[Premium article. Portions of this article can be found in the baseball skuttle-butt section.] After fall baseball practice, I talked to all four baseball coaches to get their opinons about the team and, more specifically, the positions they coach. Here is their evaluations of the positions and also Coach Polk's opinion on how well this team will hit this season. "> [Premium article. Portions of this article can be found in the baseball skuttle-butt section.] After fall baseball practice, I talked to all four baseball coaches to get their opinons about the team and, more specifically, the positions they coach. Here is their evaluations of the positions and also Coach Polk's opinion on how well this team will hit this season. ">


<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01filepicture/baseball.jpg" align="left" width="240" height="160"> [Premium article. Portions of this article can be found in the baseball skuttle-butt section.] After fall baseball practice, I talked to all four baseball coaches to get their opinons about the team and, more specifically, the positions they coach. Here is their evaluations of the positions and also Coach Polk's opinion on how well this team will hit this season.



Last year, the weaknesses of the MSU team was hitting and hitting with power. Have you seen an improvement in those areas?
"I don't think we have a team that you can say can hit with legitimate power throughout the lineup. I think we have some guys who can reach the fence. We probably don't have guys like we had at Georgia who could hit between 15 and 20 home runs. That is not too concerning as long as they put the ball in play. We are really huge on two-strike hitting and putting the ball in play."

When I think of a typical Ron Polk team, I think of a good-hitting team. Would you say this will not be a typical team for you this year?
"If we stay healthy, I think we will have a decent batting average. I don't think we will hit a lot of home runs."



"First of all, Gene, we are very experienced in the infield. Just look at the guys who played a lot last year, Matthew Brinson, Chad Henry, Matthew Maniscalco, Michael Brown and Steve Gendron. That is probably going to be a strength of our ballclub, in addition to the number of quality pitchers that we will have. The key is to stay away from injuries. If you can go through an entire season without any major injuries in areas where you don't have much depth, then you can have a good season. We don't have much depth in the outfield. That is why we have worked Gendron and Brown in the outfield.

"I have been impressed with our infielders. I think they will make the routine plays, which is what I ask them to do, and help our pitching staff out. At the same time, we are just not sure about our backups. Brent Lewis can play third base and Jon Mungle can play first base."



"I have been coaching for thirteen years and have never been around a group of catchers that can throw as good as this crew can. They are excited that they have one guy who can spend quality time with them. They said last year that Jim Case was back and forth with them. It was tough for him to spend some quality time with them. We were last in the conference in throwing base runners out. We will do a better job this year. (Coach) Rock is really emphasizing the stretch time so that our pitchers will be quicker to the plate."

Senior Jason Burkley
"He has been outstanding. I think he will be our number one guy. He is a proven guy and has been through the wars. His catching times got better during the fall. Jason started making strides with his power. I think he enjoyed the changes we made with him during the fall. He actually started seeing some balls go out."

Sophomore Reed Hawkins
"The number two guy would probably be Reed Hawkins. The only question about him is his durability. He had some nicks and bruises all fall that concern me."

Redshirt Freshman J B Tucker
"He swung the bat very, very well during the fall. He has a ways to go with his throwing due to his accuracy. He could possibly be a righthanded DH, because he has some power."

Freshmen Thomas Berkery and Craig Tatum
"Thomas and Craig are very, very impressive freshmen. Craig will definitely be a power guy later on. Thomas has great hand speed. He will hit a lot of doubles here. "

Senior Lee Parks
"Lee is so valuable at what he does, working in the bullpen and knowing the game. He is a student of the game. He is a fifth-year player and is a great team guy."



"We have nine primary outfielders. We have a couple of veterans that have been with us that know what is going in the system.

Senior Casey Long
"One is senior Casey Long who came to us last year as a walk-on. He has just gotten better and can defend the field very well. He can really run in the outfield. He is working very hard at the plate. He came on late and had a great Super Regional for us."

Senior Enrico Jones
"He has defended well in the past. He has played the corner positions for us. He is working to be consistent at the plate.

"Other than those two, the outfield is young.

"We have a freshman in Winston Pearson and another freshman in Jon Mungle."

Mungle was impressive hitting the ball in the fall.
"Jon has done a great job at the plate making some adjustments and shortening his stroke from last year. That has been very positive for Jon.

"Others playing in the outfield are sophomore Brad Hutto, sophomore Robby Goodson, junior Cager Garner and freshmen Ryan Fesmire and Brian Johnson. We have also added one other player, Steve Gendron. He has played right, center and left. He is a great athlete who runs well and has a strong arm. He has shown up very well in the outfield. The times we have seen him in the outfield, he moves very well. Senior Michael Brown can also go from second base to the outfield. He is much improved from last year in the outfield."

Freshman walk-on Ryan Fesmire
"We are impressed with how hard he plays and how much he knows about the game."

Sophomore Brad Hutto
"Brad has a good arm. He has had to make the transition from the infield to the outfield."

[Jon Mungle was the best hitter for average during the fall. Look for him to play RF or DH. Casey Long and Michael Brown also hit the ball well during the fall. Look for Casey to start out in CF. It is likely that Michael Brown will wind up in LF. Steve Gendron could also be a factor if the coaches decide to move him to the outfield. I would guess his position would be RF because of his combination of speed and arm strength. - Gene]



Talk about the staff:

"I would like to have five starters and also have five working out of the bullpen. The bullpen will consist of guys who can recover quickly, get ready quick and who have one specialty pitch that can miss a bat. I want strikeout capabilities in the bullpen. That is not a huge factor with the starters. I want guys to start who can show hitters different looks and turn a lineup over three times. If you can turn the lineup over three times, you can get to the seventh. With relievers, you only have to turn the lineup over one time.

"I didn't call the games during the fall practice. They were basically calling their own games the entire fall. I like to let them pitch in the fall so that they can show me what they can do. I will call their games during the spring. I will formulate the scouting reports on the hitters. I will have seen each team three times on tape.

"A key to this staff is keeping (sophomore) Paul Maholm healthy. Paul is blessed with solid makeup. It is encouraging that Paul, (senior) Tanner Brock and (junior) Joey Collums all have SEC experience. Joey can change speeds really well. Mentally, those three guys are very stable because they have been in some big games and had some big moments. They are very confident. I think it is going to be hard to beat them down. The best way to describe them is they are very mature pitchers."

Junior Chris Young
"He is a big, strong kid who I think will be able to recover well. He has pitched out of the bullpen before. Chris has solid fastball command. That is his biggest tool. And I don't mean for just throwing strikes. Chris takes it a step up by using his fastball command to set up another fastball. An example is spotting a fastball away to set up a two-seamer in to get a ground ball. He is mature enough as a pitcher to understand that is as good a getting a strikeout. I'm just not really sure whether he will be in the bullpen or a starter."

Senior Ryan Carroll
"Ryan Carroll has a pretty high maturity level. He is still green as a pitcher, but his command this past fall was very encouraging. I'm just not sure what roll he will play."

Sophomore Jonathan Papelbon
"Jon is a guy who pitched out of the bullpen last year. He has the mental makeup to do that again, but I haven't ruled out a starting role for him because he had a great fall for us, a tremendous fall. He actually throws three pitches for strikes. He has the perfect mindset to be a reliever. He can get ready quick and he recovers and he is very durable. He has enough fastball to get it by you. His big thing is his fastball gets a lot of movement. Plus, he gets a lot of early in the count ground balls. I can see him being a guy who can have some three, four and five-pitch innings. He is an ideal reliever."

Sophomore Robby Goodson
"Robby is an arm-strength guy. Last year, Robby was a guy who swung the bat for Mississippi State last year. He showed some power in high school, although he hasn't shown it here, yet. Power is something that comes eventually. Everytime you make a job in levels, you have to learn to make adjustments to hit with power at the next level. Because of that, I don't know if he got much attention on his pitching. He still has some things in his delivery that I want to change. He has things to learn about when to use a two-seamer and when to use a four. He also needs to get a feel about using some type of off-speed pitch. However, I am very encouraged about the arm-strength and velocity. Plus, his mound presence is very good. He feels like he is in control out there. He still needs to work on his control. I am excited about his potential. I feel like he will work out of the bullpen." [During the fall, Robby was consistently in the 90 to 93 mph range with his fastball. - Gene]

Junior Jacob Blakeney
"I was encouraged with Jacob's fall. His command looks like it is solid." [Jacob injured his hand a few weeks ago, but should be back very soon. - Gene]

Sophomore Jeff Lacher
"He has a breaking ball that will miss bats. His strength is a very solid curveball. He just needs to learn to use his fastball more."

Junior Allen Buckley
"Allen also has a good breaking pitch. He and Jeff Lacher are very similar."

Sophomore Todd Nicholas
"I think that Todd has the ability to pitch at a very high level. I love his stuff. His work ethic is very solid. I'm hoping that the combination of those two will make Todd a big factor on our pitching staff. He just doesn't have the experience yet. He just needs to develop a little more confidence."

Junior Steven Dowe
"He has a very solid fall. What we did with Steven did this past fall was concentrate on him getting some two-seam action back, some movement back. He is very confident in his pitches. He speeds up and slows down bats as good as anybody that we have. He changes speeds really well and throws pitches for strikes."

Junior Brian Owens "Brian Owens had an interesting fall. He has a slider. Some lefties can't do this, but he can spin that breaking ball down and in on the righthanded hitters and make them spin a little bit. That is a strength of his. He is a pretty competitive kid, too."

Redshirt freshman Saunders Ramsey
"He pitched very well in the fall. He has a good changeup. I also think he is relentless when going after hitters. He really came at hitters. He is a real competitor. He has to do that because he is a little limited with his stuff and ability. He makes up for it with his aggressive attitude."

Sophomore Collins Hughes
"Collins had a good fall and will be a factor on the pitching staff."

Junior Clint Hoots
"Clint got some outs for us during the fall."

Freshmen Jake Ociesa, Les Dykes, Jamie Gant and Brett Cleveland
"I think all four of them have very, very bright futures here. The fall didn't work out for them as they probably wanted it to, but they are going to grow up and be fine college pitchers. It is just a building process with them. They have all the physical tools. There is no question about that."


Why do you start the season later than most other coaches?
"I always start our season later than everybody else because it forces you to use your young pitchers later in the season. If you start the season too early, then what happens is by the end of April and into May you are just playing on the weekend. Then, you five, six, seven and eight pitchers don't get to pitch and you are going to need them in tournament play. By playing a condense schedule, it forces us to play almost every day and forces us to use the pitchers on our staff. We can keep nine or ten pitchers going pretty good."

Here is a personal question. How does it feel to be back home?
"Once practice started, I felt like I had been here before. At Georgia, it took a long time to get use to everything. After the first year, I felt comfortable. I feel real comfortable here."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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