February 14, 2010
STARKVILLE -- The Los Angeles Dodgers'' loss is the Mississippi State baseball team''s gain.
Most draft eligible juniors who are selected in the 11th round or higher of the Major League Baseball amateur draft take the money and turn pro.
That wasn''t the case for Connor Powers, who turned down a chance to work his way through the Dodgers minor league system and a shot at the big time to return to Year 2 of John Cohen''s building plan at Mississippi State.
Why he opted to come back after being selected with the 337th pick in the 2009 draft doesn''t matter to Bulldogs fans, as he returns a team-high 19 home runs and 63 RBI this season. But for the sake of his future career as a pro, Powers felt there was more to polish up before making the jump.
He made his decision despite the possibility of hurting his draft stock for 2010.
"There''s a lot of thought amongst players and kids my age that are like ''junior year I got to get drafted,''" Powers said during Thursday''s preseason press conference. "For some reason there''s some phenomenon that people think when you''re a senior you can''t make it."
Powers ranked in the top 10 of the SEC in home runs and RBI but wasn''t satisfied with his overall performance last year. Both he and Cohen felt good about his defense at first base, but as a hitter the Illinois native knew there was plenty of work to be done.
Powers said he, like other players who have a chance to turn pro, has a checklist for areas of improvement.
"When you''re here (college level) and you''re in a slump or you''re not hitting very well, for whatever reason you got a safety net; you can sit on the bench," Powers said. "If you do that in professional baseball, you go home and you get a get a tag in your locker.
"I did hit 19 home runs, but a the same time I thought I could have done a lot better hitting. There''d be certain situations where all I had to do is hit a drive ball to shortstop and I''d try and hit it over Left Field Lounge. I think I''ve done a real good job with understanding the game. There were parts of last year when I''d rear back and see how far I could hit. It kind of led to a lot of strikeouts in crucial situations that hurt us."
The team''s hurt, for more reasons outside Powers and his understanding of the strike zone, resulted in a 25-29 record last season. The senior mentioned his personal accomplishments were somewhat subdued by the team''s lack of success, though he isn''t returning to school just to rally the team for a spot in the Southeastern Conference tournament and hopefully the NCAA tournament.
Conners offered an additional explanation, though he didn''t go into salary details, for why he turned down the Dodgers for returning to school.
"Unless you''re not a high round guy, after that it''s really kind of you''re expectations personally against what the club sees for you," he said. "My expectations weren''t really met. I was very comfortable coming back to school and getting my degree. It would have taken a lot for me to forgo my senior year."
Powers wants to finish his college career on a high note, but he wants to become a better player for the future. He got a jump-start to his senior season by returning to the Cape Cod Baseball League this past summer, and with Harwich Mariners he won the 2009 home run derby at Fenway Park.
The contest accolades aside, Powers hailed the CCBL experience ahead of what proved to be a progressive fall.
Cohen can already tell the difference.
"Connor Powers, to me, has become a different player," Cohen said. "Through the fall and early part of the spring, he''s been able to eliminate a lot of swing and miss and evaluate the breaking ball much better than he has in the past. I think he made a great decision by coming back.
"As a good of a defender as he was at first base last year, I think he''s even better."
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