Coach John Cohen and Diamond Dog players Kendall Graveman, Wes Rea and Adam Frazier addressed the media Friday afternoon regarding State's upcoming 2013 campaign.
The Diamond Dogs, ranked as high as fifth nationally in some preseason polls, open the 2013 season Feb. 15-17, hosting Portland in a four-game series at Dudy Noble Field.
Head Coach John Cohen
"We're excited about this group this year. We have some experience and we have some depth. As we've mentioned in the past, it all starts on the mound and defensively for us, but I feel like we're going to have a much more capable offensive club than we've had. I was on a team in 1989 that was ranked a preseason number one and I feel like, in some ways, this team is so different because of the nature of college baseball and the way our ball park is made up. I think in '89 we were an offensive heavy club and now we're a pitching and defense heavy club. This is a good group, they communicate really well. I think it's a group that is really comfortable in their own skin and again that's different than some of our previous clubs here at Mississippi State. I think our kids are really excited about getting started, although we have a lot of work left to do. I think the rankings are fun for the players and fun for the fans, but there really isn't a lot of talk about that with our players. You're not trying to defeat the polls; you're trying to defeat the game. The game is going to punch you in the mouth so I think this club has the ability to combat some issues."
On the makeup of the roster:
"I think it really meets the needs of our ballpark and what we're trying to do with the theme of our program. It's the fastest team I've ever coached by far-and-away. We have that component. I think we can get to balls defensively."
On this year's pitching staff...
"Early in the year, you're going to get 80-90 pitches out of your guy in a game so you're going to have to cobble things together there. But we have 5-6 candidates that we really like. Certainly Evan Mitchell is one of those guys and he really pitched well in the spring. You hope that he makes that jump that Chris Stratton made. Evan's probably a little bit better athlete than Chris and is probably one of the fastest guys on our team as well. He's run some balls up there 94-96 (miles per hour) , he's got a great breaking ball and his ability to control the running game is really matured. He's eliminated what I call the 'Big Miss'. When you miss big, it eliminates a lot of your variety on the mound and he's really eliminated a lot of that. We're a better pitching staff if he ends up being one of our guys.
"I think Brandon Woodruff is probably the biggest wildcard on our pitching staff. He's dealt with a little bit of arm tenderness but if he comes back strong, I think he's a great candidate. Jacob Lindgren is a guy who's pitched very well in the spring. He has power and a nice breaking ball and has been able to control the strike zone for the most part. Kendall Graveman is somebody that we're depending on. Kendall had surgery at the end of last semester and he's just about to full speed now. His two bullpens prior to his last start on Tuesday were just phenomenal. I think his start on Tuesday wasn't where he wanted to be because he was a little tentative but I think he'll be where we want him to be and be a mainstay for us.
"I think when you talk about the SEC or College Baseball, for our club Saturday is going to be the issue in terms of a starter because on Friday's and Sunday's we can afford to cut our starters and bullpen a little short. But the Saturday guy is going to have to go out and give us six to seven innings. Does the Saturday guy end up being Kendall Graveman? There's so much prowess attached to the Friday night guy, but every one of those games is just as important as Friday night.
"I can tell you, CT Bradford's going to pitch for us this year. He's too good not to pitch. Wes Rea would be pitching for us right now if he didn't have a shoulder issue his senior year in high school. Daryl Norris pitched really well for us in a inter-squad scrimmage. I think we have more depth on our pitching staff, but I think those guys are mature enough to do both.
"John Marc Shelly is certainly somebody who can get innings for us; he's got a great arm. Last spring I saw him pitch and he was hitting 94-95 with an 84 mph slider. I think what (Coach) Butch (Thompson) has been able to do is get him down in the zone a little bit. If he can do that, he's going to have that role for us.
"Ben Bracewell is somebody that has had a huge spring for us. Out of all of our arms, he might be the most impressive guy that has pitched for us this spring. Velocity wise, stuff wise and pitchablity wise, he's just been special. "
On this year's depth at catcher...
"I give a lot of credit to Nick Ammirati. I think mentally last spring he sure would have liked the opportunity to get on the field. You know Mitch (Slauter) essentially played every inning of every big game and did a brilliant job. When somebody is hot behind the plate and pushing all the right buttons and doing all the right things it's so hard to take them out. I think Nick showed up this fall and said 'I'm gonna win an opportunity' and I think he has. He's worked so hard and he's by far our best thrower. His pop times to second and his ability to get the ball out of the glove, he is our best guy there. So I think we're going to be able to utilize his availability."
On the competition in the lineup...
"There's a lot of competition this year. At first base, Wes Rea, if healthy, has a chance to be a great player for us both defensively and offensively. (Adam) Frazier is somebody who is a great baseball player. He just understands the game. He's a hit guy, he can score runs, he can get on base. I think at third base, Daryl Norris is somebody that's really elevated his game and he's going to be a factor for us as well, but at third we have some more options. If we wanted to kind of go a different directions in terms of a runner, we have the freshman Kyle Hann. It's funny because the thing about my Canadian kids is they're going to be the first Canadian to do anything at Mississippi State. But Kyle Hann is a really good defender and he's still figuring out his swing and when you face our pitching staff, a lot of kids are going to have to figure out their swing. Another guy is Alex Detz who gives us a left-handed bat at third base and certainly he's a really good Junior College player from San Luis Obispo, Calif.
"At second base, Brett Pirtle is somebody that his entire game kind of puts him in the forefront right now. Kyle Hann can play second base as well, and Matthew Britton might be our best defensive player on the entire team. The question with Matthew is the offensive side of it. Can he get on base enough? Certainly he's a great base runner. Sam Frost is a potential guy who's a great leadership guy and has had a really nice January since coming back to school. Trey Porter is a possible first baseman who's swinging the ball as good as anyone on our club. If Wes has any injury issues or if we want to platoon against a right-handed pitcher, Porter is a guy whose entire game is so much better."
On getting players back healthy from last year...
"I just got back with doing some film work with CT Bradford and his swing from last year is just night and day. He's a hitting machine. The big thing he's had to work on is getting the hits instead of trying to swing too hard. There's a tendency with little guys of trying to swing too hard and I think certainly he's been able to make that adjustment. Versus the right pitching and the right matchups, you put he and Adam together at the top of the order and those are two difficult guys to pitch to."
On the potential of first baseman Wes Rea...
"I think has a chance to have a nice two-strike approach and a chance to really have some power. Your first time through the league is just difficult. The kids that make it through their first year in the league as a freshman and do really well, it's kind of an anomaly. I think he's really special and I just have really high expectations for him.
"The swing and miss part is what really can hurt big guys and Wes struggled with that a year ago. The question is, is he going to get better from that? And all indications say that Wes is going to make that adjustment. He's just such a knowledgeable guy, he has such a high baseball IQ and I think that's what most people miss. They see that giant body and they just assume that he doesn't have any baseball savvy and he has tremendous savvy.
"The thing about Wes that's interesting, he runs a lot better than people thing he does. In practice he runs better than he does in the games. We run our tee test where they swing off the tee and they run to first base and with this club that was pretty impressive. If he can convert that speed to game speed, it's even more impressive.
"I think the big guys are a little more prone (to injuries) so you worry about that a little bit. But I think he's in pretty good health right now and I think he's somebody that can really help us in the middle of the order."
On the development of sophomore reliever Jonathan Holder...
"I can't explain to you how nice it is to have guys that really embrace their role. In college, there are so many kids that are so insisted on being a starter. We have so many kids on our pitching staff that say, 'What's going to help us win? What's going to help us get to the next level"? When you're talking about Evan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, Luis Pollorena and so many other guys that are saying, 'what can I do?' it's just a pretty nice situation. And not only has Jonathan embraced it, he's become a mentor to some of the younger guys. The reason for that is because Caleb Reed mentored him. From the moment I got to Mississippi State, what we wanted to create was a mentoring system. When the guy is right beside you, that's worth one hundred million years of coaching. I think that's another strength of our ball club."
On what Luis Pollorena provides to the team...
"We're just really fortunate to have tremendous senior leadership. I can't think of a senior who doesn't provide great leadership and Luis is certainly that. It's amazing, when you watch our kids condition, Luis has got to win. They do all this great stuff with our strength and conditioning coach, Brian Neal, and he's got to win. But Kendall Graveman is standing next to him and he's got to win. You talk about some great leaders and Luis is as good as they come. Luis is a guy that you watch his tape at practice and he's diving in the outfield. He's a great athlete and he brings it every day. He's not the only guy though we have a lot of guys that fit that category."
On what he learned from last year's team...
"Knowing what I know now, I might have IV'd our whole ball club after the SEC Tournament. But it was a great experience. Everybody talks about the tournament, but when you talk about the last half of our season we went 11-4 and we won five games in the SEC Tournament to win it. Our kids just got on a roll and to know what it feels like to get on a roll is great preparation. I think all of our kids want more. Now do we go out and get more? We'll have to wait and see. The last two years it's kind of set the stage, hopefully for something special."
On Hunter Renfroe's big summer translating to this season...
"Everybody wants to get off to a great start. Hunter is such a talented young man, I think he's sick of me saying that and wants to just go out there and play. Again, his deal is he's got to get hits. If he just puts the barrel on the right spot instead of trying to reach back and do too much, he's really going to go a long way. I think the maturation process for him, does it happen right now? You don't know. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone have the full gamete that he has."
On this year's expectations...
"You're going to get in clichés and say to take it day-by-day. There is no College World Series there's only practice today. Everything has to happen today. And if you keep doing things the right way for five months some really positive things could happen. The neat thing about our club is I don't even have to address that because the group knows that. I don't have to explain anything because they know what it takes to get to that level. It might be twitter stuff, but I don't hear our kids talk a lot about that stuff."
On the outfield...
"If we can get CT Bradford out there for a full year that's obviously going to be a big deal for us. We have to keep him healthy. Demarcus Henderson was actually our player of the week last week and he's somebody that has really made a jump. We think that he is a special athlete that could really have a great year. We're really proud of the adjustments he's made, really in all facets of his life. Tyler Fullerton is someone we had to pull out of a redshirt last fall and he had a really good spring and I think certainly he's somebody that will be given opportunities to swing the bat. Jacob Robson from Windsor, Ontario and Derrick Armstrong maybe two of the fastest guys on our club. Those are two guys that can really run in the outfield. Robson is left handed and is just turning 18 years old and has a chance to be a great player in our program and certainly will be given opportunities. Cody Brown from the coast is going to be a really good player for us. We're looking at probably redshirting him but he's a great left-handed hitter. I think he can potentially be a CT Bradford type player for us. It wouldn't shock me at all, with a 27-man roster, to see Luis Pollorena get some at-bats and maybe play in the field for us like he did last year in the tournament.
"I think Demarcus really understands the grind. He's able to let loose of not having a great day and able to realize that it's more than that. I think he's made some jumps and we're really excited about that"
Senior Pitcher: Kendall Graveman
"I really and truly am honored to be a captain on this team. Wes (Rea) has also done a great job leading this team this year. I also want to thank our coaching staff for all they've done for us. I know it's been a process. Coach Cohen talked about not looking at it right now and we're not having to do that this year. I remember winning six SEC games my freshman year and now to look back and win an SEC Tournament and go to a Super Regional it's been great. But this year I think we have something else to prove and something else to try to work towards. This fall went great. This is the first time that I really haven't liked throwing to our hitters; they've performed well."
"I really think that our fans are going to like what they see this year. They're going to see guys that they haven't seen performing at the best of their ability. They've gotten a lot during the fall. The experience is maybe one of the greatest we've had since I've been here. I know we lost a few guys last year especially in the pitching staff, but you'll see some arms this year that are just as good as Chris Stratton and Caleb Reed. I know Coach Cohen talked about Ben Bracewell and the spring he's been having and we're really excited about him. Evan Mitchell has been great. He's topped out at, I think, 97 (mph) this fall. I think Jacob Lindgren has the best left-handed slider in America in my eyes."
"There are tools out there. I know the hitters have been working hard also. I don't get to see too much but I know pitching them this fall was difficult.
Sophomore First Baseman Wes Rea
"I feel really good about this year. It's kind of the reason I'm here because it's all about tradition. You come to Starkville and baseball's the topic. Baseball is what everyone wants to talk about and baseball is what you see at the restaurants when you want to go eat. I think it's back and that's what Coach Cohen wanted to do when he came here, he wanted to bring it back because he got a little taste of it when he played here. He's done an unbelievable job. We've got the guys in the locker room that we want and that can get us where we want to be, and that's in Omaha. That's just what I believe. As a fan, you don't want to hear all of the negative things. People don't want to hear fans about being content about getting to a regional. So I feel like it's important to let everybody know that I feel like the tradition is back and Coach Cohen has everybody where they need to be and he's done that recruiting."
"We've got all the pieces to the puzzle. We have speed: Derrick Armstrong and Jacob Robson who are two of the fastest guys I've ever played baseball with. I've never seen a guy get as good a jump as Derrick Armstrong. He runs like a gazelle. Then you have Hunter Renfroe who has unbelievable power. Last night at practice, all 39 guys just sat there and watched him hit the ball over the fence for about 15 minutes. We've got guys like Adam Frazier, Brett Pirtle, Matthew Britton, Sam Frost and other guys that are going to be turning double plays just like they did all of last year to lead the nation. At catcher, Mitch Slauter and Nick Ammarati who's going to play a bigger part than he did last year."
"When you talk about baseball, you've got to be able to hit it, catch it, throw it and run and we've got guys that excel at all of those things. You're looking at a complete baseball club and I think Coach Cohen has done a great job setting it up. This year should be really special."
Junior Shortstop Adam Frazier
"I think we've got a pretty good balance of guys this year. The pitching staff is back like they were last year. A couple of freshman arms are going to step up for us this year and a couple of sophomores this year are going to have a big role this year and some extended outings. Our hitting last year wasn't all there but I think this year it is and it kind of brings that balancing factor with our pitching staff that we really needed last year."
"Everybody gets along great on the team. I think we've got good chemistry, a lot better than any team I've been a part of since I've been here. With all that combined, I feel like we've got a chance to get to Omaha and take care of what we need to take care of.