Highlights on newcomers, pitchers and hitters as MSU baseball preps for first pitch

Mississippi State’s baseball team had its Media Day over the weekend, less than one week out from the beginning of the regular season, and the news and thoughts were bountiful. MSU has a mix of youth, talent and experience that the coaches seem to like, which ought to make for an interesting season following them along.

DWJARNIOPWFCQWM.20150202000055There is much to review from the weekend and recent days, so we’ll break it down here into a few categories. Before we begin, we should mention that seniors Seth Heck, Wes Rea and Trevor Fitts were voted team captains this year.

Newcomers

Let’s start with the new guys. There are plenty of younger players who we haven’t seen much, too, but we’ll save them for other areas. This about the guys fresh to campus and Dudy Noble. Cohen, when asked about impact new guys, singled out three junior college transfers who could make an immediate impact both defensively and at the plate.

I might not write it in Sharpie just yet, but John Holland can easily be penciled in as the starter at second base after the graduation of Brett Pirtle. Cohen called Holland “a very exciting player,” and Holland’s teammates, from talking to them, have a great deal of confidence in his ability to step in both defensively and with his bat.

Said Seth Heck, “if you have to replace someone like [Pirtle], you are not going to find a better guy than Holland. I think he has been really impressive. I am excited to see what he can do.”

Cohen also mentioned Luke Reynolds, a lefty third baseman from Hinds Community College, as candidate to make a quick impact.

“Hinds had a phenomenal year last year,” Cohen said. “That is not by accident. You win with guys who are winners – guys who are really good players, and certainly, he’s one of those guys.”

Last but far from least, Cohen singled out Michael Smith as an impact newcomer. An outfielder coming in from junior college, Smith has had one of the hottest bats in the lineup throughout the preseason and is a speedy weapon in the outfield.

“[He] can really run and has power,” Cohen said. “I think the fans are really going to fall in love with the dynamic athleticism that he brings to the table.”

Beyond those three, Cohen also mentioned Josh Lovelady, a junior college catcher who is likely to see significant time early in the season after news came out that sophomore catcher Gavin Collins is out 3-5 weeks after hand surgery. Cohen praised Lovelady both for his leadership and defensive skills.

Pitchers

For the first time in a while, MSU won’t have stalwarts like Jonathan Holder and Jacob Lindgren in the bullpen. While some big names are gone, several more return, and the depth is as good as it’s ever been.

Some notable notes: senior Trevor Fitts, after conferring with pitching coach Butch Thompson, has moved to the role of closer, a change he and the coaches think will suit his talents well. Ross Mitchell went so far as to say that Fitts could step in for Holder as a dominating closer.

“Trevor has really gravitated toward his role well,” Cohen said. “He has a power breaking ball. His fastball really plays into a sprinter type of role for 10, 15, 20 pitches. I just think he is made for it. He is a really tough kid, likes to compete, and likes to have the baseball when it matters most. That is usually the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He has been incredible in the fall and now in the early parts of the spring, so we’re excited about that transition.”

As for another name to remember in relief on the mound, Fitts himself singled out Vance Tatum, the promising sophomore pitcher who earned the win against Ole Miss last year. In particular, Fitts thinks the youngster has the ability to replace Lindgren.

“He is a power lefty with a great breaking ball,” Fitts said of Tatum. “I think he is going to step into that role and dominate.”

Cohen and players also hinted at the possibility or even likelihood of moving Mitchell back into the bullpen, where he spent the first two years of his career. He’s done well no matter where coaches use him, but having his flexibility for long relief out of the pen is a great luxury, if MSU can afford it.

To that end, Cohen mentioned four specific pitchers who he thinks can be starters for MSU. Preston Brown and Lucas Laster are the obvious ones, both having started and won plenty in their careers already. Brown could easily end up the Friday night starter. Beyond those two (and Mitchell), sophomore Austin Sexton and freshman Jesse McCord are both prime candidates for starting roles. Cohen said Sexton has “pitched extremely well” in the preseason, and said McCord has “pitched lights out,” impressing coaches more than freshmen often do.

Hitters

This may seem like a broad topic, and it is, but it’s worth getting into just how much better MSU expects to be at the dish in 2015. When it comes to hitting, who better to ask than the guy who has to pitch to them? Fitts offered a breakdown of the lineup.

“Our hitters have been tearing the cover off the ball every day,” Fitts said. “In the past we have been more of a singles team. We would have to string three or four hits together to score any runs. This team has a great mix of on base guys and power guys. We have a lot of speed and power, and I think we are going to score more runs than we traditionally have.”

Newcomers like Smith and Holland have already been impressive at the plate, and it’s a near certainty that the bat of sophomore Reid Humphreys (who has switched to the outfield) will have a place in the lineup, be it as outfielder or designated hitter.

Said Cohen, “we have to get Reid in there because he’s such a dynamic hitter.”

Add in a now-healthy Jacob Robson, a soon-to-be healthy Gavin Collins, the consistent Seth Heck, an improved Matthew Britton and a number of newcomers and youngsters, and Wes Rea says “There are guys all over the place that have gotten bigger and stronger.”

Oh, and about Rea. Besides reports from practice that he’s improved significantly, the full lineup ought to benefit the senior first baseman, as well.

“I was kind of pressing last year, and I think that is one of the things that hurt me,” Rea said. “Two years ago I had [Hunter] Renfroe, [Adam] Frazier and [Brett] Pirtle all hitting in front of me. I felt a huge amount of pressure to fill their role last year.”

Going into this season, with the combo of power and speed in the lineup, Rea said getting extra-base hits is one of their top goals. It seems they’ll be able to accomplish that.

All this conversation comes without even mentioning pitchers like Dakota Hudson, Paul Young and Myles Gentry, newcomers like Ryan Gridley, Cole Gordon and Matt Spruill, or veterans like Jake Vickerson, Brent Rooker, Cody Brown and Cody Walker. The 2015 club will be a very different one from years past, but the level of talent is obvious. Ought to be fun to watch.

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