Wade Hedges Talks MSU Catching

Wade Hedges, Mississippi State's catching coach, talks to Gene's Page/Dawgs' Bite about where his catchers stack up after fall practice.

Where does Ed Easley fit in the picture?
"I think he will be our primary guy. Easley started 59 games, overall, last year. I think he started 28 behind the plate. He's such a great third baseman, too. It's almost a shame if he catches every game because he's so good at third, as well. I think he's poised to have a big breakout year. .296 is pretty good as a freshman, particularly in this league. He had a great fall. He's such a mature kid and nothing rattles him. I think we've seen more of his personality come out this year because he's a little more confident and he's got his place on the team and in the lineup. He's not trying to impress everybody like a typical freshman would be. How many (games) he catches will be determined by how well the other catchers play and how healthy he stays. Last year, his body took a beating and he got a little worn down as the season went on. We've tried to put a lot of focus on conditioning so that we can make him a little bit bigger and stronger and have a little more stamina. That way, he can go from catching 28 (games) to maybe 45 to 50."

How is he defensively?
"He's good. In the fall we play so much - we go 4 hours a day. The wear and tear on their arms is difficult. But his throwing time has improved about a 10th of a second from last year. Last year, when he first got here, he averaged about 2.1 seconds. This year, he's right at 2.0. I think, when the spring comes, he will be about 1.9 consistently. 2.0 is the big league average. If they can throw 2.0 and accurate, then they are going to throw people out. The other half of the equation is what the pitchers do. The average good runner has a 3.4 to 3.5 stealing time. So, if the pitcher is 1.4 and the catcher is 2.0, then they are going to throw most runners out. Easley is one of those guys who can throw 2.0 in practice and a 1.88 in the game. He just has the ability to take it to another level in a game. You can't teach that. That's just a great athlete. He has some savvy about him, just like Berkery has. He has a great feel for the game. An example of that is all the pickoffs he had last year. While we work on teaching them to throw it, they still have to figure out when to do it. Part of that is due to (starting first baseman) Brad Jones. He does a great job with that. He looks for (the pickoff opportunity) and called about half of the pickoffs. That's a veteran first baseman for you. We were watching video one time and someone made the comment that Berkery is sneaky as a catcher. He's kind of like a secret service guy. His eyes are always moving. He's always looking for something such as can I pick this guy off, can I throw that guy out, is someone looking at signs, or he's looking at the hitter. Ed does those same things."

What about Joseph McCaskill?
"It is borderline amazing what he has done offensively. A lot of that is due to his work ethic. This time last year he was probably a little too heavy (weight-wise). He was a little slow, probably in the 7.4 sixty runner range last fall. When you are that slow, it's hard to use someone like that. But he ran a 6.79 on Scout Day (this fall). That might be one of the most miraculous changes that I have seen. When he came back in the spring, he had dropped a lot of weight due to changing his diet and running all the time. He became so good in batting practice that in staff meetings we talked about trying to find a place for him in the game. Of course, when he got his shot, he did great. He wound up hitting .377. And he did it against SEC and postseason competition. He's built on that this fall. The key for him is can he do it defensively? He's improved his throwing dramatically since he first got here. He had constant arm problems the last year and a half. Then, in the second half of last spring he finally felt better and his throwing times started improving. I think he will get some opportunities as a DH. We also put him in the outfield a little this fall. He runs so well that that is now an option. We are trying to find ways to get his bat in the lineup. Because he just hits the ball on the barrel so consistently, he is going to be productive. It's going to be a challenge for the staff and for Coach Polk to figure out how and when to put him in the lineup. But I figure he will contribute a lot."

Wyn Diggs had a good fall.
"He is probably going to be a guy that will surprise some people. He is a little bit older because he is a junior college guy who redshirted (last year). Last year, he played good enough defensively to play, but we didn't really need him due to having Berkery and Easley back there. While he was good enough defensively, he was a little short offensively. But he went off this past summer and played in a bat league and hit great. He came back completely different. He just tore it up this fall. And it's nice that he's a lefthanded hitter. (Defensively) he receives great, blocks the ball really well, throws pretty well. He will definitely be a guy that will contribute. He may end up being that guy that catches one to two days a week when we give Ed a day off. He is very, very mature, probably the most mature guy on the club. It's great to have a guy like that as a catcher because he interacts with the pitchers and has such a calming influence on them. He's almost like having another assistant coach. He has such a good feel about the pitchers."

Ryan Duffy and Brooks Lewis are the other two catchers.
"Duffy is from Barron Collier High School in (Naples) Florida. That was a great high school team that was nationally ranked all year. He is a guy that is pretty well versed in big-time competition due to playing in a lot of showcases and having played for Team Florida for awhile. Down the road, I think he will be a big-time lefthanded power-hitter in this ballpark. He's put up big-time power numbers in the past. I think he hit 9 home runs with a wood bat while playing on Team Florida. But he needed to make some changes in his swing. And I think he will look totally different in the spring than he did in the fall. He's like a sponge. He wants you to teach him something every day. The question on him coming in was whether he could play defense well enough. His throwing has improved so much. The last day we timed (the catchers) he was the best. He went from number 1 to number 6. I think he averaged 1.97. He will be a good player down the road. He's made good adjustments and will contribute, but because the other guys are veterans and have improved so much, he's probably a guy that may use the redshirt option.

"Brooks Lewis is a redshirt freshman. He might be the most improved of all the catchers. While he's not the most physically gifted guy, he might outwork some of them others. He wasn't a big-time recruit like an Ed Easley, but he can come out and hold his own. He had to do a lot of changes in his techniques because he wasn't always a catcher in high school. He's gotten so much more stronger. He will probably be a backup kind of guy, but he's a great kid to have in the dugout. He and Diggs are both quality kids who won't be complaining and will be fired up to be in a Mississippi State uniform. They are both fans who, when they were being redshirted last year, came to every game. They are both intelligent catchers who can help in the bullpen if a coach is not there."

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

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