Butch Thompson Talks Pitching

Mississippi State assistant coach Butch Thompson, who coaches the pitchers for MSU, talks about his fall impressions of the pitchers.

Sophomore righthander Devin Jones
"Devin Jones showed us an ability to attack. He really came at hitters this fall. Statistically, he arguably had the best fall of anybody on our pitching staff. Talking to him he's so much more mature than last year. But that is normal. That should happen in his development. I think he carried his good game against Ole Miss late last spring, when he came back from his broken hand, into the summer where he was Baseball America's top pro prospect in the New England Collegiate League.

"He has a great arm. He runs his fastball at 92 miles per hour, maybe a little bit more. And now he has a low-80s slider to go with his fastball. It's so much better now because he throws it with much more aggression. He also has a sinker that is new and is in the 86 to 87 miles per hour range. His sinker has evolved to be his changeup. It has given another foot to his fastball. When guys start timing his fastball, it gives him another look to the hitters.

"We are discussing, as we move forward, where we want to pitch Devin. I think he would be competing for one of our three or four top starting spots. And I think Devin can also be - even if you don't use (the term) closer - used in competitive moments later in ballgames. But what I can say is he will grab one of the top roles on our pitching staff, whether it be at the beginning of a game or in the second half of the game."

Sophomore lefthander Nick Routt
"Nick Routt did what he was supposed to this fall. The innings to the number of strikeouts show that he has a swing and miss to his fastball. What we have to do with Nick is make sure everybody - I'm referring to the opponents - knows what to expect from him coming into the spring. The week before they play us, they are going to be talking about having a plan against Routt more than anybody else on our staff. Due to that, we can't rest on our laurels. We have introduced the breaking ball with him more this fall. The changeup has been good this fall. He is really healthy right now, which has allowed him to pick it up in the weight room.

"I love his fastball and his changeup. As long as he keeps the spin on his fastball and the late life and keeps attacking hitters, he should be a very competitive pitcher. (And) if we can keep stretching him and keep promoting development, I think he is a cornerstone rotation guy. What we have to do is find his spot in our rotation and sit him down right there and let him do the same thing he did last year. Is it Friday or Saturday? We'll see."

True freshman righthander Chris Stratton
"He had a little bit of tendinitis this summer so we shut him down during the summer and then got him going in a throwing program this fall, which allowed us to get him ready for the fall. Chris has shown an ability to pitch with his fastball. The guys who have the most success in our league and at Dudy Noble Field are the guys who can really pitch with their fastball. And regardless of what class he is, Chris proved that if you can pitch with your fastball, and people don't beat you up, you can have success.

"Chris also has a great curveball, although it was inconsistent at times. And we are working on a changeup, although it is not there yet. It showed flashes. We think Chris is a starter, so we want to introduce a third pitch for one of those days the curveball is not there just so we can keep them off the fastball. He is a potentially strong guy and the sky is the limit for him. He's just got to stay humble and work and he has. I think he is going to be in the argument for one of our four rotation spots. Due to the way the schedule is, there is a realistic four-man rotation with the fifth starter only starting two times during the season."

True freshman lefthander Luke Bole
"I didn't think Luke would command the ball as well as he did during the fall. He got a bunch of early outs and threw a bunch of strike ones for us. He threw 72% first-pitch strikes, which was impressive to me. He got some ground balls. He is also very mature with the running game. He can stop the running game and he can keep the double play in order. He is another guy who navigated pretty good with his fastball.

"He is a fastball, breaking ball guy whose changeup has been a little bit slow to come into focus. We have to continue to work to get him a third pitch. He is a big lefthander who is throwing around 88 right now, but to some hitters it probably seems a little harder because he has gotten some ground balls when they didn't see his fastball that great. We have to come back and help him get a little better with his secondary stuff. He had a very positive fall for us.

"It may just be me but Jones, Routt, Stratton and Bole are in the talk for starting spots because they can pitch with their fastball."

True freshman lefthander C.C. Watson
"C.C. is our strongest guy. He did 500 pound squats this fall in the weight room. He is committed to pitching who figured that out this fall. He is also a really good outfielder and really good hitter but he has made a 100% effort to pitching, which he did on his own. He has been a starter his whole life who had 21 strikeouts in one game last year, so he has some swing and miss potential. But I saw that more with his curveball and his changeup more than I did from his fastball. Due to that, we have been working his height level to the bottom, bottom, bottom of the strikezone. But C.C. is one of those guys who we may wind up lifting his fastball up in the zone just to protect his good curveball. We also have to keep working on his fastball command. He threw about 47% of his fastballs for strikes. That was why he struggled at times this fall. He really hadn't thrown a changeup much (in the past) and his changeup wound up being a wonderful pitch for him. I think it developed even more than he thought it would, and he wound up going to it a ton in the fall.

"Something that C.C. can really do for this pitching staff that we didn't have last year is if we get in the middle of the ballgame and a couple of lefthanded hitters are coming up, I think he can come in and throw a really good left-on-left breaking ball.

"We really need to see January and February to see where he fits, whether it is as a starter or reliever. He is right in the middle of both."

True freshman righthander Kendall Graveman
"Kendall has three pitches. He is quick to the plate. He is 1.25 (seconds) to the plate every time, which allows him to do a great job against the running game. He is a good athlete. For a freshman pitcher, he is a complete package. He has so much going for him.

"We stretched him a little bit, trying to get him to throw some fastball to the extension side, something he had never done before. If he throws a fastball on the armside, a slider, and a changeup he can really, really pitch. But I wanted to stretch him a little bit this fall to help him throw a fastball to both sides of the plate. It caused him some challenges this fall but I think that will serve him well this spring.

"He is a great competitor and has added 13 to 14 pounds since he arrived this semester. I think he is in the hunt for whatever he wants. He has a reliever's mentality, but he also has a mixture of pitches that could also make him a starter. He and C.C. Watson are still in the discussion for both spots."

True freshman righthander Ben Bracewell
"I think Ben has closer written all over him. He has a good, live fastball with a good, hard slider to go with it. I don't know if he does it intentionally, but he shows a couple of different looks to his slider. It's not the same path every time. He is also very athletic. He is the only pitcher on our staff that I have had that conversation with. I asked him if we trusted him with that, could he take the bull by the horns and go after that. There are not a lot of freshmen closers in our league, although LSU had a ton of success with it last year.

"We tried to stretch our pitchers this fall, but I think I tried to stretch Ben as much as anybody else. We put a two-seamer fastball in his hand, we put a changeup in his hand, we asked him to navigate with it. I think he gave up something like one or two hits his last three outings, although he had a bunch of walks in them. Those were primarily the two-seam that we tried to stretch him with. The last outing, we told him to go back to who he is, go with his two bullets the four-seam and his slider, and he absolutely pitched magically."

Junior righthander Trey Johnson
"Trey, who is a true dual-position guy, worked with me once or twice a week. And what I love about him is he doesn't have to work on pitching everyday to stay sharp. What we are allowing him to be is primarily a position player and he can pitch and work with me once or twice a week. "He has a really good changeup that disrupts the hitters timing. When he goes with it, that gives another foot to his fastball. He doesn't have the best swing and miss stuff that we have on our staff. Everybody knows that, but he has the ability to throw an inning in six pitches if the hitters aren't smart enough, offensively. I feel like you have to beat Trey, he's not going to give it away. I always feel, with his changeup, he is one pitch away from throwing a double play ground ball or one pitch away from getting a popup in a big situation.

"I see him being able to help us in a variety of ways. I see him being able to do everything but being a closer."

Junior righthander Corey Collins
"Corey really had a great first-half of the fall. He has a fastball that can get beneath hitters barrels. And him being 6-foot, 6-inches tall gives him an appearance that is different. He is going to be different than Nick Routt, Devin Jones or Chris Stratton due to the slot he throws from. Those are the two things that he has going for him.

"He lost some of his sink down the stretch. That caused his fall finish not to be exactly like he wanted it to be. Once he lost the ability to get below barrel, we didn't have a plan to go to. Our next step is to come up with a plan B over the next couple of months when his ball is not sinking every pitch. Is it a breaking ball or a changeup or is it lifting a fastball? We are in the figure out mode to figure that out.

"He has been a starter his entire life but we have January and February to figure out where he fits. I'm not sure if he fits on the back-end of a game due to contact, but I think he has the look that allows us to bridge the gap from a starter to the back-end of the bullpen."

Senior righthander Greg Houston
"Greg has been in our bullpen and led us in appearances last season. I think he is a three to six out guy, and I think he feels that same way. He showed a good, quick arm during the fall. His fastball was 88 to 89 and pretty consistent. We just have to continue to help him get his fastball away armside, or simply put it down and away from a righthanded hitter. We also need to continue working him so he can present more problems for lefthanded hitters. We want more of a changeup so that will allow him to disrupt the timing of the hitters.

"He, hopefully, gives us some maturity in our bullpen. I hope he brings some senior leadership and helps add value to the other pitchers."

Senior lefthander Tyler Whitney
"Tyler had his typical fall. He always wants to use the fall to break down his game and I think he is mature enough to handle that. He tried to get better in the fall by revamping himself. He is really in tune with what he wants to do. I love the fact that he is always trying to come up with something. I like how he is always pushing the envelope. That phase is over with now. Going into January and February what we have to do is help him not be so analytical. He had a lot of thoughts in his head this fall. We are now going to take what he learned this fall, simplify it and put it into practice. I think he will be there in the spring, like he was last spring.

"He had the most Friday night starts that we had last spring. And he is right there fighting for that."

True freshman lefthander Matt Lane
"Matt has stuff. He has a fastball with good movement that is down in the zone. He has a really good curveball that may be his best pitch. I think a lot of our players commented on that. He can throw in the bottom of the zone. A ton of his misses were below the zone. His command wasn't there in the fall. He threw 49% strikes overall. But the stuff is there. He had pitched out of every situation the entire fall until the (MSU Fall) World Series. I'm never glad when one of my guys get beat up. But I'm glad it came to the forefront. I think that does nothing but bring something positive. We now know exactly what we have to work on with Matt. Now he knows that he really needs to attack.

"He has a great frame, but we need to continue piling on the weight. And we need to make him stronger, especially in the core. He is a little weaker in the core than the average strength guy you need to be to navigate through our league. I think, as he fills out, he will add a foot to his fastball and his curveball will play even better. And when we add some type development with a changeup, I think he is going to be great. Is it now? I don't know. But all of our coaches are excited about Matt."

True freshman Chad Girodo
"Chad has everything that makes him look like a starter. He has a really good pickoff move. I think he will be able to control the running game. He has three pitches - a fastball, a curveball, a changeup. And he can throw all three of them for strikes. He only walked three guys the entire fall. And I stretched him just as much as I did all the other guys. I asked him to do some things that he normally doesn't do, and he still threw strikes. That is very positive. Where we have to work with Chad is he is a contact guy. He needs to realize that and go get contact earlier. A lot of times he got in trouble was when he stayed on one side of the plate and the hitters got comfortable. We are also going to help him learn to crowd the hitters with a little more purpose. We aren't going to try to ever hit a guy, just try to get inside the barrel when we have to.

"Something else we have to figure out about Chad is what type pitcher he is. Is he a type B pitcher that really pitches below ramming speed or timing of the hitters? Or is he above that. He was 82-83 early in the fall, then the last couple of outings he went up to 84, 85 and 86. That helped the hitters timing. So, is Chad going to be one of those guys that we need above the hitters timing or below the hitters timing? I think he is still in the developmental phase, so I don't know which way he is going to go."

Sophomore righthander Caleb Reed
"My hat goes off to Caleb. I think he really battled. I think he had some command problems last spring due to the adjustment he had to make coming into the SEC world. That was a huge jump for him. He has weathered some storms and the sun is starting to come out for him. He is now getting contact and his command has gotten better. His changeup is so much better. His slider is playing better. All of his stuff is better, and I felt he attacked hitters much better. I hated that the fall ended right now because I would have loved to see him pitch for three more weeks. He was just hitting his stride and had saved his best for last. Hopefully, he can pick up in January and February where he left off in the fall. I think he is at his best place in his year and a half here.

"Realistically, I think we are looking at him to add value to our bullpen. But I reserve the judgement on Caleb and the other pitchers until I get four or five more weeks watching them throw to hitters."

True freshman righthander Jared Miller
"Jared Miller never lost a game in high school, but he came to us with command being a little bit of an issue with him. I think his command was what he was dealing with in the past. But he's got a little tighter strikezone in college and guys aren't swinging at as many of his pitches. That really created some issues for him in the fall. He averaged about 20 pitches an inning, which is not going to serve you well. He wound up having a little bit of strain in his elbow, so we shut him down a week early, so he didn't participate in the World Series. We looked at it and everything is fine. I think he threw some hard innings this fall. But his last outing was his best outing.

"Jared has good stuff. Every other pitch he can do things that not everybody else can do at such a high level. But strike one eluded him most of the fall. And that got his pitch count out of whack."

Other pitchers - Justin Bussey, Paxton Pace and Michael Dixon were hurt during the fall. Due to that, Coach Thompson wasn't able to do a fall evaluation on them. Walk-on Jordan Faulkner's classification has not being determined by the NCAA, so his status with the team is unknown at this time. Ethan Bright and Elliot Varney are no longer on the team.

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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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