Coach Raffo Talks About MSU's Outfielders

[Premium article] The 11th ranked Mississippi State Bulldog baseball team comes in with high expectations this season. With the graduation of one outfielder and the move of Steve Gendron back to the infield (third base), MSU will have to find replacements from among several outfielder candidates, including two freshmen who stood out during fall practices, Joseph Hunter and Brad Corley. Coach Tommy Raffo talked to Gene's Page about his group of players in late November of last year.

"We have eight outfielders on the squad. Of the eight, we have three veterans and five rookies. The three veterans are Winston Pearson, Jon Mungle and Ryan Fesmire. Winston and Jon played some last year and Ryan redshirted. The five rookies are Jeff Butts, Tyler Jones, Joseph Hunter, Brad Corley and Brian LaNinfa. Brian and Brad are dual position players. It has been fun to work with them and they are very talented. They are very coachable and have a great work ethic and really push each other in practice.

"When we play our outfielders, we have them play all different positions to give them the experience of getting to know each outfield position. Plus, as a coaching staff, we want to know how they react and what is the best position for them. We do a lot of that during the fall.

"When you look at the veterans, Jon Mungle is just a sophomore as is Pearson. There's not a single junior or senior outfielder on the team. There is some youth, but, at the same time, they are very talented.

"Jon Mungle played some left field last year. Jon has really improved his game, defensively. He is an offensive player who is a left-hander bat with power.

"Ryan Fesmire is a defensive player who plays center field. He can really go get balls in the outfield. I played with (former MSU outfielder) David Mitchell, and he is a David Mitchell type player. He can create a lot of things at the plate because he is good at playing the short game and he is also very good on the base paths.

"Winston Pearson, who is in his third year in the program, is primarily a left fielder, also. He is a right-handed hitter who can play other positions. He was used primarily against left-handed pitchers last year.

"Then, we have our freshmen."

Talk about Joseph Hunter first because he had a very good fall.
"He brings a lot to the table for us as far as tools are concerned. When you rate the five tools, you look at arm, fielding, power at the plate, hitting and running. If you look at his tools, he is rated very highly in all of those areas. We are very lucky that he decided before the draft not to go through it. He called every Major League team and told them he wanted to go to school. We held onto him because of that. He is someone that has proven himself during the fall."

There was a little question mark about his hitting prior to his senior season in high school, but he really came on in that area his senior season and during fall practices.
"He did. And we have a pretty good (pitching) staff and when a player can do well against them, that is very important.

"He can go get balls and has a very strong arm. We have asked the younger players to understand a system that we have in place here. Sometimes that is an adjustment, but they are so athletic, the adjustments were very easily made. We are very pleased with what he is doing, defensively, in the outfield."

True freshman Brad Corley is what you want in a right fielder because he has such a great arm in the outfield and he has the potential to hit for power.
"Brad does. And even though he is a more physical player than the other players, he is also very athletic. He can also run down balls. He is in a great situation because he played the sun field at PRP. That is also our sun field. That helps because that is a very difficult part of the field during certain times of the game. As an offensive player, we are looking for good things during his career. We were fortunate to hang onto him (after he was drafted in the Major League Draft last summer)."

Jeff Butts is another true freshman.
"Jeff is going to be a very good player for us. He has some quality tools in the outfield. He is a very, very good runner. At the plate, as a left-handed hitter, he is going to be very good. His big thing is he uses all parts of the field. He can be a difficult out in the lineup. That is how we see him as an offensive player."

Brian LaNinfa was one of the better hitters last fall.
"Brian's offense is way ahead of his defense. He knows that. He knows that he has work to do in the outfield and first base. Although he is not the fastest outfielder, he makes catches. That is very important."

The last freshman is Tyler Jones.
"Tyler is a very gifted athlete from Mobile. He makes a lot of things look very easy because he runs really well. He has worked very hard to improve his stroke at the plate. He is very coachable and runs just as well as Joseph Hunter and Jeff (Butts). He can run down balls."

You continue to talk about how well these outfielders run. That is something that you haven't had a lot of the last few years.
"It is an athletic squad out there. When you look at those eight outfielders, there is a lot of athleticism. There are a lot of guys who can catch some balls that might have fallen in during the past. That is important to our pitching staff because it cuts down on their number of pitches and innings on the mound during the course of a season. It is very comforting for a pitcher to know that a ball in the air is going to be caught."

Thanks, Coach Raffo.

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

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