In the middle of the heat of SEC football season, MSU baseball is getting some heat itself as John Cohen and his defending National Finalists are beginning their fall baseball season beginning this Friday. MSU is coming off of the most historic season in school history with a trip to the National Championship being the first trip for any sport in school history. The Bulldogs must replace two prolific players in first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe as well as NCAA hit king Adam Frazier who was more than automatic at the leadoff spot and at shortstop. The team still returns most of its roster and added a strong signing class that finished number two in the country according to Collegiate Baseball.
We had a chance to talk to coach Cohen earlier today. He talked about what to look for in the preseason practices and how he plans on replacing players like Frazier and Renfroe.
"We're going to start our fall this Friday and we have some nagging things that are keeping us from being full-strength right now. I'm really excited about this group. We're not going to have a Brett Pirtle who has to go home and watch his brother get married. We're not going to have (Brandon) Woodruff just yet or a Ben Bracewell just yet. I'm not 100% sure that we're going to have Kyle Hann who's been battling an illness. For whatever reason, most of our club has been battling flu stuff through the course of the week. Might be a sparse group to start out the fall which is a shame when you consider how much they've worked in the last two months to get to this stage in the weightroom, conditioning and skill work. We're excited about this and I think it really gives us an opportunity to showcase our younger kids. It's a little later than we're used to. It's an exciting time for us and I think our kids are ready to get going."
On the health of Ben Bracewell and Brandon Woodruff:
"I think we'd love to see Bracwell pitching a week from this Friday. Don't know about Woodruff's situation but his bullpens have been fabulous. The ball is really coming out of his hands well. I think he's really done a great job on his rehab. I think that he's done great I just don't when he's going to get to face some hitters or when the doctors will let him do that."
On the work ethic of this year's team:
"I think it would be hard for them to work even harder than they did a year ago. We do have tremendous leadership on this team with the Brett Pirtle's and the Wes Rea's. Even the guys that didn't play a tremendous amount last year. We have some guys that we feel like are doing a great job leading this club, especially positionally. I think we had more older leadership guys on the mound last year I think it's more of a positional thing this year."
On the summers that players had:
"Hann had a great summer and (Jacob) Robson had a great summer as well among others. I think Matthew Britton is somebody who's come back and made the decision that he wants to play and be in that battle for a middle infield spot. Certainly I feel like he's one of the better defenders on the team and maybe one of the best defenders in our league when he's at his best and he's really improved so much. He's become a more physical player who went out and did a great job this summer. I'm really proud. From a pitching stand point, we didn't send as many out (to summer leagues) because those guys needed some rest. (Jonathan) Holder sat out, he needed some rest. We did have several guys rehabbing in the summer."
On the catcher situation :
"It's going to be a battle behind the plate and we feel like we have several good candidates. Our returning guys have gotten a lot better and the two new guys that we have in the fold are guys that are very talented. We have a lot of competition behind the plate and I think each one of those guys brings something different to the table. (Redshirt freshman, Daniel) Garner is probably the best hitter out of that group but he's come a long way behind the plate. (Junior, Zack) Randolph is a guy who is a really solid guy all the way around. He's a great leader and he's been around some great catchers. (Freshman, Gavin) Collins is a young guy from southern California who we feel like is the future but, it's kind of like a quarterback in football, how quickly can the freshman quarterback step on the field and have things not moving too quick for him. I think he's certainly a contender and has as much upside as a freshman catcher that we've had here in a long time. Cody walker is a JUCO guy that can really catch and throw. That's his strength and I think he brings that to the table. So I haven't counted anybody out and it's exciting to see who steps forward this fall."
On the shortstop situation:
"I think Hann has done really well. The junior college transfer (Seth) Heck has been really impressive the first few months. Britton has been great and Pirtle is certainly in consideration although he's coming off some elbow issues that he's got to overcome before we move him to the left side. It's really tough with Pirtle because you don't want to move him from a position that he excels in. We do feel like we have four really strong candidates that can play shortstop and second base. (Alex) Detz has certainly come a long way defensively at third base. Reid Humphreys is a freshman who, again, you know he's the future. I think he's 15 months off of his Tommy John surgery and how quickly he can progress is going to determine how much playing time he's going to have as a freshman."
On players he expects to see improve over the fall:
"Woodruff is somebody that is important because at his best, he's a dominant top-level, professional prospect type of guy. (Jacob) Lindgren has been phenomenal this fall. The way that he's changed the nature of his body has been really impressive. It's not that he didn't take it seriously before, but I think he has a sense of urgency now that's been impressive. We just need our older guys to be our older guys, that's the key to winning in this league. You have to have older guys step forward and say, 'It's my turn and I'm going to step forward'. You have a shortstop last year that had 107 hits and you start asking who is going to be the guy to have 107 hits? It's tough because nobody in the history of Mississippi State baseball has had 107 hits. How do you replace Hunter Renfroe? I don't know that there's ever been a player in the history of the program that's been like Hunter Renfroe. I don't know many in the Southeastern Conference that have been like Hunter Renfroe. Those are going to be difficult guys to replace but we certainly feel like we have candidates."
On Joey Swinarski making his way to campus a year early:
"I think Joey is a young man who has a very high ceiling. He's a very skilled player, but fall is important for everybody. For the freshman hitter, it's all about can they see spin? Can they read the breaking ball? Can they have quality at-bats? How fast is the game moving for them? I think it's certainly easier in the outfield because the game doesn't get to you as quickly as in the infield and behind the plate. I think Joey has a very bright future. Like Hunter Renfroe having 25 at-bats as a freshman, you just don't know. You don't know how much playing time any of these guys are going to get but the fall gives you a pretty good indication at where they stand. It's so exciting to start this late after we've done this much drill work and get five or six weeks into it then be able to make some better decisions."