Russ McNickle Talks Pitchers

As in the past, we at Gene's Page - and, now, also Dawgs' Bite - have done a four-part series with the Mississippi State baseball coaches where they discuss the position players they coached during the fall practice and where each of their players are currently projected depth chart wise for the upcoming season. Assistant baseball coach Russ McNickle, who primarily coaches the pitchers, will discuss that position in the fourth and final part of the four-part series.

Talk a little about your pitching philosophy.
"In this order, the most important things to me are location, movement and velocity. Velocity is nice to have, but I want guys who have pitchability, guys who can command the strike zone. The biggest things that I stressed to these guys was to get ahead, pitch ahead, stay ahead and eliminate three-ball counts. We want the hitters to make contact early in the count. We want them to swing the bat early. It's more of an up-tempo style. They are going to get that energy from me in the dugout because I'm not one of those guys who just sits in the dugout or paces around.

"When I recruit, I'm looking for guys that have solid makeup. When you look at all the pitchers that we signed this offseason, there was a makeup issue that I liked about them. Ricky Bowen, Drew Hollinghead, Matt Lea, Aaron Weatherford are all great makeup guys."

Talk about where your guys project on the depth chart this coming season. Redshirt freshman LHP Justin Pigott is the first name on my list.
"Justin Pigott is probably the hardest worker and the most disciplined guy that I have on the staff. I actually have a pretty good number of disciplined guys. He is a strike thrower and will compete. I tried to give him a chance to start during the Banana Split Series to see how he would respond. I was disappointed in his outings, although they were ok, but not what I had hoped. He will probably pitch in relief with a chance to be a spot starter if guys in front of him fail."

Junior RHP Jamie Gant
"Jamie was slightly injured in the fall and probably didn't pitch as good as he wanted to. He is a great kid, but I just have to get him focused more on the team. Once he does that, he will be fine. He wants to help Mississippi State win. I'm going to put him back in the bullpen and give him a shot to be the closer again. I thought he excelled in that role as a freshman. Hopefully, he will recapture what he had as a redshirt freshman. Last year, he just couldn't handle the starting part of it. It was more of an endurance thing with him. He is more of a short, explosive type guy. When you get late in the ballgame, you want a guy who has swing and miss stuff and he has that."

Sophomore RHP Josh Johnson
"Josh is going to be a huge factor on the staff. Right now, I think he will pitch on either Saturday or Sunday. Hopefully, after this year, he will be the ace of this staff. With his stuff, he will probably only be here one more year. I hope he will continue to develop into more of a vocal leader or a leader by example. He was a very quiet kid last year. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you want to be a dominating SEC starter then you need to be more assertive."

Senior RHP Alan Johnson
"He will be our Friday night starter. He's earned it. You know what you are going to get when he goes out there. In this league, on Friday night, there's not going to be a lot of runs scored. When you look at other Friday night guys in this league, they are better than A J. But what I like about A J is he has proven it year in and year out. He is going to compete. I actually think he will relish his role.

"He has gotten bigger and stronger. His velocity was a little bit better this fall than it had been. The key with him is for him to have success in the stretch. He tends to get hit around more in the stretch. I don't know why. When he pitches from the windup, he dominates. If you put him in the stretch, he is more up in the zone. We've worked on that a lot during the off-season."

Redshirt freshman LHP Jeremiah Boling
"He was probably the most improved guy this fall, but he got sick near the end of our individual work. That disappointed me because we were making some great progress with him. He is a guy that I'm hoping will come back in January and be healthy. I think he can be a long reliever. He has a quick arm. We have added a slider. He has the potential to be a pretty special lefthander in this league. And he's still growing. He's still a baby. He was a year younger for his grade because he started school a year early. His strike percentages were good this fall. When his curveball comes along, I think he is going to have a chance to be a pretty special pitcher for us."

Freshman RHP Chad Crosswhite.
"I like him. He was a great sign for us. I think he has a chance to be pretty special. This year, he will probably redshirt. He still has to learn how to pitch on this level, but he has the potential to be either a weekend starter or a long reliever. He's already got great pitchability because he throws strikes and he's around the zone, but he's got to learn to get the ball down in the zone. In high school you can get away with pitching up, but you can't do that here. No matter where I coached most freshmen were a little intimidated. But Chad never showed that he was worried about anything. It didn't matter who was at the plate; he attacked the hitters the same."

Freshman LHP Mitch Moreland
"We have to get him more consistent in throwing from the same arm slot. He has a lot of potential. He loves to pitch and wants to pitch here. That's what he signed to do. I don't know if we will redshirt him. I don't think we should, especially not as a hitter. If we don't redshirt him, then we have to pitch him. As soon as he learns the strike zone and learns how to pitch, he has a chance to be a starter."

Senior RHP Todd Doolittle
"He will probably pitch Saturday or Sunday. I think he has earned it. I wish his strike zone percentage was better. He is going to drive me crazy because his pitch counts are going to be high. He is going to throw a lot of three-ball counts. I'm just going to have to get used to that. For him to be a quality starter, I need to get 15 to 21 outs from him."

Junior RHP Brett Cleveland
"Brett tore his ACL due to a freak accident. I was disappointed for him. That was a huge team loss because he's such a team player. He is going to try and get back by May. I personally felt last fall was his best since he's been here. He was more consistent down in the zone. He's always been a great strike thrower. His breaking ball was getting better. Losing him, we lost a guy who could come out of the bullpen. Now, one of the young guys will have to step up."

Sophomore RHP Jon Crosby
"I am going to probably use him as a reliever and as a spot starter. He's really got good stuff. I just wish he was more consistent every time out. I think a lot of that has to do with his attitude of attacking hitters. That's what we addressed during the offseason. We want him to attack them and create contact. I think in his case he's more concerned about missing bats than hitting them."

Junior RHP Brad Corley
"I'm not sure what we are going to do with him. I'm probably going to have to script out a weekly plan with him. He's probably got the most powerful arm on the staff, but to be able to harness that on a consistent basis is tough to do with him. He's a three to six-out guy. We'll probably bring him in late in the game, so that we can send him back to the outfield if we need to. He's another guy that we need to use on a consistent basis. We can't do what we did to him last year."

Redshirt freshman RHP Trent Hill
"Trent is a guy that I've worked with a lot during the offseason. I really like his arm. He can throw in the upper 80's and low 90's. But what he's got is a slider that he can throw in the low 80's that's a swing and miss pitch. We've also added a split changeup with him that is nasty. He's got a loose arm that has what I call late life. His ball just jumps on a hitter. He has great movement. At the end of the Banana Split he did such a great job of pounding the strike zone. And he can do that with his arm. He can get away with missing spots. He is a guy that is going to be a short reliever. But he's a guy who has a chance to ultimately take over Jamie Gant's spot when he leaves. I also think he is a guy who can pitch a lot. And that could be the best thing for him because the more he pitches, the better his feel is and the more strikes he throws. I think his stuff can be better than Jamie Gant's because of his long, loose arm. Trent's a guy that I want to get out early and see what he can do. He and Jeremiah Boling made the most improvement during the offseason."

Freshman RHP John Lalor
"John is probably going to start on Wednesday if I have my wishes. I don't want to redshirt him. He's probably going to be a three-year guy anyway from the pro standpoint. I'm hoping that we can do with John that we did with Josh (Johnson), pitching him on Wednesday to help him understand how to pitch. What he can do is throw a changeup for a strike. Of course, Coach Polk loves changeups and so do I. He is a strike thrower. The one thing he has to do is improve his breaking ball."

Senior LHP Eric Ebers
"He worked extra hard this offseason and put in extra time. We've gone back to the delivery he used in junior college. He feels very confident using it. One thing I've worked on with him a lot of is trying to pitch the ball downhill. If you watched him pitch later in the season when he got banged up a lot, everything was up in the zone. We've also gone with a cutter instead of using his little breaking ball. And he likes using it. I'm interested in seeing how he does in January and February when he comes back to school. One thing I like about Eric is he will work his butt off. He's gone to the bottom of the valley, now he's starting to climb out."

Sophomore LHP Andy Wilson
"He will probably be a guy we will use out of the pen when we go left on left. He has one of the better breaking balls that we have on our staff. I don't know if his velocity will ever be where you want it to be. Another plus for him is he was used in the league some last year. I hope he is a guy that we will use a lot in short stints to, maybe, face one hitter or three outs. I'm hoping he and Justin Pigott can take that role on the staff."

Redshirt freshman LHP Jesse Carver
"He is probably a little away from pitching a bunch. He still has to learn how to use his stuff. He's got a breaking ball that can be a swing and miss pitch, but I've got to get him in the strike zone more consistently. We've talked to him about trying to work faster on the mound. The slower he makes the game, the worse he is. He knows that and is going to work on it. I would like to get him some short stints this year just to get his feet wet. Whether I can do that, I don't know because we have a lot of guys who I want to get some work."

Freshman LHP Paul Faulkenberry
"I'm still trying to evaluate him because he's only pitched three or four full strength bullpens. During the fall, he had shoulder problems, then he had elbow problems. As of now, I really don't have an answer for you. He's going to redshirt this year."

Junior LHP Brooks Dunn
"If I was to start tomorrow, I would say that Brooks would be my Tuesday starter. I would bring him back as a reliever on the weekend. Brooks is another guy that will throw a lot of pitches. He's still trying to understand the concept that it is ok to get hit, that outs will be made when the ball is put in play. He's got some swing and miss stuff. If he can bottle what he did in the Banana Split, especially that last game he started, he has a chance to go on and pitch at the next level."

Senior RHP Saunders Ramsey
"He is a leader on our staff. I'm going to use him in three different roles this year. He will be a guy that I feel I can go to early and stop momentum. He is a guy that can setup or he can be a guy you can bring in late in the game and close. Normally, late in the game, you want a guy who has swing and miss stuff and Saunders doesn't have that, but you know you will get a strike thrower when he comes into the game. You better play defense behind him. The key to Saunders having success is getting the ball down in the zone. I can see us using Saunders two to three times a week in short stints."

Sophomore RHP Mike Valentine
"He throws a heavy, sinking fastball and he is a ground ball pitcher. He is a guy that has had a lot of success two years in a row. Last year, he didn't get to pitch as much as I would have used him. He's a lot like Saunders in the fact that he can throw quite often in different roles. Not that Michael will ever be the closer, but he will pitch short and long relief. The one thing that concerns me with him is keeping him in shape."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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