"I think the strength of this team is we are a year older. We are more experienced and more game prepared. We had some guys like myself who had never gotten to play at this level and didn't really know what to expect. Just getting in and getting game experience will carry over to this year's team. That is a plus."
Do you think having two new guys starting at short and third could be considered a weakness?
"We do have a new left side of the infield, but I think they will be fine. I don't think that will be a major weakness for us because they can hold their own. They are good players and have worked hard. They'll step in and do just fine."
I saw most of the scrimmages last fall and noticed better hitting and more power. You've been here several years. Do you feel this may be the best hitting team during your time here?
"I think so. I think our new weight program has helped. Plus, just our experience level helps. People don't realize this, but we were second in the SEC in batting average last year. We just weren't knocking in the runs. If we can combine our hitting with people in scoring position, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
There doesn't appear to be a pitcher on this team that is a dominating ace type guy. There are a lot of good, quality pitchers, however. is that how you see this pitching staff?
"I think we will have a solid pitching staff. Like you said, there may not be one standout, but I think everybody knows his job and they are going to get it done. I think Coach McNickle has done a great job with them. He is more hands on, more verbal, more get in your face and tell you straight on where you stand."
You have been known as a very good defensive player. Did it surprise you how well you hit last spring and fall?
"I think getting older and having a little more experience helped me. It was, by far, one of the best hitting falls that I've had here. Everything just clicked this fall and last spring. I'm just trying to carry it over to this season."
What are your expectations for this year's team?
"I think we are going to surprise some people. Being picked 4th in the SEC West standings; that's fine with me because we can sneak up on some people. Expectations for us aren't too high, so they may not think to take us too seriously, but we are going to be a competitive ballclub. I don't think we will get swept like we did last year. Maybe, we'll do some of the sweeping this year."
Because you didn't get into the SEC Tournament and barely got into the NCAA Tournament last season, does this team have the attitude that you are going to do whatever it takes to make sure you get into both this year?
"I think we do have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. Not making it to the SEC Tournament made us feel left out and hurt. We were the first (MSU) team to not make it to the (SEC) Tournament in a long time. This year, I think we feel we have something to prove not only to ourselves but to our fans and to the rest of the SEC."
Have any of the true or redshirt freshmen stood out?
"There are a couple of freshmen that have. One of the redshirt freshmen is Bunky (Kateon). He has really stepped it up and made all the plays on defense and hit the ball well. Of the incoming freshmen, Jeff Flagg will be one of the premier hitters; maybe not this year, but soon. Although he struggled during the fall, everything is there. He has a good approach and works hard. He is going to be solid, defensively. Mitch Moreland can absolutely hit the ball. (Ed) Easley is going to be good and will get some playing time this year. Matt Richardson, who isn't a true freshman, is going to be good. He hits the ball hard. He doesn't have the prettiest swing, but he keeps his swing simple and is strong."
Since you are the veteran at first base, have you tried to be the leader at that position?
"I'm trying to. We do first base drills before practice. If I see something that they aren't doing exactly right, I try to help them out. If the coaches don't happen to see something, I'll help them. That's my job."
Last season you weren't 100% sure you would be the starting first baseman going into the season. However, this season you are penciled in as the starter. Has that helped you to be more comfortable coming into this season?
"Yes, it really has. That is probably one of the things that helped me during the fall, hitting-wise. Knowing where I stood, I was able to stay relaxed and not press myself and just play ball."
It seems like a lot of the guys have added more weight. In fact, a lot of them look like MSU outside linebackers. Is there any difference in the weight program for the baseball team compared to when you first got here?
"We got a new strength coach this year and are doing more Olympic style lifting, like power cleans and things like that. One of the weightlifting coaches, Coach Rhodes, told us, before we started lifting, that we are the most non-butted baseball team that he had ever seen. He wanted to correct that. And I think he has done his job."
Was the new strength program part of the reason for more power in the fall?
"We didn't officially start working out until after the fall practices were over. Maybe half the team worked out on their own. That might have helped some."
Individually, have you noticed that you are a lot stronger this year?
"Yeah, as a freshman, I maxed out at 275. I've now got mine up to 315. Everybody's bench has gone up. Joseph Hunter maxed out at 330. (Jeff) Butts is up to 330."
How much do you weight?
"I'm about 212 to 213. Since I got here, I was stuck at 205. I couldn't gain any weight. Now, I've gained about 8 pounds. Hopefully, it's all muscle."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.