Cohen Prepared For Dog Drafting Days Results

Don't worry about John Cohen staying occupied this week. There are campus camp obligations, getting varsity Diamond Dogs started in their summer baseball stints, checking on post-spring surgeries, evaluating semester grades…and oh, yes. There's that draft business to monitor. Thing is, Cohen doesn't intend to tie himself to the computer these next couple of drafting days.

"I know a lot more than I did a week ago, so I'm pretty in-tune with everything that is going to happen," the Mississippi State coach said Monday morning. Cohen was in the Bulldog baseball office taking care of some pending summer camp items. And for a fellow whose on-field prospects in upcoming seasons might hang heavily on results from the Major League draft he seems reasonably relaxed. So much so Cohen won't track the draft round-by-round.

Then again, enough other folk will be doing it for him or for themselves. Particularly those Diamond Dogs, either varsity or recruited, who expect to hear their names called this week. The 2010 draft begins with first-round selections tonight; rounds 2-through-25 on Tuesday, and the remaining 26-through-50 on Wednesday.

If Cohen comes across somewhat low-key about an event which has such high stakes for the future of Bulldog baseball, it is because the Mississippi State staff has done as much pre-draft homework as professionally possible since…well, since November 2009 when the (hopefully) incoming rookie class of 2011 was signed. Or longer for that matter, since draft potential factored into who State coaches chose to invest aid in, and who they did not. Though in this class's case it is clear Mississippi State took some real draft risks in an ambitious effort to accelerate the rebuilding of this program.

Based on what he is hearing from pros and peers alike, Cohen believes State can come out a winner. Perhaps a big one depending on what happens with a handful of the most premium prospects inked intentionally to build a team around.

As far as the current Bulldog roster, concern centers—so to speak—on centerfielder Jaron Shepherd. The senior-to-be has been drafted twice already; in the 17th round out of high school by Pittsburgh and then by Cincinnati in the 44th round last June. The third such call is expected Tuesday. "I think Jaron is going to be a 8-to-12th rounder," Cohen said. Which would be difficult for Shepherd to turn down at this point in his career, pending who calls his name and what the offer is.

Shepherd might have the further luxury of observing how teammate Conner Powers is treated in this draft. The first baseman turned down a 11th-round pick by Los Angeles to play a senior season, and in the process became a much better-rounded batter despite being pitched-around more often. Cohen has heard Powers projected in the 7-8-9 rounds as a result.

The real concern though isn't losing members of the varsity roster to the draft. State coaches have been keeping in touch with all their pro contacts about draft status of the high school and junior college recruits. The first name always called is juco outfielder Corey Dickerson, from Meridian Comm. College. Most believe Dickerson, a rightly-touted hitter, will have his name scroll across the draft early Tuesday. Perhaps as soon as the fourth or fifth rounds, and no one expects Dickerson to last through the first ten rounds.

A high draft pick is a given; how high the drafting team is willing to go on the signing bonus becomes the question. Of course Dickerson has the option of a year in college where his value could as much as double should he show SEC pitching is just as hittable as the juco arms he has faced so far. Either way the young man wins; State obviously only wins if Dickerson looks at the longer-term investment. Or, if the drafting club tries a low-ball bonus game…or drafts other outfielders and signs them first.

Cohen and staff opened eyes around the Southeast last November by signing two of the truly elite prospects in the region away from their home states. And as of this point, signs are encouraging that righthanded pitcher/corner infielder Daryl Norris of Fairhope, Ala.; and outfielder C.T. Bradford of Pace, Fla., are both coming to college.

The Norris family, for example, has ‘put a high number' as the saying goes on Daryl in terms of what it will take to make him pass up on college baseball. That won't stop somebody from calling the name, of course, but as of now all indications are Norris wants to season himself in the SEC for a while first. Besides, Cohen notes, "He can be drafted after his second year. He's 19 years old now." Which means Norris will have the best of all worlds with the chance to be drafted here in 2010, again in '12, then again in '13 after a junior year at State. Norris is the Alabama Player of the Year, and State coaches see him as a true two-way player; a regular rotation pitcher who plays third or first base every other game-day.

Bradford had a special season himself in Florida and has steadily risen in scouts' eyes. The son of former Diamond Dog Mike Bradford has stated he plans on playing on the same field his father did, which Cohen says won't stop a pro club from taking the chance. "Somebody could draft him and follow him all summer. With kids that age, you draft them in June and get to August and all of a sudden he's grown a couple of inches and is throwing 90 miles per hour lefthanded. They want that flexibility."

That's a point to recall since drafted players—or for that matter free-agent prospects—have up until mid-August and the start of college semesters to come to terms. It makes the entire summer a guessing game for college coaches who stay in touch with ‘their' signees asking if the pro club has upped the offer, have they failed to sign other guys at the same position, or equally have they given away remaining money to those other guys already. Pro scouts are just as prone to panic as deadlines approach, too.

Also, amateurs and their advisors—legal in NCAA eyes—have become more cunning in recent years in dealing with franchises who snap-up early drafts quick with what looks like an impressive bonus offer. A rising trend is for amateurs to demand that, if they sign for X-dollars in June and later on somebody drafted in later rounds is offered more money, they will get their own bonuses bumped-up correspondingly. Such sharper dealings have encouraged more and more high schoolers to take the college route.

A few more of Cohen's freshmen signees have worked their way into stronger drafting positions after the spring season. Most notably, shortstops DeMarcus Henderson of Waynesboro and Taylor Stark of Flowood. "Somebody is going to draft them," Cohen figures now. This despite the fact both have stated intents to play college ball, a position that might deter big pro offers at first but not keep the clubs from tracking the kids over the course of summer ball and jumping in late with a sizable sum.

All Mississippi State can do now and throughout the coming months is stay in touch with the young men and their families, garner what information is available about pro signings during this span, and hope for no summer surprises. Besides, as Cohen admits, a college coach can have all sorts of facts and figures and draft trends and contract tendencies.

"We could be OK. We just have to keep monitoring and making all our calls," Cohen said. "But only one team has to love a kid, that's all it takes!"

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