Cohen Keeping A Non-Stop Summer Schedule

John Cohen shakes his head at the comment he has lots of free helpers for this 2010 summer's baseball camps. "It ain't free!" the coach responds, half-smiling. Half-, because the presence of so many Diamond Dog players assisting at camps reminds that all are on campus right now as part of their recovery schedule from injuries and surgeries.

Still Cohen can at least half-smile since watching his rehabbing Bulldogs indicates almost all of them will be on the 2011 roster as planned and ready to play ball again. Or for the first college-time in a few cases. And after going through a '10 season where often Mississippi State's 35-man roster was missing no less than five, six, even seven players to injury, that is reason for some smiling. The costs of those spring surgeries and summer-school aid is thus a good investment.

Foremost on all MSU minds of course is lefthanded pitcher Nick Routt, who was supposed to anchor the '10 rotation but ended up with just six appearances (all starts) and 19.1 innings before problems with the elbow joint and adjacent muscles stuck the soph on the sideline. Cohen has encouraging news on this front.

"I think Nick is going to be fine. He's in the middle of his rehab right now, Butch (Thompson) and our trainers are overseeing it. Unfortunately it's just one of those things that is going to take some time, and during a baseball season you don't have much time." In summer, now, Routt has all the time needed for recovery. Cohen says the junior-to-be (a medical redshirt could be applied for in two more years if wanted) has progressed nicely enough that the left arm might even see a little late-summer use.

"He might get to a point in the next few weeks that he might go throw in the Cotton States League. He might not, we'll wait and see." Asked if a full summer's rest might be best, the coach counters it wouldn't be so bad for him to throw competitively again before fall ball. Besides, Cohen notes, "When you look at it, I think you can count on one hand how many games he's thrown in one year."

A younger teammate who threw a lot more games, though actually fewer innings, is also on rehab. But the schedule for righthanded reliever Ben Bracewell is more complicated after post-season surgery in the area where arm meets shoulder. "There was a ‘flap' on the shoulder," Cohen said, "they re-attached it and used two or three stitches. Wes Rea had the exact same surgery." That would be the incoming freshman pitcher/infielder from Gulfport.

Thing is, Rea may have the better chance of playing next spring because the normal recovery is a "9-to-12 months" period according to Cohen. Still, "I've had a couple of conversations with Ben, I think he's doing well. I think he's gonna pitch again and has a chance to be better than he was before." Bracewell threw 18 innings in 17 appearances as a true frosh with a 0-2 record that belied his status as the leading late reliever of last spring.

Junior outfielder Brent Brownlee is glad just to have two shoulders, because between his high school and college careers he's had operations on both repeatedly. The starting centerfielder injured a shoulder again in February and ended up with just six games played; though he was able to come back late in the year and do some running in non-conference games. He too is staying in town for the summer.

"Brent has been swinging the bat and looks great," Cohen says. "If he can just stay healthy…we got in so many situations last year late that we didn't have somebody to put in the outfield or a baserunner. If he's healthy he can play a lot for us. I think he's sick and tired of being sick and tired, he wants to move forward." Speaking of moving, Cohen said there is a story going around-town.

"I heard a rumor that he's refusing to drive a car, he's going to run or ride a bike when he's in Starkville. I don't know the validity of that!" But if true it provides more proof how serious Brownlee is about being full-speed for the junior season.

At least Brownlee got to open the season in the field. Senior Jarrod Parks didn't, sidelined all year after winter back surgery to correct an old condition that returned without warning. Parks was going into preseason as the starting third baseman. He'll have the chance to re-win the job now that all is well.

"Parks is coming along fine, he finally got some at-bats." That's because Parks is not on campus but playing summer ball now. Though he might wish he was in Starkville. "I think his first game back he got hit four times!" Cohen said. "We could have really used him last year, it really hurt us he couldn't play. I think he's gonna hit and really defend it."

One health issue that wasn't noticed much during the season involved a foot problem for Johnathan Ogden. He started all 56 games despite pain caused by a bone growth on a toe. It was removed after the season and Ogden is moving around fine according to the coach.

Two more pitchers were not available all season after fall issues. Paxton Pace had already redshirted in 2008, then got 10.1 innings in eight '09 appearances "He pitched a little in fall and we had to shut him down," Cohen recalls. "Paxton is working camp also, he feels he's progressing. He's another one I can sense the frustration, he's sick of being hurt. He's had a tough time but he's sticking with it."

One to really watch this fall will be injury-redshirt Michael Dixon, the former San Diego State reliever and junior college standout who State picked up after the '09 season. The team doctor predicted arm issues even before fall ball and sure enough, the elbow let go on a mid-90s fastball in camp that required surgery. Cohen is sure Dixon is worth the wait and the work.

"Michael says his arm feels better than it has since he was a junior in high school. The trainers catch him and say he's throwing really well. If we can get him healthy he's going to do a lot for us. An Astros scout said this guy is special if you can get him healthy. Remember, before he got hurt he was throwing 94-95 six innings into a game."

One non-injury freshman redshirt, infielder/catcher Dallas Hannah, is in town to attend summer school. Cohen also said the other redshirted rookie, catcher Kolby Byrd, will be in the fall camp competition. Two members of the '10 pitching staff won't. Lefty Luke Bole has left, despite getting 10 starts, 17 games and 38 innings as a true frosh. He will likely spend a year in junior college now. Classmate and lefty Matt Lane saw limited work (nine appearances, 12 innings) and is also headed to juco ball for a year of seasoning. "I think that's going to be good for him," Cohen said.

Meanwhile it's good, mostly, for Cohen to have a bunch of Bulldogs around to assist with campus camps. Particularly as it frees full-time assistant coaches to spend summer days on the recruiting road, attending tournaments and classics and other events where prime prospects are playing. Not that Cohen confines himself to campus, though. In fact, the head coach was due to head out Friday on a scouting trip of his own.

And next week is even busier. Besides working his own camp Monday-to-Wednesday, Cohen is scheduled to speak at the Alabama High School Coaches Association meeting in Huntsville on Tuesday; attend a high school all-star game; participate in both a scholarship fund-raiser (Wednesday evening) and then the annual Central Mississippi Extravaganza (Thursday) in Jackson; and around all this make at least three booked home visits with recruits that will have him in all areas of this state.

Then, Cohen says, is the ongoing challenge of re-recruiting. That is, continuing to ‘court' players who are already signed to MSU letters…but are also being courted or at least bird-dogged by professional clubs interested in late-summer contract deals. State had six members of the 2009-10 signing class drafted; one, juco outfielder Corey Dickerson signed and is playing well early according to Cohen. The other five say they are coming to college. Yet Cohen and MSU can't afford to let things lay like that. Not in today's cut-throat climate.

Take a post-season signee, multi-position player Hunter Renfroe who inked with State in June…after being drafted by Boston in the 31st round. Over the holiday weekend he went to Fenway Park with the rest of the Red Sox selections, which is a powerful lure to any youngster. More typically, club scouts keep tracking their draftees, or for that matter undrafted college signees who are fair game for free agent offers, all summer. There is now a hard pro signing deadline of August 15, rather than the old ‘first class attended' rule, but as Cohen points out this is two weeks after the August 1 deadline colleges have to sign anyone new.

"Coaches hope in the future Major League Baseball and the NCAA will get together, because those dates don't work together." If anything they work against college since, after all, as mid-August approaches a young man might easily decide that it would be nice to go ahead, sign late with a club and take an easy winter rather than attend that first 8:00 class in college.

Or, just the opposite. It's all part of the off-field games college coaches must play these days, with their biggest enemies being the guys they are usually friends with, the pro scouts. So, Cohen says, the re-recruiting can't stop. Not on the five drafted Dogs who are still intending to wear college uniforms especially.

"The scouts have not given up on any of those guys. I feel as good as you could feel about it right now, but if you take anything for granted you're going to get beat. You have to stay on it. You continue to recruit these players you've already signed." Even what is great news for fan consumption is reason for Cohen's concern, such as signee C.T. Bradford being named a Florida Player of the Year. "And the guy who drafted him is Chuck Bartlett!" says Cohen of the former Diamond Dog…and teammate of C.T.'s father Mike Bradford in 1982-83!

Complicated? Sure, but just part of the great big game everyone plays to get talent on their teams, college or pro.

"It's just a constant circle of phone calls, you're talking to scouts and the coach the kid plays for, what's he saying in the dugout?" Cohen said. "It's a never-ending cycle. It's amazing, people ask what you're doing in June and July, are you playing golf? June and July is go-time, I mean its combat. August is when it slows down."

That the Mississippi State skipper calls school-in days, the beginning of player workouts, and preparation period for fall ball the ‘slow' time may just be the best measure of how intense the summer of 2010 is for Bulldog baseball.

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