In rightfield we have (junior) Brian LaNinfa, a returning veteran, who also played leftfield for us last year. He worked very hard this summer on his flexibility and his speed. He has been a pretty accurate thrower from the outfield. Obviously, he has some experience at the plate. Offensively is where he has helped us the most. He's also a DH for us.
(Sophomore) Andy Rice, a transfer from Itawamba (Community College), was a late round draft pick by the Yankees. We feel very fortunate to have him. Nobody can question his ability at the plate. We think he is going to be a very good hitter at Mississippi State. He had a good fall. Everything that we've asked him to do in the outfield, he's been very attentive in doing. We loved his attitude. Defensively, he did a good job with the sun field in rightfield. His work ethic in rehabbing his arm has been very good. But we had to take it a little easy with his arm just to make sure he could recover in the fall. When his arm is healthy, he will have a pretty strong arm. [Editor's Note: Andy, who also pitched in high school, hurt his arm as a senior in high school.]
(Redshirt freshman) Jeff Flagg is another outfielder who can play either corner outfield positions. He also plays first base. He is a righthanded hitter who played summer ball in Danville. He is a young man with a good body, but is still learning the tools at the plate. In the outfield, he moves very well and has a pretty good arm for a big guy. He needs to continue working hard at the plate because he has a tendency to swing and miss. We have to continue working on that.
Cade Hoggard, a freshman, plays rightfield for us. I really like his makeup and mentality. He is someone who will look you straight in the eye and wants to learn. He plays the sun field very well. He also runs well. We think he really came on this fall and we are excited about him and what he can do for us.
We also have (sophomore) Mitch Moreland, who is a legitimate dual-position player. He has played both right and leftfield, but has probably played a better rightfield. We know about his bat and his pitching ability. Mitch handles rightfield fine, but we just have to get more time with him in the outfield.
In centerfield we have returning (senior) Joseph Hunter. He's rehabbing his arm. We had to protect him a little bit in the fall. That's why he only started to hit in the middle of the fall. Joseph got the injury from his hard play. He got it from diving for a ball and banging up against the fence on a catch.
(Sophomore) Nick Hardy from Meridian (Community College) had two big-time tools; a pretty good arm and pretty good running ability. He is going to have to work harder to be more consistent at the plate. We are going to keep working hard with him on going back on balls in centerfield. He has been very attentive on wanting to get better in the field. We are excited to have him in the outfield due to him having the running ability that you need to have in center.
The last guy in center is (juco transfer junior) Tyler Bratton. He is a little guy who worked his tail off. He's not a physical kid, but he probably has the best running speed on the team. He can play the short game when asked to. He has to work a little harder because he's not as big and physical as some of the other young men that we have. He's a yes sir, no sir kind of guy. We are glad he's with us.
(Senior) Jeff Butts returns at leftfield. He's a young man that has seen a lot of action, so we know a lot about him. The biggest thing for him is to continue to improve his arm strength and to continue building on where he ended the spring, which was a fantastic finish. He's such a great leader, he and Joseph (Hunter). When Joseph wasn't playing this fall, the guy leading the outfield the most was Jeff Butts. He was vocalizing a lot of things that we were implementing with the younger guys. It was almost like having another coach out there. A great thing about him is he is a swing guy who can play center, too.
Matt Richardson, a redshirt junior college player, has power. That's probably his best tool. We are going to continue working him hard in the outfield. He is a corner guy who can also play rightfield. He was hurt last fall and didn't really get to do much until the middle of the fall. He had a real good summer hitting.
The other two young men who have been playing left are (junior) Wyn Diggs and (junior) Joseph McCaskill. The good thing about them is they are also catchers who do a great job at the plate. Having them on a 25-man (SEC) roster can be a huge factor when moves are made during a game. Joseph has increased his running speed and Wyn runs particularly well for a catcher. The thing we have to work with them on - and they did that this fall - is going back on the ball and getting good reads on the ball.
How good is this outfield defensively? - It is a really good group mainly due to the fact that we have guys who have been a part of this team for awhile, Hunter and Butts in particular. Overall, as a group, we have to get a lot better at going back on balls. In smaller parks, it's not that big of a factor, but here at Dudy Noble you have a lot of room to play.
What makes you feel that Andy Rice will be a great hitter? - He has great batspeed at the plate. He has a pretty good eye. And he possesses a great presence at home plate who gets the most out of his swing. His lower half works very well at getting through balls and creating that pop in his bat. There is a learning curve in this league, but I think he will be good enough to go through that learning curve maybe a little quicker than most (players).
Cade Hoggard did well during the fall hitting the ball. What makes him such a good hitter? - He has a very short swing and does a good job going right to the ball. That really helped him to see the ball a little longer. As the fall went on, he got a little more confident. He also had a pretty good Banana Split Series for us. He has a pretty good arm in the outfield. A lot of people don't know this, but this was probably his first full fall of not playing football. [Editor's Note: Cade played both football and baseball in high school.]
Click the links below to read the previous discussions with the other MSU baseball coaches.
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 email@example.com.