June 13, 2014 11:07:40 AM
STARKVILLE -- It's natural to ask the coach of the national runner-up from the previous season his thoughts about the field of teams for this year's championship.
But as much as Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen would love to pore over the lineups and the matchups for the College World Series, the veteran coach instead has used the past two weeks to focus on his team as it prepares for the 2015 season. A 5-3 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on June 2 in the NCAA tournament Lafayette Regional ended MSU's season at 39-24. Since then, Cohen and MSU have stayed busy following the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft, lining up summer homes for returning Bulldogs to play in the "offseason," and recruiting future Bulldogs to come to Starkville to help the program get back to Omaha, Nebraska, the site of the CWS.
On Thursday, Cohen addressed those issues and a host of others surrounding his program on the final day of the program's second team camp, which featured teams from across the country.
"We are focused on the recruiting process," Cohen said. "Our kids who are playing summer ball are off to a great start. We keep close tabs on those guys. We have a couple of guys who are battling some medical stuff that we're working through, and we are focused in on that."
Last week, MSU had four players -- pitcher Jacob Lindgren (55th overall, New York Yankees), pitcher Jonathan Holder (182nd, N.Y. Yankees), pitcher Brandon Woodruff (326th, Milwaukee Brewers), and second baseman Brett Pirtle (700th, Detroit Tigers) -- selected in the annual draft. Lindgren told The Star-Ledger last week that he "want(s) to sign as soon as possible and begin my journey as a New York Yankee."
As for current and future Bulldogs, 23 Bulldogs are playing summer baseball in leagues throughout the country. Cohen feels all of the opportunities for those players are crucial.
"We're literally getting commitments from kids right now who will not step on this campus for three years," Cohen said. "When you are recruiting at the highest level, that is how it has to be. I feel we are at a point in this program that we are making really good decisions about sophomores in high school, or juniors in high school, and, in some cases, ninth-graders who are going to be 10th-graders. You have to do that."
Cohen feels the class of players coming in next semester includes a "very nice mix" of some junior college kids who can step in and help immediately and first-year players. He also feels the team's catching situation, led by freshman Gavin Collins, will be much improved next season. He also feels Cody Walker is somebody who is "going to make a huge jump for us."
"I think that is the key to our whole ballclub, the jump at the catching position next year," Cohen said. "That was a concern for me going in, not because of our talent (because) we might be more talented there than we have been in a long time, but just moving forward and having those guys with experience is huge for next year."
Cohen said he wasn't sure how the lower seam baseball that is going to be used next season, but he feels the team has several players who have the power to take advantage of an anticipated 15 to 20 feet in distance that the new balls could travel. With that being said, Cohen acknowledged the Bulldogs' offense will need to improve next season and that he won't sacrifice pitching and defense to do it.
"We need to be a more successful offensive team. There is no doubt about it," Cohen said. "We will have more physical pieces to (the team), but, at the same time, we feel we have brought in some fast-twitch infield guys. ... I think we have several pieces coming into this club that have a chance to contribute.
"We have some holes in our bullpen. We are going to have some guys step forward in our bullpen. We have really good candidates for that, but until they step out there and do it you don't know. I feel our bullpen has been a strength for a while. I think it can continue to be. Guys like (Vance) Tatum have stepped forward. He is going to be really good. We have a kid we redshirted named (Jacob) Billingsley, who has a wipeout breaking ball. We had him Velcroed to Jonathan Holder the whole year. I think we are going to have some options."
As for the starting pitchers, Cohen said the Bulldogs need freshman right-hander Dakota Hudson to "have a great summer and step forward." He said Hudson's stuff could help him log 90-100 innings, and he feels he is a "couple of adjustments" from getting to that spot.
NOTES: Cohen said freshman infielder Reid Humphreys is having "minor surgery" to displace a nerve. He said the surgery will keep Humphreys out of action for four to five weeks. Cohen said sophomore outfielder Jacob Robson had a similar nerve displacement surgery and is doing well. He said Robson will be back in action in a few weeks. Cohen also said sophomore right-hander Paul Young, junior right-hander Will Cox, and sophomore right-hander John Marc Shelly are progressing nicely after their season-ending surgeries. ... Cohen praised MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin for the ideas being considered for renovations and improvements to Dudy Noble Field. He said he has seen drawings of possible changes to the stadium and is confident Stricklin understands the importance of college baseball and the significance of Dudy Noble Stadium in the landscape of the sport. "I don't think there is any stone that hasn't been unturned," Cohen said when asked if all of the plans involve Dudy Noble Stadium at its present location. "I think everything is still on the table as far as what they want to do. I think there are a ton of options available. ... When is it going to happen? I don't know. How much is it going to cost? I don't know."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.