having Rea and Berkery over there. He isn't a shortstop and we have Gendron and Rutledge at third. So we moved him to first. Scarbrough could end up playing first against left-handed pitchers and might even be a DH when the right-handers are throwing."
Redshirt freshman BRIAN LANINFA is an outfielder who also plays first base. He probably showed the most power of any of your hitters.
"He is a hitter. There is no question about it. He has no true position. He is not bad at first and is just average in the outfield. But we have to get his bat in the lineup, especially against right-hand pitchers, so he is a potential DH and might even be a first baseman, depending on how Brad Jones swings the bat."
Redshirt first baseman RYAN HARBUCK.
"He made a lot of progress offensively. I think he has a chance as a hitter. He is more of a line drive type guy who puts the ball in play gap to gap. As he gets bigger and stronger, he might be able to loft some balls, but this is a tough ball park to hit balls out of. But he has some people in front of him right now (at first base)."
True freshman first baseman ALEX MCINTOSH.
"He is a very bright kid. He came to us as a first baseman/pitcher. We knocked the pitching off of him. His swing at times is good. He is just a young kid whose body is still maturing. He needs to get stronger. He is a good redshirt candidate this year."
Do you expect him to be a power hitter some day due to his height and weight?
"A lot depends on how his body develops. He is a young kid. He just turned 18. He is a kid who works hard and who you like to work with. I think he will get better as his body develops."
Sophomore second baseman/catcher THOMAS BERKERY. I know he was injured most of the fall.
"His wrist is better now so he is swinging (the bat) better. He is a good athlete who has a little power. He is going to fulfill a lot of roles. If Gendron happens to play shortstop, Berkery could be our third baseman. But he is also going to have to catch some for us. Long term, if he is going to play pro ball, it is going to be behind the plate or, maybe, third base. But I really think he is going to be a catcher because he has a very quick release (throwing the ball)."
Talk a little about (true freshman second baseman) JEFFREY REA.
"He is a good player who makes the routine plays. I think he will develop into the type of kid who will also make the great plays. He is learning second base. All of our infielders that come to us played shortstop in high school. Very seldom do we recruit a boy that was a true second baseman. Jeffrey was a shortstop pretty much all his life. The pivoting thing (at second base), things like that are new to him. But he is a very coachable kid who is very instinctive. Pound for pound he is probably one of the better players that we have had here. He has a very nice approach at the plate. He had a great career in high school and we feel like he has a chance to step in and be an impact player for us this year. He is a gamer and a very intelligent player."
Am I correct in saying that he hits the ball harder than you would expect a kid his size to hit the ball?
"Oh yeah, he gets on his back toe good. His bat goes through the zone good. We are making some adjustments with his stride right now. But when he stays through the ball and the bat stays in the strike zone, he does a good job. If he does what I think he is capable of doing, he is going to be a very good hitter for us."
Talk about the progress (redshirt freshman second baseman/third baseman) CASEY HAMILTON made this past fall.
"Casey is a second baseman/third baseman who redshirted last year. As long as he continues to work hard, he has a chance to be a contributor. Whether it is as a starter this year remains to be seen. Losing (freshman infielder) Bunky Kateon (to a shoulder injury) opened up some other opportunities.
"Our player-coach evaluation is based on the total package. If we had an evaluation based on just hitting, Casey would be much higher in the evaluation. He still has some defensive things he has to work on but I like the kid because he is a good athlete and can swing the bat. It is just a matter of trying to plug in what his role will be this year. "
What is it about his hitting that you like?
"He is a line drive hitter who uses the entire field. I think he has a chance to be a decent hitter."
JOSH THOMS is a second baseman/shortstop.
"Josh is a good kid. He is a good role player who gives us depth at second and short. He is the type kid you like to have around and a player who knows the game."
Talk a little about (freshman shortstop) BUNKY KATEON. He was impressive until he went down with the shoulder injury.
"He came to us with a shoulder problem. So it probably handicapped him a little bit in his development and evaluation. Thankfully, it was caught. Anytime your rotator cuff tear is mended it is not easy to recover from. Plus, he had a little cartilage repair, too. We are still holding out hope that Bunky will be able to come back some point in time (during the spring). It's just a matter of how his rehab goes. If his recovery goes well, he may not be ready for the first couple of weeks, but he will be able to hit and run when we come back in January. It's just a matter of him starting his arm rehab program when he comes back. Matthew Maniscalco had the same type operation (last year) except his was a little less severe than Bunky's. Manny made it back (by the start of the season) but Bunky's operation was three weeks later than Manny's.
"Even though he is not a great runner, he is athletic. Both he and (freshman third baseman) Jeff Rutledge are infielders who are not plus, plus runners but both have pretty good first-step quickness. They are like Travis Chapman who wasn't a good runner but his first two or three steps he could go. Bunky is a hard worker and a good kid."
What is your opinion of him as a hitter at this point?
"He is a typical freshman. It is a big adjustment from high school to college because you see changeups and behind the count breaking balls for the first time. He is going to be alright. He has good balance at the plate and uses the whole field. His bat discipline is good. We just didn't see enough of him because he only went three and a half weeks, then he had to close it down (due to the injury). Generally, the kids show more the second half of the fall than they do in the first half because they are just learning the system (in the first half)."
Is he one of the freshmen that you feel can contribute this coming season?
"Yeah, Rea, Rutledge and Bunky. We brought all three in thinking we were going to lose Gendron."
Sophomore shortstop JO JO HANEY.
"He is a good athlete. Offensively, he struggles. He does good in the drills, but it just hasn't carried over to the ball games yet."
Junior middle infielder DANIEL TACKETT.
"He is a great kid who goes about his business. He understands his role. He could be a factor this year, also, with Bunky down. He has a chance to be on the 25-man (SEC) roster. He is a real good defensive kid. I was hoping he would swing the ball a little bit better this fall but he struggled a little bit."
Senior STEVE GENDRON decided to turn down Major League Baseball and come back to MSU.
"That is a plus. Normally, we don't keep juniors that are drafted but he felt like it was important for him to come back and have his senior year and get closer to his degree. The good thing about Steve is he can play third and short. He can also play the outfield if we have the need. He is just a good athlete. I expect him, because he is a co-captain, to be one of the leaders on this team. I'm hoping that he will be able to hit five or six home runs for us this year. The knock on him as a third baseman is he doesn't have a lot of power. Long term he might be an outfielder in professional baseball."
With Bunky Kateon out for awhile due to his shoulder surgery, has there been any thought of moving Steve to shortstop?
"We are going to make Gendron a secondary shortstop when we start back (in the spring). Some people even have Berkery at short because he is our best athlete. But I don't want to make a kid a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and catcher. Thomas is going to have to be in a position to help us with (catcher) (Craig) Tatum. Thankfully, (catcher) Joseph McCaskill has really developed into a nice player, so we have some protection there."
Talk a little about true freshman MICHAEL RUTLEDGE.
"This kid has a lot of upside. He is going to be a big boy. He is not a great, great runner but he has improved his time to first base with technique that we work on. This kid can play short, third and is going to be a power guy eventually. I like him a lot. You don't have to tell him something more than once. He is a very intelligent kid. He is going to be a factor this year whether it be at shortstop or backing up third base. Long term he is going to be a third baseman. He is going to get a lot of playing time as a true freshman, especially with Bunky going down."
Will he have power this year or is it down the line?
"Down the line."
(Redshirt freshman third baseman) BEN GRISHAM.
"He is a great kid. Ben has made some progress. He is a third baseman type who we have also put in the outfield a little. He has a great arm. He was a pitcher in high school. He may not be a factor this year but before it is over, I think, because of his work ethic, he has a chance to get some quality playing time here."
Although he didn't have a real good fall hitting the ball, he did hit the ball well last fall. What do you like about his hitting?
"He has a tendency to pull off the ball because he wants to juice it some more. But when he stays through the ball he can use the whole field. The ball jumps off his bat because he has gotten a little stronger. Offensively, he has a chance to develop into a good hitter. He just needs to go off and play summer baseball again. We are not recruiting an infielder even though we are losing Steve Gendron and Tyler Scarbrough (after this season). So, some of these guys that are kind of role guys right now could fill in next year."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com