"He has been in some SEC games and he has seen some SEC pitching. J.B. has gotten a lot better. He works extremely hard on the catching aspect of his game, but he also works extremely hard on his hitting. He takes a lot of pride in both. His feet and arm strength have gotten better. The thing that we have worked on with him is his accuracy and his throws. When I first got here, he struggled a little bit with accuracy because he was trying to be too quick. We toned his body down and get his feet quicker. I am excited about where he is with his throws. He is not going to have the arm strength that Thomas or Craig have, but you don't have to have that. All you need is to be around the bag to give the infielder the chance."
The next guy is a redshirt freshman, Thomas Berkery. I was impressed with how well he hit last summer.
"He had a great summer. I followed him through the internet. He had a great summer offensively, but he made a lot of errors catching. He had like 13 or 14 errors. I asked him about that. He said a lot of it had to do with trying to pick guys off first and throwing the ball away. I could see that with Thomas, but his feet are some of the best feet I've ever seen. His feet are almost too quick sometimes, if that is possible. I think that is what makes his arm strength so good. That is something I stress with all of these guys because the feet dictate the arm strength."
He also plays infield, doesn't he?
"That is the neat thing with Thomas. He can do a lot of different things because he is a great athlete. He is an advantage because he can do some other things. We may lose him to the infield, but Thomas wants to catch."
He hit quite a few home runs in the summer but didn't really show that same power in the fall. Was there any particular reason for that?
"Our guys know how to pitch him a little better than those guys in the summer. He is going to hit."
Craig Tatum is another redshirt freshman that has a lot of talent.
"He has one of the best arms that I have ever been around. I know what Jim (Case) saw in this kid when he signed him, his arm strength. His footwork has gotten a lot better. When we first got him, he was so wide and bulky. He is getting more confidence everyday. The biggest thing with him is if he is going to hit up here. He has gotten much better. I think a lot of it has to do with him relaxing and being comfortable at the plate. He is going to play. He just can't let the hitting affect his defense."
Talk about walk-on Matt Housel, a sophomore from Gordo, Alabama.
"He is a walk-on who wanted to try to play major Division-I baseball. He is a great kid. He works extremely hard and is always trying to get better. The guys really seem to like having him around."
Gray Silva is a another walk-on from right here in Starkville.
"He has gotten better from last year, when he walked on but didn't make it. He has gotten stronger and his feet have gotten better. He still needs to work on his offense. He is good at handling the movement of pitchers such as Maholm, Nicholas and Gant. Gray is a great guy to have in the clubhouse because he is more mature than some of the younger guys and he is a Mississippi State guy (his dad is MSU's equipment manager.-Gene)."
Based on what I saw in the fall, you have three catchers, Tucker, Berkery and Tatum, who could play this year.
"Yeah, Coach (Polk) and I have talked about matchups and who is pitching. That is an advantage that we have that some schools don't have. All three of those guys can do a lot of things that can help you."
Thanks, Coach McNickle.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com