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Who is going to be in Mississippi State's weekend baseball rotation?


Senior Nick Routt is the likely candidate for the Friday night weekend rotation spot

Senior Nick Routt is the likely candidate for the Friday night weekend rotation spot Photo by: MSU athletics department


Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE -- For arguably the first time since he arrived at his alma mater for the head coaching job, John Cohen has the most depth of starting pitching to the point that he's going to have a really difficult decision in giving out just three weekend rotation spots. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will now highlight the options Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson have for the mound:  




- Senior LHP Nick Routt: It's amazing that Cohen specifically said the only question mark he had heading into the 2011 season was - you guessed it - Routt. Now the 6-foot-3 senior southpaw is in a position to grab the Friday night spot of the rotation.  


Took the hill for 13 starts, making his injury-delayed mound debut at Lipscomb (Mar. 16) Compiled a 3-3 record with a 3.86 earned run average with 49 strikeouts in 56.0 innings including his second career nine-inning complete game (fifth complete game overall and MSU staff-first in 2011) in State's NCAA Atlanta Regional-clinching 7-3 win over No. 9 Georgia Tech on June 5. Routt held the Yellow Jackets allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits with six strikeouts in the route of earning a berth on the NCAA Atlanta Regional All-Tournament Team. Appeared in three postseason games, posting a 1-1 record and a 3.94 earned run average over a staff-high 16.0 innings and compiled a 1.42 ERA with no decisions in five Dudy Noble Field appearances (19.0 innings). 


"The one thing he's worked so hard on and I'm so proud of him on is being more economic and getting those 5-6 pitch at-bats," Cohen said. "When he does that, he can get through some innings." 


While throwing what scouts would call a heavy 92-93 fastball, Routt has figured out with a three-fingered grip similar to a screwball to throw his changeup again without pain in his arm. If Routt can find the strike zone with the fastball and keep hitters off balance with a second pitch that changes speeds (whether it's a curveball or slider), then he could certainly challenge to beat some of the best arms in the Southeastern Conference this season. 


"Nick has come a long way," Cohen said. "Coach Thompson has done a great job working with Nick. He has run a little away from his changeup because he feelslike that's an issue with his elbow so his breaking ball is a lot better. He's one of those guys that is 91-92 yesterday but he's 91-92 for some reason just looks harder than that. He gets foul balls straight back." 




- Sophomore RHP Ben Bracewell: Bracewell was considered one of the best high school 


power arms in state of Alabama just three years ago. 


It was that reason Mississippi State felt he was the key to a recruiting class that consisted of major contributors on the mound like Chris Stratton, Kendall Graveman and Chad Girodo. 


Bracewell suffered a rare injury before the 2011 season to the front part of the labrum on his right 


arm near the biceps tendon requiring surgery from the world-renowed Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham.  


"Every time Ben Bracewell goes out there it's like a five-star signee going out there because I think he's going to be outstanding," Cohen said.  


Bracewell came to MSU after posting a 15-0 record with a 0.47 earned run average while holding opposing hitters to a .108 batting average in his final season of high school. The right-handed power pitcher piled up 156 strikeouts in 90 innings while, helping lead Briarwood 


Christian Lions to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state playoffs. 


"I feel like I'm back to where I was before the surgery and probably say I'm better now because even while just watching other guys I've learned how to pitch," Bracewell said. 


During that postseason run, Bracewell got the win in six of Briarwood's nine playoff games, posting a remarkable .019 ERA mark in postseason play. 


During the 2012 fall practice period, Bracewell is slated to being back as a starting pitcher. A role where he hasn't lost a game he's started on the mound since his junior year of high 


school and immediately is throwing his fastball in the 90-94 mile-per-hour range with a plus curveball and a developing changeup that he's working with Butch Thompson to properly refine.  


"He's unbelievably competitive and controls the running game," Cohen said. "He might have the best command of any starter we have. I've seen kids like Ben make huge strides sit there and have to wait their turn. You don't take anything for granted and you value everything so much that I think he will be incredibly valuable to us.If he's at his best and healthy yeah it'd be hard for me not to imagine he's not one of our weekend guys." 




- Sophomore RHP Evan Mitchell: Appeared in 15 games last year as a true freshman while compiling a 6-2 record with a 4.62 earned run average. The hard-throwing right-hander from Georgia registered 49 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. Named to the NCAA Atlanta Regional All-Tournament team after tossing a career-best eight-inning, eight-strikeout gem against Austin Peay on June 4 near his hometown in Marietta, Ga.  


"A scouting friend of mine from the Chicago Cubs was here tonight and one of the guys with Toronto also," former Wheeler (Ga.) High head coach David McDonald said. "They both came up to me and said 'Why didn't you tell me about him?" 


The high school coaching veteran that's seen former players make the major leagues just smiled. 


"I said 'I did and you just weren't paying attention," McDonald responded. "You saw him last year and just weren't paying attention.'" 


He posted a 1-1 mark in NCAA postseason play with 10 strikeouts over 10 innings. One of three Bulldogs who played summer league baseball with the Danville (Ill.) Dans in the Prospect League, posting a 3-0 mark with an 0.39 ERA. 


Mitchell had an impressive start against the Gators in the opening game of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., as the freshman allowed just a pair of earned runs over five hits in five innings leaving the game with 3-2 lead but a grand slam home run by Brian Johnson led to UF's 7-5 victory. 


The issue for Mitchell, and the reason he was taken out of the starting rotation in the middle of the 2011 season, is control and command of his breaking ball after issuing walks and high-pitch count outs early in starts.  


In his last five starts, Mitchell has had an average of 18 pitches in the opening frame with an earned run average of 13.49 in his first inning of work. 


"You don't walk out to the mound and say 'Evan - don't walk these guys," Cohen said. "It's like telling a golfer you probably ought to put this six-foot putt in the hole. He's got great stuff and with that, it's a little more difficult to shove the ball in the strike zone." 




- Junior RHP Chris Stratton: Took the mound in 17 games, concluding his sophomore campaign with a 5-7 worksheet and a 5.21 earned run average while pitching six innings or more in eight of his first nine games but struggled and was moved to a relief role in postseason play. Fashioned a 1-1 record with a 2.18 ERA pitching for the 2011 Cape Cod League champion Harwich (Mass.) Mariners. Stratton has worked in the summer and the fall at not elevating the fastball because he will pitch off his first-pitch fastball and get a lot of strikeouts from either swing-and-miss power or a big-breaking curveball. 


Two years ago Stratton became the third MSU player and second Bulldogs pitcher to receive SEC All-Freshman team honors while leading SEC freshman hurlers with 55 strikeouts in league competition and rated as one of only two SEC freshman pitcher to start all 10 conference weekends.  


"Chris Stratton might be the most talented kid on our staff," Cohen said. "He draws a crowd every time he takes the mound at Dudy Noble Field. He has two different breaking balls but his deal is he has to be more efficient and more effective with his pitches. What I saw in the Cape looked like a 1st or 2nd round type guy. He needs to keep recreating that." 




- Freshman RHP Brandon Woodruff: Let's be honest, Brandon Woodruff declined a lot of money from the Texas Rangers organization after they selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft to be a part of the MSU starting weekend rotation. 


"I've said before that I want to play college baseball," Woodruff said. "I want to get an education and have the college experience and that to me is worth more than signing a contract to begin a 


professional career." 


While Woodruff declined to say what the exact amount was that Texas offered him to forego his college eligibility, the 18-year-old did say it was "over $400,000", which would be highly over the suggested slot price for a second round pick. 


"Woodruff is perhaps Mississippi State's most important recruit as a raw power arm," Baseball America senior editor John Manuel said. "He has a fluid arm action and pro body at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and he's a good athlete who also played basketball, leading to a late start to 


his baseball season. He had three straight double-digit strikeout starts in March and April, when he flashed a 94 mph fastball and showed the ability to spin a power curveball." 


Woodruff led Wheeler High School with a .618 batting average and three home runs en route to all-state and all-division honors as a senior while being selected to play in the 2010 Under Armour All-American Baseball Game held at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Fashioned a 5-3 record with a save, a 2.98 earned run average and 100 strikeouts in 49.1 innings of pitching.  




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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