After more than a month of individual skill instruction, Mississippi State breaks out the bats, gloves and baseballs Friday as the Bulldogs begin formal fall team baseball practice at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State, with 24 lettermen returning from last year's SEC Tournament championship edition, opens fall practice with a 4 p.m. scrimmage Friday. Depending on weather conditions, the Bulldogs will typically conduct intrasquad games each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the 45-day window for fall baseball practice. Opening weekend scrimmage times have been tentatively set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at 1 p.m. Sunday, with all practices open to the public.
John Cohen, beginning his fifth season as MSU skipper, sees the advantages of having a veteran-based club during fall drills.
"Having older guys on the field who know what our expectations are gives us the opportunity to have a whole bunch of coaches on the field," he said. "It speeds up the development of the younger players. But our practice will be structured like it has been in the past. Every day is a practice day with an opportunity for an intrasquad game at the end of practice."
State finished with a No. 22 national ranking in 2012 and posted a 40-24 record, the program's first 40-win season since 2005. Along the way the Bulldogs won the 2012 SEC Baseball Tournament championship and made the program's 32nd advancement to NCAA postseason play.
Junior shortstop Adam Frazier piled up 91 hits with a .371 batting average in 2012, third-highest in the SEC, and heads up a veteran Bulldog defense that returns eight of nine starting position players. Among the returnees is sophomore first baseman Wes Rea (.249), who led the team with 41 RBI. With five home runs, Rea shared the team lead with another returnee, senior DH Trey Porter (.259).
Mississippi State's pitching staff compiled an SEC-leading and NCAA second-best 2.58 team earned run average. The Bulldogs return 13 of the 19 pitchers that helped give State one of the nation's top pitching staffs last spring. Among the returning hurlers are seniors Kendall Graveman (2.81) and Luis Pollorena (1.85) and sophomore relief ace Jonathan Holder (0.93), who concluded his rookie campaign with nine saves, three off the pace in the SEC.
The Bulldogs' 41-man fall roster for 2012 features 14 program newcomers, eight from the high school ranks and six who competed last season on the junior college level.