March 5, 2014 11:38:07 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Freshmen aren't normally put in do-or-die situations at Dudy Noble Field.
However, that is what Mississippi State coach John Cohen asked of Reid Humphreys when he went to the freshman infielder Saturday with the game on the line.
With the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tie game, Humphreys was called on to pinch hit. On paper, it might have been an unusual move considering Humphreys had only 13 at-bats this season, but there was a purpose to the move. Cohen wanted to test the s 2013 Mississippi Mr. Baseball selection out Northwest Rankin High School to see if he could handle the situation.
"It's a matter of being in front of thousands of people and evaluating if he can block that out and focus on putting the barrel where it needs to be," Cohen said. "He responded well and got the job done. It wasn't a shock to him."
Humphreys responded with a rocket that knocked over the Eastern Illinois shortstop for a single that gave MSU a 4-3 victory. The hit earned Humphreys a start in the second half of the doubleheader and a chance to deliver an even more impressive swing. Humphreys, the younger brother of Washington Nationals outfielder Tyler Moore, drove an inside fastball into Left Field Lounge for a home run against Michigan State to help MSU (10-4) complete a 4-0 weekend to the Diamond Classic tournament.
"It's fun to go out there and have a role on the team even as a freshman," Humphreys said. "I know I'm not going to be out there every day, and that's fine, but I need to be focused when my time comes."
As Cohen and the MSU staff continue to try to find opportunities and at-bats for young players, Humphreys could find himself in the lineup at 6:30 tonight when No. 12 MSU plays host South Alabama (5-6) at Dudy Noble Field. The game will be streamed live by ESPN3 and HailStateTV.com. The game will be joined in progress live on WMXU 106.1 FM immediately following the conclusion of MSU women's basketball's game vs. Missouri in the 2014 Southeastern Conference tournament. Fans can listen to the entire baseball game via free live streaming audio at HailStateTV.com.
"It would be easy for us as a staff to just write the same nine names on the lineup every time, but that's not fair or beneficial to the people who have earned opportunities and we'll need at some point in the season," Cohen said. "There's also a spot somebody is going to be called to win us a game, and they have to feel like it is natural for them in that moment."
In the fall, Humphreys said his dream as a kid was to wear a MSU jersey. Now that the dream is a reality, Humphreys is turning his attention to fighting for playing time in his first season.
Humphreys' hot start has turned into a great problem to have for the coaches, and has given them another option at third base.
Humphreys was part of a 2012-13 signing class that was ranked No. 2 nationally by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The 2012-13 newcomers were the fourth MSU class in the past five years to be ranked in the top 15 by Collegiate Baseball or Baseball America, and the second group to finish in the top eight.
Whether by accident, coincidence, or intention, Humphreys was given the jersey number of former MSU shortstop Adam Frazier after he racked up one of the most impressive seasons for a college baseball player. Frazier led the NCAA in hits with 107 and was drafted in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cohen believes Humphreys can have that kind of success. The only question is when Humphreys will get his chance. With the NCAA expected to have a lower seam baseball next season, the presence of power provided by a Daniel Garner and Humphreys will be critical.
"I'm not trying to influence any decisions by our coaching staff because I know I'll have my chances to be a every-day player soon enough, but I still have things I can learn," Humphreys said. "The key is to be ready to just help contribute. I feel like my teammates thought anybody was going to succeed in that ninth inning, not just me."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.