Monday Morning Coffee Break

Today we look at the long-term future of the Mississippi State baseball pitching staff.

I'm not going to talk about this year's team since this article is about the future, more long-term than short-term. Since pitching provides more than its fair share of the success of a program, I'm going to narrow the discussion to the Mississippi State pitching staff. And since we are talking long-term, I'm going to narrow it even further to current freshmen pitchers and high school seniors who have signed with State and a high school junior who is committed to State.

The first one who comes to mind is true freshman lefthanded pitcher Nick Routt (6-3, 192), who is currently 2-1 with an era of 2.56. He normally starts the Saturday SEC game for the Dogs. Add in the fact that in 31.2 innings he's give up just 24 hits and 8 walks while striking out 31 and you see how well he has pitched this year. Here's an example of his pitching prowess, going into the 8th inning, he was throwing a one-run, three-hit game against No. 3 ranked Georgia, a team that was hitting .346 and averaging over 11 runs per game coming into the weekend. And he was doing that in front of a record Georgia crowd of 4,461. He wound up losing 4-0 thanks to a two-out, three-run home run in the 8th inning.

Nick currently throws his fastball in the 83 to 87 miles per hour range on a consistent basis in the early innings and should continue to improve his velocity as he continues to add strength and mature physically. His forte is not only throwing strikes, but throwing them to both sides of the plate and keeping the ball down in the zone.

Another freshmen pitcher to watch out for is Devin Jones, a tall (6-2), skinny (168 pounds) righthander. Although not used nearly as much as Routt, he has a fastball that he normally throws in the high-80s and tops out 90 to 91. And look for that velocity to increase dramatically over the course of the next couple of years. In fact, this past summer a Major League Baseball scout that I talked to projects Devin to be hitting in the mid-90s by his junior season at State.

So far this season, Devin is 0-0 with an earned run average of 1.46. In 12.1 innings, he has given up 10 hits and walked 4 while striking out 7. The key with Devin right now is his stamina or lack of. But that will come as he continues to work hard in the weightroom to add more weight and strength. Right now, he's more of a 2 or 3 inning type pitcher due to that lack of stamina.

Redshirt freshman righty Paxton Pace (5-10, 191), who had Tommy John surgery late last season, is a guy who throws his fastball in the high-80s. He could factor into a significant spot on the future staff as well as he continues to get back to where he was prior to the surgery.

And true freshman righthanded pitcher Caleb Reed (5-9, 200), a guy with a Bulldog mentality, has taken his lumps this season, but has a mid to upper 80s fastball (85-88). While his spring hasn't been what he wanted it to be, he had a good fall that showed his potential.

Tyler Johnson, a 6-1, 196-pound righthander who had some impressive moments during the fall scrimmages, has a chance to factor in as well. What is holding him back right now is the fact that his velocity has tailed off considerably since he got back from Christmas break. A mid-80's pitcher in the fall, he came back throwing in the high-70s. Once he figures that out he'll factor in as a midweek guy with a chance to move into a reliever role in SEC games later on in his career.

David Hayes, a 6-1, 171-pound lefty, also figures in the picture in midweek games currently as a reliever. As he continues to increase his fastball velocity and improve his pitchability look for him to move into a midweek rotation spot later on in his career.

Those six freshmen form the nucleus of a pitching staff that will only get stronger with the additions of this year's recruiting class - a class that includes several pitchers who either have the chance to be nice draft picks out of high school this year or high draft picks after their junior season at Mississippi State.

The one who has had the best year so far this season is lefty C.C. Watson, a 6-0, 190-pounder who plays his ball at Cleburne County High School. So far, this season he has been dominating, striking out 21 in one game and throwing a no-hitter this past week while striking out 16. He has excellent command of his pitches, including a high-80's fasteball. He should have an immediate impact on the staff next year. He also has a solid chance to be drafted fairly high in the June Major League Baseball draft, possibly in the 4 to 10 round range.

Luke Bole is another lefthanded pitcher from the Alabama high school ranks. He's already got the size that you want in a pitcher (6-3, 190) and a fastball in the high-80's range. So far this season, he has not had the season he was hoping for, but his potential is very, very high. He's another high schooler that could be drafted in the 4 to 10 round range. If he winds up attending State, which I expect he will, he should have an immediate impact his freshman season.

Righthanded pitcher Chris Stratton, who is 6-3, 175 and hails from Tupelo High School in Mississippi, is a guy to watch. I've been told that he's increased his fastball velocity by about 2 to 3 miles per hour since his junior season, which would put him in the high-80s range. Due to his size and effortless delivery, he really projects well over the course of the next few years. If he reaches that potential, he could be a low to mid-90's fastball type pitcher by his junior season at State. I see him having an impact his freshman season, but I'm not sure how much.

Matt Lane (6-5, 180), a lefthanded pitcher from Pope High School in Marietta, Georgia, currently throws in the mid to upper-80s range but has a very projectable frame while could allow him to throw much harder. It's possible he could pitch as a freshman at Mississippi State.

A true-dual position type player, South Panola High School's (Batesville, MS) 1B/3B/RHP Ethan Bright (6-5, 230) is a guy who one pro scout has told me could go as high as the 4th round in June's Major League Baseball draft. But it would be as a pitcher due to his 88-91 miles per hour fastball that tops out at 93. Indications are, despite the possible high draft choice, college is where he will end up. He projects more as a hitter in college who will come in as a closer on the mound. And he very well could have an immediate impact on the State staff his freshman season in that role.

To take it a step further, MSU also has a commitment from a current high school junior pitcher, James McMahon. James is a 6-1, 200-pound righthanded pitcher who attends Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He currently throws in the 88-91 range, topping out at 93. He's only thrown a couple fo months so he's still very much a raw pitching talent.

Here's a list of all of the pitchers with where I project them fitting on the staff.

  • Nick Routt - 6-3, 192, LHP. A freshman in the 2009 season. Currently starting in the SEC on Saturday.
  • Devin Jones - 6-2, 168, RHP. A freshman in the 2009 season. Projects as an SEC weekend starter late in his freshman season or his sophomore year. Could also factor into a closer role, depending on how other pitchers develop.
  • Paxton Pace - 5-10, 191, RHP. A freshman in the 2009 season. Currently a midweek reliever who can become an SEC weekend reliever his sophomore season.
  • Caleb Reed - 5-9, 200, RHP. A freshman in the 2009 season. Currently a midweek reliever who can become an SEC weekend reliever his sophomore season.
  • Tyler Johnson - 6-1, 196, RHP. A freshman in the 2009 season who is being redshirted. Factors in as a midweek reliever and possibly a starter. If his velocity comes back he could be a factor on SEC weekends as a reliever.
  • David Hayes - 6-1, 171, LHP. A freshman in the 2009 season who figures in as a midweek reliever early in his career then as a possible midweek starter.
  • C.C. Watson - 6-0, 190, LHP. A freshman in the 2010 season. Projects as an SEC weekend starter, possibly as early as his freshman season.
  • Luke Bole - 6-3, 190, LHP. A freshman in the 2010 season. Projects as an SEC weekend starter early in his career.
  • Chris Stratton - 6-3, 175, RHP. Will be a freshman in the 2010 season. Projects as a midweek starter his freshman season who could move into an SEC weekend starting role as a sophomore.
  • Matt Lane - 6-5, 180, LHP, Will be a freshman in the 2010 season. Projects as a midweek starter or reliever early in his career.
  • Ethan Bright - 6-5, 230, RHP. Will be a freshman in the 2010 season. Projects as an SEC weekend closer, possibly as early as his freshman season.
  • James McMahon - 6-1, 200, RHP. Will be a freshman in 2011. Projects as a midweek closer early on, then moving into an SEC weekend closer role after a year or two.

    Of these pitchers, several have the potential to be high draft picks either out of high school or out of college. They include Nick Routt, Devin Jones, C.C. Watson, Luke Bole, Chris Stratton, Ethan Bright and possibly James McMahon. I say possibly in regard to McMahon because it's tough to project him due to how raw he is when it comes to pitching and also due to his youth.


    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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