Mississippi State junior LHP Ross Mitchell (left) is trying to replicate the success former South Carolina LHP Michael Roth gave in his three appearances to the College World Series.
March 18, 2014 12:34:55 PM
STARKVILLE - Ray Tanner and John Cohen are legit friends.
Cohen, while getting his college coaching career started, used to call Tanner all the time for information on how to handle certain situations. In turn, Tanner, now the Director of Athletics at South Carolina after retiring from coaching, texted Cohen at 4 a.m. the week of the College World Series championships games because he was so excited about the Bulldogs run to Omaha.
"Hey look, Cohen may have said he's a thief on things from me but I'll tell you that it's a two-way street," Tanner said. "I had to make some changes in my 25 years to my perspective. I've made some changes as well because if you don't change the ways in how you run your program, you're not going to get better."
So it would serve to reason Mississippi State has found its new Friday night ace in the version of what Tanner used to make three straight appearances in the CWS finals and won the 2010 and 2011 national championships. Whether you look at the numbers, stuff and demeanor, MSU junior lefty Ross Mitchell is a 2014 version of one of the most dominant starting pitchers of the last five years in college baseball: Michael Roth.
Roth was originally supposed to be a left-handed specialist out of the Gamecocks bullpen until Tanner tabbed him to start in the 2010 College World Series. In first start of the season, pitched a complete game and limited Clemson to just one run on three hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 5-1 victory. From that moment, Tanner decided to turn a 6-foot-1 local product with a average fastball and high intelligence along with lots of savvy into a dominant starting pitcher. Roth went on to be National Player of the Year by CollegeBaseballInsider.com in 2011 along with consensus All-America honors from ABCA, Baseball America, CollegeBaseballInsider.com, Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA and Perfect Game USA. Speak to any professional scout and they would've told you Roth had a fastball that sat between 84-86 miles per hour, an average breaking ball that he'd throw from the 3/4 slot position and one of the best change ups in all of college baseball.
"He goes fastball, changeup first time through the order and tries to get quick contact, so we stood guys right on top of the plate," Cohen said in a 2012 ESPN.com article about Roth. "He wants to see how you treat the strike zone and if you'll chase soft away. We wanted to get his pitch count up, but it's hard."
Sound familiar yet?
Ross Mitchell was supposed to start this 2014 season the same as he'd done the previous two: being the best left-handed specialist in college baseball. It's that role that made him a 2014 preseason All-American candidate according to many publications. In the first game of a doubleheader last weekend at Georgia, Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson agreed that era was done. Ross Mitchell was now a starting pitcher.
"We thought it was such a luxury to have him in the bullpen and that's why we waited to pull the trigger on him as a starter for so long but (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson has been pushing for that move for awhile," Cohen said. "That is what the non-conference portion of the schedule was supposed to figure out, whether we could afford such a luxury. Ross has a chance to have 10 starts in the SEC so it's not too late."
Mitchell kept his consistently winning ways at MSU alive with a 129-pitch complete game in a 6-1 win. Mitchell now has a career record of 19-1. The complete game was the first by a MSU hurler since Kendall Graveman threw one at Texas A&M on April 13, 2013. Mitchell's success was reminiscent of the numerous times Mitchell led the nation's best bullpen to a trip to the national championship series at the College World Series last year. The soft tossing lefty was coming off offseason hip surgery has held opponents to a lifetime average under. .200 in his two season on the mound. Mitchell improved to 5-0 lifetime in SEC play with a career league ERA of 1.62.
"What I can't have more respect for on what Ray's team did over those years of success in Omaha was they valued pitching with Roth and then the bullpen and they showed up at the park with an unbelievable confidence," Cohen said. "That type of confidence is built over time and just doesn't naturally happen."
For the second time in three weeks, Mississippi State redshirt junior left-hander Ross Mitchell was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week, the league office announced Monday. With the honor, Mitchell became the fourth player in school history to earn the accolade twice in the same season, joining Jeff Brantley (1985, twice), Alan Johnson (2003, three times) and Chris Stratton (2012, twice).
"The defense behind me, Zack Randolph's leadership behind the plate and the trust of the coaches made it easy for me to have fun and relax," Mitchell said. "I cannot do anything without those key ingredients."
Mitchell's fastball sits a touch lower on the radar gun than Roth but the game plan is eerily similar. Mitchell is trying to get soft contact with a change up and breaking ball early the count. When he's expanded the strike zone a little bit, he's able to find occasional strike outs on the outside portion of the plate. Stuff wise, Roth was a bit more physical in his approach but not much. They both understood and had the trust of their coaching staffs in creativity and pitchability.
"I love the way John's team executes pitching and defense. He and (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson can match up all throughout the game," Tanner said before the CWS finals in 2013. "
Just look at the numbers in the top left of this blog post and besides the obvious number of career starts, their statistics are almost identical.
Take Roth's magical 2011 season that few thought would be replicated as a starting pitcher in a BCS league in quite some time, then project for Mitchell's 2013 campaign to have the same amount of innings as Roth's junior year.
Here's that comparison:
Roth (2011): 14-3, 1.06 ERA, 145 IP, 108 H, 36 R, 17 ER, 41 BB, 112 K, 1.03 WHIP, 2.54 BB/9, 6.95 K/9
Mitchell (2013): 13-0, 1.53 ERA, 94 IP, 72 H, 22 R, 16 ER, 29 BB, 44 K, 1.07 WHIP, 2.78 BB/9, 4.21 K/9
Mitchell (2013 w/ Roth's innings from 2011): 1.68 ERA , 145 IP, 111 H, 34 R, 27 ER, 45 BB, 68 K, 1.08 WHIP, 2.79 BB/9, 4.22 K/9
If you project the numbers, except for strikeouts, Mitchell and Roth are almost identical left-handed arms statistically.
Off the field demeanor
Mitchell and Roth were both incredibly creative in expressing their personality to the team and to the media once they began to get attention. Mitchell started The Bench Mob last year and was known for being physically tossed on to the field by his teammates before games. Roth was a bit more subtle but loved to have the attention in small ways as well. During starts he knew would be on television, Roth figured out a way for his Twitter handle, @MTROTH29, to be strategically placed on his glove so the camera from center field had to pick it up on every pitch. After making three starts in Major League Baseball with the Angels, Roth, the graduate with a degree in International Business at USC, tweeted last week how fortunate he was to have his student loans paid off already (wouldn't we all be so lucky).
Mitchell will get his first SEC start at Dudy Noble Field as No. 6 Vanderbilt (18-3, 2-1 in SEC) comes to Starkville this weekend. He'll get the chance to prove he can match the numbers of Roth as a starter in the next 10 weeks of SEC play.
"Ross Mitchell will definitely be in the rotation this weekend," Cohen said on Head to Head radio Monday. "We don't know if it's Friday or Saturday yet."
If MSU (15-8, 2-1) is to make another run at Omaha, they'll need to rely on their new Friday night ace that they found in a desperate move in Georgia when the season was sliding away from a national prominent program. With his mystifying left-handed Friday starter, John Cohen is trying to replicate the path South Carolina laid out from 2010-2012.
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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