Wade Hedges Talks MSU Catchers

MSU catching coach Wade Hedges sat down with me last week and discussed what he saw from his catching prospects during the just-completed fall practice.

Now that three-year starter Ed Easley is no longer around, you have some work to do don't you?
"What is interesting is we have gone from the best guy in the country, the Johnny Bench award winner, to someone who is brand new. The first thing I said in our first meeting in the fall is raise your hand if you have ever started a game as a catcher for Mississippi State. Nobody raised their hand. We don't have a single returning start. Easley started every game last season. The year before either Easley, (Thomas) Berkery, (Joseph) McCaskill or (Wyn) Diggs did. It's a good challenge for me as a coach."

Talk about your players. You can start with Ryan Duffy (Third-Year Sophomore, 6-1, 203, Bats L, Throws R) since he appears to be the guy who leads at the catcher position.
"Duffy is the returning guy. He's definitely a good candidate. What he brings to the table is first and foremost left-handed power. Offensively, when you lose guys like (Mitch) Moreland and (Brian) LaNinfa, you want to plug some new guys in, especially with all the right-handed pitching you see throughout the year.

"He receives well, blocks well, does all the defensively things well. In terms of handling the pitching staff, that is something you have to grow into, so he probably has a ways to go with that. Easley had a unique situation with that because he caught every game, so he knew every pitcher really well. Ryan hasn't done that in a game yet, so it's something he'll have to develop.

"The first half of fall (practice) I thought he was just kind of ok, kind of like he was last year. Not that that is bad, but you want to see guys, from one year to the next, take that next step - take it to that next level.

"Right at the end of the fall he hit really well, hit some home runs, and made some great throws on everybody that tried to steal bases on him. But he still needs to improve offensively, cut down on swing and misses, cut down on strikeouts."

Walk-on junior college transfer Johnny Allen (Junior, 6-3, 228, R-R) was a real surprise to me. What are your thoughts about him?
"Johnny Allen was the biggest surprise, without a doubt. He showed a lot of power, hit home runs, hit really well to the opposite field - which is something that you don't typically see from new guys whether they are freshmen or junior college guys. And he did that with authority. He hit a couple of home runs to the opposite field. He also hit a couple of triples to right-center field. He's just a big, strong, physical guy who can run well and throw well. On top of that, he's a real loose, easy-going, care-free personality. Johnny is as likely to walk into a room and a team meeting and say something funny to a coach as he is to one of the players. He's just kind of loose, so I don't think he's going to be as affected by the pressure of playing here.

"Johnny didn't catch a lot last year in junior college, so technique-wise he has some things to improve. But he has all the tools to do them all well.

"When he first got here, he was a primary outfielder and a secondary catcher. After about two or three weeks of doing catching drills I told coach (Polk) that we need to make him a catcher. So, we did it.

"Johnny and Ryan are probably our top two guys right now. The really encouraging thing is one is a right-hander and one is a left-hander, and they are both power guys. That gives you some options."

Brooks Lewis (Junior, 5-10, 182, R-R).
"Brooks Lewis is a guy who had a great fall. The difference with him this year is he hit and hit with power. He made some changes late in the season last year and they really clicked for him. He was pretty good this summer (in the summer league) despite getting sporadic at-bats, but he was really good this fall. In fact, he led the team in home runs with four.

"He does all the little things right. He understands everything about how to play his position. He always communicates properly, he is always in the right position at the right time, he does all the right things defensively. When we execute drills, not only did he do a good job himself, but because we had so many new catchers he actually was a good help to me. I would ask him to help me and he would be on the side teaching a freshman how to do something while I was talking to someone else.

"He throws really well, although he doesn't have a great arm. But he's the most accurate guy that we have. In fact, he was probably more accurate than Ed (Easley).

"To his credit, Brooks is the most improved player on the team the last couple of years."

Cody Freeman (Freshman, 6-0, 192, R-R).
"Cody Freeman was the big recruit of the bunch. I would probably say, based on what we saw this fall, he has all the tools we expected to see. We saw a good arm, power, bat speed, but he's not as refined as he is going to need to be to play in this league. He still has a lot of mechanical things to learn. He's gotten by, and been a really good player on talent alone, but to take that to the next level we have to add the mechanics to it. What we mean by that is mechanically, on offense, he is going to have to make some adjustments to tighten his swing, swing and miss less, and be able to handle off-speed stuff a little better. But all the tools are there. The question now in terms of what he does for us this year is how quickly does he make those adjustments? If he makes them pretty quickly, he's talented enough to play right now.

"(Defensively) Cody showed great arm strength at times, but he wasn't as consistent in his throwing mechanics. You saw glimpses of it. He would do something great, then be just ok.

I saw Cody during the summer and he showed great home run power. Do you think that power will transfer to the college level?
"I do. I know he has good bat-speed and he has a natural lift in his swing a little bit. You don't want to hit them in the air all the time, but he kind of hits them at the right angle to hit them out of the park and not hit them straight up in the air for pop-ups. We want him to maintain that. And he'll add the physical strength to that. The first day we had him in the weight room he was 174 pounds. He could easily be 200 when the season starts. Where he struggles right now is hitting the off-speed stuff. He chases a lot of balls out of the strike zone. In high school you probably get enough pitches to hit where if you swing at a bad pitch, you will probably get several more pitches to hit. But when you face a (MLB 1st round selection) David Price in college you aren't going to get more than one bad pitch if that many. Guys like that will eat you up because you will get fewer mistakes. So, what he is going through right now is what every freshman goes through. You just have to raise your game."

Scott Deloach (RS Junior, 6-3, 197, R-R).
"Scott Deloach is a junior college guy that was here last year and redshirted. He is a little bit similar to (former MSU catcher) Wyn Diggs because he is a solid defensive guy. He can really catch, really block well, throws pretty solid and is mature. The question is his offense - does he hit enough, can he hit with any power?"

Donny Stephens (RS Freshman, 5-11, 198, R-R), Brent Tanner (RS Freshman, 6-1, 229, L-R).
"Both guys have made some progress, but still have a little ways to go.

"Brent Tanner is a guy who shows some left-handed power and can swing the bat a little bit. He still has some work to do catching-wise in terms of receiving, being able to handle quality stuff such as what you see from an Aaron Weatherford or a Ricky Bowen.

"Donny Stephens has a really good arm and does a pretty solid job catching. He's got to get better offensively, primarily."

Logan Moro (Freshman, 6-1, 205, R-R), Wes Wilson (Freshman, 6-1, 195, R-R) and Bobby Triglia (Freshman, 6-2, 205, R-R).
"Moro has good bat-speed and has some power. He shows a lot of promise and has already made some good adjustments during the off-season. But what he's struggling with this fall is trying to be too much of a pull hitter. And with the veteran pitching staff that we have, as soon as they see that kind of swing they are licking their chops to pitch against those type guys. What you saw this fall was a veteran pitching staff expose a freshman's swing. That can be good because he can take that and learn from it.

"Defensively, what (Moro) did that was dynamite this fall was block balls that were in the dirt. He can block balls in the dirt like a champ. He was well-coached in that area before he got here. Throwing-wise, he was inconsistent. He has some mechanically things he has to clean up. But he is a really hard-worker and very coachable.

"Wes Wilson is a guy who has some tools. He has a pretty good arm and gets the ball away really quick. His throwing time to second base were some of the fastest that we had this fall. And he can actually run pretty good. In fact, he played in the outfield during the first half of fall. But he struggled offensively, which most freshmen do during the fall of their freshman year.

"Bobby Triglia, who is probably a primary third baseman, caught some in the past, but he's coming off an arm injury, so he didn't do much at all this fall. I can't really say anything about him since I've never seen him catch."

During the interview, Wade discussed the possible ramifications that the new roster rules size could have on this year's roster

"We just found out (Thursday) morning that they have passed the new NCAA rules in regard to roster limitations onto a vote at the (NCAA annual) convention. All the Division-I presidents, all 284, will vote in January at the convention on that piece of legislation. That's basically a loss for us. It's going to go through now."

But you'll still be able to have more than 35 players on next year's roster won't you?
"Yes, but we have nine catchers with no seniors. All those catchers should be back next year. But we can't keep nine catchers on the 35-man roster. So, we are going to have to move some guys. They are going to have to make some decisions on where they want to go. If they transfer after this semester they can go straight to another Division-I four-year school without sitting out a year. But if they stay through the spring and then decide to transfer in July, they have to sit out a year. So between this semester and next, is your last shot at transferring and being immediately eligible.

"(As coaches) you want to find a school that they can go to and play. And that's what we are going to try to do. Coach Polk has gone through all the steps with them, so the kids know this. As for who it's going to be and who is going to do what, we don't know yet. But we will do everything we can to help the guys who want to transfer move to the right place.

"You can always transfer to a junior college, a Division-II, Division-III or a NAIA school without sitting out a year. If you are currently a freshman, you could certainly go to a junior college. You could play this spring and go to another school next year. But if you are an older guy, a sophomore, junior or even a redshirt, you might be so far along in your degree that it makes it tough to transfer to another school without hurting your academics.

"It's going to be interesting, but it's something that we know we have to tackle now."

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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