WSU-MSU Baseball Series Preview-Feb 15, 2012
This story originally published on GenesPage.com

Publisher-Gene's Page
Posted Feb 15, 2012
Gene Swindoll


Mississippi State opens their 2012 season against the Washington State Cougars in a three-game home series this weekend. MSU will start their season off with a 17-game homestand.

Weather

Friday - The temperatures should be in the mid 50s during the game with a 10% chance for showers. | Saturday - The temperatures should be in the low 50s throughout the game with a 100% chance for rain. Winds should be from the north-northeast at about 14 mph. | Sunday - The temperatures should be in the low 50s with almost no chance for rain during the game. Winds should be from the north, northwest at 4 mph.

Gametimes (CDT)

Friday 6:00 p.m. | Saturday 2:30 p.m. | Sunday 1:30 p.m.

Coaches

Donnie Marbut is beginning his 8th year as the head coach at Washington State. His teams have an overall record of 210-187 and 73-104 in the Pac-12 Conference. Two of his teams (2009, 2010) have advanced to NCAA post-season play, going 4-4 in the two NCAA Regionals.

John Cohen, who is entering his fourth season as the head coach at Mississippi State, has an overall record of 86-87, including a 38-25 record on 2011, and a 29-60 in SEC play. His 2011 team appeared in NCAA post-season play, winning the Atlanta Regional 3-0 and going 1-2 in the Gainesville Super Regional against Florida, the 2011 College World Series national runner-up.

Washington State Road/Mississippi State Home Records in 2011

Washington State was 6-13 on the road while Mississippi State was 22-12 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations

Washington State is expected to start sophomore RHP J.D. Leckenby (2011 stats - 0-0, 2.28 ERA) Friday night, junior RHP Kyle Swannack (2011 juco stats - 9-0, 1.53 ERA) Saturday and freshman RHP Tanner Chleborad Sunday.

Leckenby, whose main pitch is a sinker, was used exclusively in relief last year, appearing in 18 games while throwing 27.2 innings. He had a 2.28 ERA, allowing 17 hits while walking 14 and striking out 5. Teams only hit .172 against him. Control was an issue for Leckenby last season as evidenced by his 14 walks, 3 wild pitches and 6 hit batters.

Junior College All-American Swannack was outstanding for Bellevue College last season, going 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA. He allowed just 57 hits in 76.7 innings of work while walking just 9 and and striking out 66. Teams hit .202 against him.

Chleborad, a 24th round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 2011 MLB draft, is a tall righty (6-5, 189) who throws in the high 80s, with the potential to touch 90 to 92 at times. Due to his body frame and very fluid mechanics, pro scouts like his long-range potential on the mound.

Mississippi State will throw redshirt sophomore RHP Ben Bracewell Friday night, redshirt junior LHP Nick Routt (2011 stats - 3-3, 3.86 ERA) Saturday and either junior RHP Kendall Graveman (2011 stats - 5-0, 3.65 ERA) or sophomore RHP Evan Mitchell (2011 stats - 6-2, 4.26 ERA) Sunday afternoon.

Bracewell, who didn't pitch last season while recovering from elbow surgery, pitched extremely well during the fall and spring scrimmages. His fastball has been consistently in the 88-90 mph range and his off-speed pitch, a 78-81 mph slider, has looked very, very good during his outings.

Routt, who was MSU's ace as a true freshman, has suffered from arm soreness off and on the past couple of years and had basically become a one-pitch pitcher last year, throwing a high 80s fastball while working on developing a curveball. During the fall and early spring scrimmages, his curveball has consistently gotten better and has become an out pitch for him. In addition to his improved curveball, his moving fastball has seen a spike in velo, going from the high 80s consistently last season to consistently hitting in the low 90s this spring, topping out in the 92 to 94 range at times.

Graveman was MSU's mid-week starting pitcher last season. He is competing for an SEC spot this season. Considered a groundball out pitcher when he's on, he'll also throw his four-seam fastball in the 88-91 range, topping out at 93 in his last outing of the spring.

Mitchell was one of MSU's SEC rotation starters late in the season. When he's on, he will showcase a low 90s fastball that can top out at 94-96 at times.

Relief Pitching

Washington State, according to a chat done by head coach Donnie Marbut, will rely mainly on four pitchers out of the bullpen - junior LHP Richie Ochoa (2011 stats - 5-2, 2 S, 3.11 ERA), sophomore RHP Kellen Camus (2011 stats - 3-1, 5.47 ERA), redshirt junior RHP Anthony Drobnick (2011 stats - 2-2, 1 S, 5.60 ERA) and senior LHP Spencer Jackson (2011 stats - 1-2, 8.35 ERA).

Ochoa pitched in 20 games last season, all in relief. He allowed 40 hits in 37.2 innings, walking 10 while striking out 18. Teams hit .280 against him. He has the most saves of any returning reliever. In Pac-10 play last season, he was used mostly in relief and did a very respectable job, giving up 7 runs (6 earned) on 20 hits and 3 walks in 15.3 innings of work for an ERA of 3.53.

Camus allowed 30 hits in 24.2 innings, while striking out 16 and walking 8. Teams hit .300 against him. Two of his best outings were against Stanford and BYU when he gave up no runs in 6.2 innings of work. Of his 10 appearances, only three were against Pac-10 competition. He threw 5.7 innings, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4 in Pac-10 competition.

Drobnick appeared in relief 20 times last season, throwing 17.2 innings, while allowing 20 hits and 5 walks to go along with his 16 Ks. Teams hit .286 against him. In Pac-10 play he threw 10 games, allowing 7 runs on 10 hits and 2 walks while striking out 10 in 7.1 innings. He started out in the Pac-10 as a one-out pitcher, then progressed at the end of the season to a guy who the coaches were willing to throw an inning or two at the end of the ballgame. And he was successful in that role, throwing 4.1 innings, allowing just 1 run while striking out 6. He appears to be the main guy in the Washington State bullpen who can get a strikeout when needed.

Jackson threw in 13 games last season, 11 in relief. He gave up 34 hits and 3 walks while striking out 7 in 18.1 innings of work. Teams hit .405 against him. Although he only walked 3, he hit 5 batters in his 18.1 innings. Jackson appeared in 6 Pac-10 games, mostly as a one-inning closer. Of his six Pac-10 outings, his two poor outings were his first two. After that, he was successful, throwing 7 innings while allowing just 1 run.

Mississippi State has an abundance of arms to choose from for relief this weekend led by pre-season All-American senior RHP closer Caleb Reed (2011 stats - 1-2, 12 S, 1.55 ERA). Others who should see the main action in relief are junior RHP Chris Stratton (2011 stats - 5-7, 5.21 ERA), sophomore RHP Taylor Stark (2011 stats - 3-0, 2 S, 2.95 ERA), junior LHP Luis Pollorena (2011 stats - 7-5, 4.45 ERA), sophomore RHP Daryl Norris (2011 stats - 2-0, 1 S, 3.20 ERA), junior LHP Chad Girodo (2011 stats - 3-0, 5.76 ERA) and senior LHP Tim Statz (2011 stats - 0-1, 4.64 ERA). Highly regarded freshmen pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Trevor Fitts, Will Cox (all righties) and Jacob Lindgren (a lefty) could also see action as well but will likely be brought along slowly this season due to the depth of the pitching staff.

Reed is one of the most successful closers in the nation. A pre-season All-American, he recorded 12 saves last season. Although he throws his fastball in the high 80s, his strength is his control of a wide variety of pitches and arm angles that allows him to keep hitters off-balance at the plate. Plus, he has that mentality that all great closers usually have. He's a guy who can get a popup or a strikeout when it's called for.

Stratton was one of MSU's SEC rotation pitchers last season and is expected to be the same this season. He will be in relief of Bracewell due to MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson wanting to keep him in his Friday routine. Stratton is a hard-thrower who usually throws his fastball in the low 90s. He also has a curveball that can be very good at times. One thing that he continues to work on is getting a handle on his pitch efficiency. In the past, he's been a guy who usually throws a lot of pitches during an inning.

Reed is expected to have help closing games this year from Stark. Stark throws his fastball in the high 80s to low 90s but his out pitch is his devastating slider, one of the best in the SEC. When it's on, it's a strikeout pitch. As a freshmen, he was almost unhittable, giving up 5 hits in 18.1 innings. Teams hit .089 against him. He's expected to be even better this season.

Pollorena is a guy who can start, throw middle relief or even close if there is a lefty-on-lefty matchup. He's a guy who throws his fastball in the high 80s and shows a very good changeup at times.

Norris, who throws his fastball in the mid to high 80s, is a middle reliever who can come in and give MSU two to four innings of work. Teams only hit .213 against him last season.

Girodo is lefty matchup pitcher who usually has good control of his mid 80s fastball.

Statz has gone to more of a sidearm delivery and will be a guy who can come in and matchup against lefties and some righties.

Woodruff and Lindgren were both drafted in the 2011 MLB draft, Woodruff in the 5th round and Lindgren in the 12th. Fitts was one of the top pitchers in the state of Alabama while Cox has shown excellent control of all of his pitches. Woodruff, Lindgren, Fitts and Cox can throw in the high 80s to low 90s at times.

Hitting

Washington State's strength this season will be its hitting due to returning all but two of their top hitters from last season. Leading the way is redshirt junior righthand-hitting first baseman Taylor Ard, who Baseball America ranked as the top power-hitter in the Pac-12. Ard, who was drafted in the 25th round by Boston in the 2011 MLB draft, led Washington State with 10 home runs last season, while also hitting for a .337 batting average. Unlike many power hitters, he doesn't strikeout much, 25 time in a total of 224 at-bats. Senior left-handed hitter Derek Jones, another 2011 MLB draftee by Baltimore in the 13th round, is another solid hitter who batted .275 last season with 8 homers. Sophomore Collin Slaybaugh, a left-handed hitter, hit .308 in 104 official at-bats last season. Another sophomore, Jason Monda (also a left-handed hitter) rated the 3rd best MLB draft prospect among the Pac-12 2013 pro prospects, batted .291 with 2 home runs and 20 RBI in 134 at-bats last season. He had an outstanding summer hitting in the Cape Cod League, batting .333 and making the all-star game. In limited action (65 at-bats), sophomore left-handed hitting Nate Blackham batted .400 with 0 home runs and 5 RBI.

Four of the five above listed hitters all bat from the left side of the plate.

Washington State has a core of other players such Brett Jacobs, Patrick Claussen, Tommy Richards, Trace Tam Sing who all hit in the .240 to .260 range but should see improvement this season.

Mississippi State, unlike Washington State, returns very few of their primary hitters from last season, returning sophomore C.T. Bradford, a lefthand hitter who batted .303 with 0 home runs and 34 RBI and senior right-handed hitter Brent Brownlee who batted .279 with 1 home run and 24 RBI.

In limited action, righty-hitting Daryl Norris hit .277 with 0 home runs and 20 RBI in 32 games (27 starts), sophomore lefthand hitting Adam Frazier batted .274 with 0 home runs and 14 RBI in 38 games (18 starts), and sophomore right-handed hitting Taylor Stark hit .182 with 1 homer and 5 RBI in 20 games (8 starts). All three are expected to be every day starters this season. Adam Frazier had an outstanding fall and spring hitting the ball and could wind up being the top average hitter on the team.

Also expected to start this season are sophomore right-handed hitting Hunter Renfroe (14 games, 5 starts. .154 BA) and redshirt freshman right hand hitter Wes Rea, both of whom will add home run power to the lineup. Another redshirt freshman, righty-hitting Demarcus Henderson has also hit well at times during the fall and spring scrimmages. Junior lefty-hitting Sam Frost (40 games, 11 starts, .184 BA) could also figure in the picture in the infield. Newcomers Trey Porter, a junior college transfer who bats from the left side, righthand hitting Mitch Slauter, another junior college transfer, and true freshman Matthew Britton, who bats from the left side, also expect to be in the mix for starting positions. Porter and Slauter have shown good hitting ability and solid home run power during the fall and spring scrimmages.

Defense

Washington State fielded at a .967 clip last season, and should be improved this season. Catcher Collin Slaybaugh was rated by Baseball America as having the best arm in the Pac-12. He threw out 27% of the runners who attempted to steal on him last season. Ard is solid at first base, as is Patrick Claussen at third base. Sing has the potential to be a good defensive shortstop after struggling in the field at times last season as a freshman (12 errors in 126 changes in the field). Second base starter Richards is a good defender who fielded at a .959 clip last season. Outfielders Monda, Jones, Blackham and Johnson are all solid to very good outfielders.

Mississippi State's defense, along with its pitching, should be the strengths of the team. Outfielders Bradford, Stark and Brownlee are exceptional defenders who have outstanding speed. Henderson, who can play in the outfield or infield, has proven to be another player who is an outstanding defender with great footspeed. First base will be manned by either Porter or Rea. Rea, who is 6-5, 290, was one of the premier left tackles in high school football with offers from almost all the SEC schools but chose baseball instead. He is a huge target at first who has excellent footwork to be so big. MSU head coach John Cohen calls him a very good defensive first baseman. Britton and Frazier are both very solid at second base and shortstop. Frazier makes all the routine plays and some outstanding plays while Britton has an outstanding arm. Norris is solid at third base and will make all the routine plays. Behind the plate, MSU has an outstanding group of defenders, all with excellent arms. Slauter may have the best overall combination of defense and offense among the threesome but Renfroe has the strongest arm (clocked at 98 mph off the mound) while Nick Ammirati is a defensive machine when it comes to blocking balls in the dirt.


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Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.



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