One-on-one With Cohen, Powers, Sneed & Routt

After the regular MSU baseball press conference I spoke one-on-one with Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen and players Connor Powers, Russ Sneed and Nick Routt.

John Cohen Q&A

Does it concern you that you are going into this season counting on a lot of freshmen pitchers?
"You are a little apprehensive, but it's exciting at the same time because the skill level of these kids is really good. They are really talented, athletic kids. Just watching them compete on a daily basis is exciting. They are going to stumble a little bit at times, but you know they are going to make great improvements. The quality of their pitches are special. You feel like at any point in time they could break out and get that big strikeout for you, get that big double play."

As you have admitted numerous times, patience is not one of your strong points. How will you handle it when they go through the tough times that we all know freshmen usually go through during SEC play?
"We have other guys so they won't be left to the wolves. If they do hit a bump in the road we'll have other guys who can come in and pitch. Now it's more of a team thing. You aren't just hoping that Nick Routt can give you a certain number of innings. If we can stay away from injuries, we have some exciting young guys at the tail end of the game who can come in and get outs."

With more guys who can pitch this year, will you pull the young pitcher quicker than you would a veteran pitching staff?
"We will be much more patient with our young guys early on. We will make sure they are protected, make sure that their level of confidence is maintained as long as possible. With freshmen most of the time if you have depth, you are going to take them out when you recognize early that it's just not happening for them. We'll also take them out so that we can give other guys experience as well."

Connor Powers Q&A

As a hitter, of the freshmen pitchers, who has impressed you the most?
"Just from me personally, I don't hit Bracewell very well. I think Stratton is throwing very well. Luke Bole. It's pretty much across the board. They all are doing a really good job."

What is it about Bracewell?
"He has a true slider. He's a fastball-slider guy. And his break time (the time recorded from windup to ball getting to the plate) to the plate is, according to the pitchers, is under 1 second. The average righthanders are 1.3 to 1.4. And he is effective when he does it. I have a leg lift so that really interrupts my rhythm."

What do you like about Stratton, what makes him tough on hitters?
"He shows flashes of dominance. And he's going to get more and more consistent the more innings he pitches. He has a plus curveball. And when it's on, it's pretty nasty. And he spots his fastball. The other day, the last time he pitched in an intersquad, he threw a four-seam changeup and he's righthanded. Usually righties don't throw righthanded changeup that look like fastballs like that. If he can spot that pitch up I think that will be really good for him."

Russ Sneed Q&A

I asked Connor this question also. Which of the freshmen pitchers have impressed you the most?
"I would say that Bracewell is showing a lot of positive things. His break time to the plate is one. A lot of what hitting is is timing. And he really messes with a hitter's timing. I have to completely change my load on him. Along with that, he's also got a really tight slider for as young as he is. He'll learn where he can throw it and in what situations he can use as a strikeout pitch. He'll learn how to fill it a little off the edge and maybe out in front of the plate.

"Another pitcher who has come on is Kendall Graveman. He has a good body for a pitcher. And he's just effortless out there. He just kind of lets the ball work for him. He has been throwing the ball with a lot of movement and has some sink on his pitches. And he's working on two other pitches. I haven't seen him enough to gauge his off-speed pitches. But he could literally get guys out with one pitch with his sinker."

Speaking of effortless delivery, is Kendall similar to Nick Routt in that regard?
"They have a little different style. Nick kind of gains some speed on his fastball through his changeup. He's still effortless with his fastball but his deception comes more from the different speeds on his changeup. And that really speeds his fastball up, even though it's still a quick pitch. He is upper 80s a lot of times."

Other freshmen pitchers?
"Luke Bole has been one of the young guys who has come in and really come in and pumped the strikezone. He has a good breaking ball. C.C. Watson is going to be a good reliever. He is going to be able to come in and throw a slider, breaking ball and be a good left on left matchups."

No matter how good a freshman is, he's still going to have a tough time with SEC hitters moreso than maybe a veteran would. What will you, as a senior, tell them when you go to the mound to calm them down?
"The thing is they will have to grow up. I have seen a great improvement in them from the fall to the spring. Coach Thompson has done a great job with them. But the main thing with the young guys is the game is quicker in the Southeastern Conference. And they will have to have the ability to slow the game down and not let it get sped up. Just stay in control with everything that they do."

Nick Routt Q&A

Even though you are only a sophomore, on this pitching staff you could be considered a veteran due to how young it is. As a guy who has been through the SEC before, how will you try to help the freshmen pitchers?
"Everybody goes through bumps. And when they do, I want to be there to try and tell them to forget it and get back at it."

How did you personally handle it when you got hit last season?
"When I did get hit it was a shock to me because no matter how good you are you can still get hit. You just go back to working real hard and come out and forget about it. I may think about it for a whole day and forget about it. I go back to working hard and prepare for my next start."

How will it affect you this year knowing there will be more guys who can come in and relieve you if needed?
"I don't really think it will affect me. When I go in the game I'm just trying to take it one inning at a time. It's the coaches decision whether to leave me in or pull me. But it will be nice to have some steam left at the end of the year. I threw 24 innings as a senior in high school to throwing 86 innings the next year. I had never thrown that much before and you get some soreness toward the end of the year. And your body starts to wear down. This year, I hope I won't have to deal with that as much because we'll have some guys who can come in and shut down the 7th, 8th and 9th innings."

You had a great freshman season. How will you improve this season?
"I think my fastball has gained a little more pop. I've added a curveball that is still a work in progress. It is a pitch that I had in high school. I didn't throw a changeup at all in high school. I was a fastball-curveball guy. Then I starting throwing changeups when I got here and got rid of the curveball. Now I have to get a balance of both pitches. With a curveball you are turning your wrist out and you have to cut it. With the changeup you turn your wrist in and make it run away. When you do that it is kind of hard to get used to it due to the different wrist positions."

You seem so cool and calm on the mound all the time. Do you not let it bother you when a batter gets a hit off of you?
"You just have to say the guy hit the pitch. If it's a good pitch you just tip your cap to him and say good job. If you throw a changeup a little low and off the plate and he goes out there and takes it the other way for a base hit you just tip your cap and say good job."

Are there any returning SEC hitters that were really tough hitters to pitch to?
"I felt like every hitter I pitched to during the Vanderbilt weekend was tough to pitch to (laugh). Other than that, no, there's no hitters that I am afraid of."

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Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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