Updating Bulldog Baseball 2011 Newcomers

Help, as the saying goes, is on the way. And the incoming recruiting class of 2010-11 can't get on campus soon enough to save the future day for Mississippi State baseball.

Much of that class, consisting of 15 prospects inked in the early signing period, is still playing out their senior high school or sophomore juco seasons right now. In one up-north case the campaign is barely begun. But based on statistics and records reported, head coach John Cohen's second State signing class may well be ranked as highly as his first. And that's saying something since the 2009-010 group which is playing or redshirting at the moment was rated as highly as #8 or #15 by a pair of national publications.

For that matter the Diamond Dog coaching staff has not entirely completed the class, according to assistant coach Lane Burroughs.

"I think maybe one more junior college hitter, maybe two. So there will be a couple more for sure."

One of those was released to Gene's Page earlier this week, as outfielder David Bishop of Alabama Southern Community College is the first spring signee. He is hitting .428 with 18 home runs and 59 RBI. The period extends into mid-May.

Of course the flip-side of college recruiting will go all the way into August. As in, the opportunity for many of these signees to skip school and turn professional. Even if not picked in June's Major League Draft the free-agent route remains open up to the first class attended by a newcomer.

"It will be like it always is, we'll take it into the summer," said Burroughs.

And that's more of an issue this summer than in many, many years for Mississippi State. After the program tried to avoid draft damage by, bluntly, primarily signing players not of serious pro interest, Cohen and staff are taking more such chances. In some of this year's cases big chances because there are genuine premier prospects signed on with State.

"Sometimes you get your heart broken, that's part of it," Burrough said. "But when you do get one it's just a great feeling that these guys are going to help us win that championship that we're looking for."

There's another obvious fact about this still-growing class: more new players have been inked than there are graduating seniors on the 2010 roster. Of the nine seniors one, third baseman Jarrod Parks, is sitting out the season after January back surgery. So that leaves eight sure openings for 16 (so far) newcomers. Plus, starting next season, the number of players who can be on scholarship aid drops to the final NCAA limit of 27, with eight non-scholarship slots allowed.

Burroughs is certain both the current underclassmen and signees know this score, and he isn't worried about anyone being scared away by the numbers game. In fact he'd be worried about anyone who was.

"These kids are smart," said Burroughs. "They can count. They keep up with it. I agree with what you say 100%, if they don't want to compete they're in the wrong program and wrong level of baseball.

"I don't have a crystal ball to tell you who is going to be on it and who is not, but these kids know what is going on and what is at stake. I've never been in a program that was more educated on the NCAA rules than our baseball team, and I think it's because Coach (Ron) Polk got them educated! But they know what is going on and we've got guys that accept that and embrace it, and bring it."

And there is one other aspect to this class that might not be appreciated at first. But to Burroughs and his boss, beyond just the pure talent so many of these players bring to the game is the fact most can do more than their primary job. This isn't just being able to play different outfield jobs, or work either side of the infield, either. These are true two-way players who can start SEC games in both roles in the same weekend. That, said Burroughs, is critical as the 27-scholarship limit kicks in.

"I think we're going to be ahead of the game because we've come in with a new slate and a new staff," said Burroughs. "That's what we're doing, you can't put a price tag on how valuable those guys are. With 35 guys on the roster and you can only travel 25 SEC weekends, if you can have a guy like a Trey Johnson he's going to travel. He's not hitting like he wants to or pitching but he can do both, he's an arm out of the pen and a left-handed bat. Then a Wes Rea and a Daryl Norris, a C.T. Bradford, those are real arms that can swing the bat. They're not hitters that are OK on the mound, they are legitimate two-way guys. I think you're seeing more of that, and it takes a special athlete to do it."

Just how special can be judged by the updated comments Burroughs had on the 15 early signees which follow.

OF CODY ABRAHAM L/L Sugarland TX (Lamar HS) – "Obviously he's a life-long Mississippi State fan. He's a left/left outfielder, has plus-speed, a really good runner. He could be a leadoff-type guy or hit toward the end of the lineup. He knows how to get on base, knows the strike zone. He's a plus-defender who can really run down balls in the outfield. His dad sent me his latest stats, he's hitting .520. The thing we didn't know recruiting him is he could pitch, he got to asked to pitch in a tournament and blew it up. He struck out five the other night and was 91-92, that's a plus too."

C BRETT BOZEMAN L/R Gainesville FL (Santa Fe College) – "We went out and saw Brett in Grand Junction (Col), they finished second in the country and Brett played outstanding. He can really block, receiver, and throw. This year he is putting up some power numbers, he has five home runs. He's left-handed hitter and has a good stroke, I think he's going to hit well in the SEC. But I thought he was the best catcher we'd seen and we offered him early last summer. He's what you're looking for behind the plate. He hurt a finger and missed a few games but he's come on strong and his team is making a push."

OF C.T. BRADFORD L/L Pace FL (Pace HS) – "He's the epitome of what you look for in a leadoff hitter. He knows the strike zone, he can bunt, push, drag, work the count. And he can hit. He's dynamite. I went to watch him play against Fairhope High School, they're #1 in Alabama, and he's 89-92 off the bump, throws a three-hitter. Daryl Norris got two of the hits and C.T. went 4-for-5. He can really run and really handle a bat, and defend the field. Obviously he's got a plus-arm. He'll be ready when he gets here. He might be the best player in Florida. When he steps across the line the switch goes on and I'm excited about him playing early."

RHP VICTOR DIAZ R/R Perth Amboy NJ (St. Joseph HS) – "One of Butch Thompson's friends in New Jersey put us on to him and we went up there, and we saw him in Atlanta at the World Wood Bat Tournament. Butch and I sat there together and watched him throw, then we brought his family in that weekend and they just fell in love with the place. He's a power arm and I think a legitimate starter that can give us a lot of innings. He's probably 88-to-92 with a pretty good breaking ball, he's a strike machine. He's a physical kid and has the body to keep up. They start late and have only played about ten games and will go into the summer. I think he gives us a legitimate right arm to start on weekends."

OF COREY DICKERSON L/R Brookhaven MS (Meridian CC) – "He's probably the best hitter in the Southeast. A lefthanded hitter, throws right. He's 6-2 and 205 and can run. Maybe he doesn't have a great arm, but he can defend. I project him as a leftfielder to hit in the middle of our order; he leads off at Meridian because they want to get him to the plate as many times as he can. The thing about Corey is he's got power, I think he's got 17-18 home runs right now; but he's hard to strike out, he spreads out with a two-strike approach and is so tough to pitch to. He's just a pure hitter, if he's playing in the big leagues in four years I won't blink an eye. He has all the tools to be drafted."

SS ADAM FRAZIER L/R Bishop GA (Oconee County HS) – "I project him as a legitimate shortstop, second baseman type guy. He's a lefthanded hitter. I went to see him in Georgia, Adam was playing a team that wasn't good and it was hard to evaluate. Then he went to the Junior Sunbelt in Oklahoma and just went off. Team Georgia won it and if there had been a MVP he would have been it. He can really hit, really handle the bat; he's a good runner and has a plus glove. He's what you look for with the glove and the arm, just steady, steady player. And he set the career doubles record in the state of Georgia. Not a big physical kid, but he knows how to hit and has a great left-handed stroke."

SS DEMARCUS HENDERSON R/R Waynesboro MS (Waynesboro HS) – "DemMrcus is a tremendous athlete. There's a good chance he could get drafted. He's a legitimate outfielder. But his arm strength and his glove and the way he moves laterally, I think he's an infielder; whether it be shortstop or second base. I saw him in the state games and he just destroyed the baseball at the plate. Another guy who is not big but he's got pop in that bat, I think he's got eleven or twelve home runs in him. Just a tremendous athlete who is going to play somewhere, and with his makeup he just makes everybody around him better. He enjoys playing and being out there."

SS CHASE LEWALLEN L/R Sumrall MS (Sumrall HS) – "Chase is just your typical throwback, dirtbag-type guy. He's a bundle of energy and plays at a high level. His motor is always revved up. If you ever watch him play you're tired! He's going to play with a lot of energy and intensity, it ain't always pretty but it's always competitive. I think he's one of the better hitters in the state, obviously he can really swing the bat, run, bunt, those types of things. His best position could be third base, or maybe second, but he can also catch. He's just a baseball player and he's going to make everybody better just from his intensity."

IF/RHP JAMES MCMAHON R/R Hattiesburg MS (Oak Grove HS) – "I tell you, in the uniform he looks like a big-leaguer. He's a physical, strong kid. I think he's going to help us quicker on the mound just because of the arm strength, his ability to command the strike zone, his ability to throw a second pitch—a curveball—for a strike. His fastball is 87-to-92, he has a great arm and it's only going to get better. And he has a lot of thunder in his bat. He's a third baseman, first baseman, a corner infielder and he can really swing it. He's going to provide some power for us. He hit a grand slam the other night."

RHP EVAN MITCHELL R/R Marietta GA (Wheeler HS) – "Butch went and saw him the other night. He has a plus-fastball and a plus-slider, it's an 82-83 slider and it's real. It's an upper 80s-low 90s fastball and with the arm work it's in the strike zone. I've seen video of him and Butch is really high on him. His coach is a former Mississippi State player. He'll help us, he's a legitimate starter type guy who will help us. It's a loose arm, it's in the zone with a lot of ‘whip' action."

LHP ROSS MITCHELL L/L Smyrna TN (Blackman HS) – "He goes to the same high school as David Price, and he's breaking all his records. He's not a big guy, he's 5-10. But he's like a Chad Girodo with a little more velocity. His dad and uncle played in the big leagues and both pitched. He's just one of those lefties that Coach Thompson loves; he's in the strike zone with three pitches. He is going to help us either as a starter down the road and out of the pen early. And you can never have enough good lefthanders."

IF/RHP DARYL NORRIS R/R Fairhope AL (Fairhope HS) – "Mr. Everything. I think he's the best player in the Southeast. A legitimate come in the program and hit in the middle of the order (type player); and pitch on a SEC weekend. He's (got a) 88-to-93 (mph fastball) with a plus-slider that's in the zone, it's tough and heavy. And he has thunder in his bat. He never gets sped-up and has great body control. I can see him playing first or third, he's a big guy that is athletic and was quarterback on a good football team. He represented Alabama in the all-star game. He's a definite SEC impact freshman."

IF/C GARRETT PITTS R/R Fairhope AL (Fairhope HS) – "He's a Bulldog through and through. His grandfather is Jim Ashmore; his mom was a cheerleader here. He is out of the mold that he gets the most out of his ability and he plays so hard. He's a dirtbag. He just brings energy and is so competitive, I think he led his team in hitting. He plays shortstop now, I think he can catch and there's a chance of us moving him behind the plate. He's one of those kids that is just going to work his tail off and outhustle everybody and force you to play him."

1B/RHP WES REA R/R Gulfport MS (Harrison Central HS) – "He was here last weekend, you saw that giant at the stadium? He was injured most of this year with a little strain in his arm and didn't really pitch. I think fortunately for us, because if he had pitched a lot he'd have been a pretty high draft pick. He's been 88-to-92 with a plus-breaking ball. And for such a big kid he's athletic, he can really move. He's got thunder in his bat, too. I've seen him play pepper with the wall over at Auburn in a tournament last summer. He's not a guy who is going to get nervous and over-analyze. He's going to get a chance to play first base but I could definitely see him as a starter. I think he has a chance to play in the big leagues one day."

SS TAYLOR STARK R/R Flowood MS (NW Rankin HS) – "Taylor is just a tremendous athlete. He came on the scene late, we saw him at the State Games and he dominated. It was the Taylor Stark/DeMarcus Henderson show at the Mississippi State Games. Some scouts had told me about him; plus-arm, plus-runner, body control. Just the type of kid, too, who has told us just put him out there. I think he's got a chance to play shortstop, second, or centerfield, or left, or right, he could play numerous positions. And his makeup is so great, no ego involved, he just wants to be involved helping us win. He's Dandy Dozen and one of the best players in the state."

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