Bulldogs Strike Gold With Young Hitter

They were one of just two colleges that offered a scholarship to righthanded hitter Jason Nappi. And after a redshirt year to prepare him for the rigors of the college game, it appears the Mississippi State coaching staff knew exactly what they were getting in the young slugger.

"In addition to Mississippi State, I received an offer from Auburn," said Jason Nappi, who also received interest, but not scholarship offers, from the likes of Alabama, Samford, Troy, South Alabama and Arkansas.

But not only has this youngster gotten the hitting game figured out, but he's gotten the recruiting process figured out as well.

"A lot of the recruiters are so aggressive, they want answers now," said Nappi, who played his high school ball at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama. "If they have interest in you and you don't give them the right feed back and they don't think you are their guy, then they give that scholarship to someone else. That happened to me with a couple of schools because I wasn't going somewhere on one visit and tell them I was their guy. I wanted to look all my options and see who needed me and see where I fit in the best. And I think it worked out for me."

While Nappi was visiting four other schools, the Mississippi State coach that was his main recruiter, Tommy Raffo, was a little worried due to knowing the type player he was getting in Jason Nappi. But Nappi reassured him.

"I took five official visits and Mississippi State was my last official visit," said Nappi, who also visited two other SEC schools, Auburn and Alabama. "They were kind of worried due to how recruiting is and due to the schools that I visited. But I told Coach Raffo that I wasn't going to commit before I came to visit Mississippi State. And of course Mississippi State has such a great baseball tradition and I wouldn't miss that for the world. And it turned out that I came here (on the visit) and fell in love with it."

But once he stepped foot on the MSU campus and went through fall practice, he realized three things, 1) the talent level especially at the position he was expected to play was loaded, 2) that he couldn't solely rely on his extremely quick hands to hit SEC pitching, and, 3) that he was being moved to a brand new position. So he decided a redshirt year was the best route to go.

"The reason I redshirted last year is because we had such a talented, deep group of veterans at the positions I played, third base and left field, that it made the most sense," said Nappi. "And last year the coaches changed me up a little bit offensively - they widen me out a little bit, taught me patience, taught me strike zone recognition and really worked with me so that I could become a more mature hitter this year. But defense was really my weakness last year. I really wasn't a star defensive player at any position. And since they had planned on moving me to left field they figured a redshirt year was best for me."

Despite the fact that he knew it was the best option for him, it still wasn't an enjoyable experience, at least not while going through it.

"It as awful redshirting; it was terrible," said Nappi. "Just putting so much work into the fall and the weight lifting. And of course just being a competitor. Nobody wants to be part of a team and not be able to contribute. That was really the worst part. That was a huge challenge for me."

But now he's happy he did.

"Looking back that was the best thing I could absolutely have done," said Nappi. "I've gained a ton of strength. When I arrived at Mississippi State I weighed 185 pounds. Now I weigh 210 to 212 pounds. All of my strength lifts have increased, my speed has increased, my movement and flexibility have increased. Overall, I guess I have become a better athlete."

And with that new found strength has come power, something that Nappi didn't really expect.

"I've always had quick hands; I guess it's one of those God-given things," said Nappi. "But I'm really not a power hitter, although I did hit 12 home runs my senior year; I'm traditionally a gap to gap contact hitter. But sometimes you just run into one right and it pays off."

Such as he did three times at UAB this past Tuesday night.

"A couple of times in high school I hit two home runs, but I've never hit three," explained Nappi, who hit three home runs and knocked in 11 RBI during the UAB game. "And I've definitely never driven in for so many RBIs. I was seeing beach balls. The balls looked huge."

And he's optimistic that what Mississippi State fans saw Tuesday night may continue, especially when State's leading hitter of last year, Brandon Turner, gets back into the lineup.

"I think as a team we have done pretty good just getting by without Brandon (Turner)," said Nappi, who is hitting .418 with 7 home runs and 27 runs batted in. "But when you lose that .400 batting average and that leadership and that experience that he brings to the table you know you are losing a lot. And we can't wait until we get him back on the field. But Russ Sneed had that 15-game hitting streak and Grant Hogue is putting up good numbers. And Cody Freeman, Connor Powers and Andy Rice are really stepping up. As a team, I think we are going to have a pretty good offense."

Nappi and his teammates get a chance to once again show off that offense tonight against the 11th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina. Gametime is set for 6 pm central time.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the 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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