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Before he committed to Mississippi State Saturday afternoon, Gulfport High School senior-to-be Jonathan Holder already knew he can hit at Dudy Noble Field.
The 17-year-old prospect that stands 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds impressed scouts and coaches in a home run derby before an all-star game on MSU's campus by hitting two balls deep over the walls of Polk-Dement Stadium.
"Today Mississippi State got one of the best baseball players in the state that has a chance to be a major contributor at the next level," Gulfport head coach Tim Dowdy said.
Holder, who had taken an official visit to Mississippi State three weeks ago, called Bulldogs head coach John Cohen Saturday to inform him he'd chosen MSU after finishing up visits at South Alabama and Southern Mississippi. Holder also had received significant interest from Ole Miss and Tennessee as well.
"They were the first to set up a campus visit with me and I could tell how much they wanted me to play for them,â€ť Holder said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. â€ś(Coach Cohen) made a visit to my home during the recruiting process and that meant so much to me.â€ť
Mississippi State coaches are not allowed under NCAA rules to comment on recruits until they sign a National Letter of Intent.
Holder told the Starkville Daily News Saturday the recruiting process came on fast starting on July 1 when college coaches were allowed to start contacting him directly.
â€śJonathan is one of those sleeper recruits that immediately went from a kid hoping to play college baseball to telling me specifically 'gosh I better make a decision for the future before this gets crazy'," Dowdy said.
Holder said during the phone interview the Starkville Daily News one of the main reasons he gave his verbal commitment to the Mississippi State program was the Bulldogs coaching staff constantly telling him he would be a productive player both at the plate and on the mound.
"I want to do both and they said they loved my bat and my ability to pitch while other schools were telling me that Iâ€™d be a pitcher and could maybe get an at-bat here or there,â€ť Holder said.
Holder, a 6-foot-3 and 225-pound prospect that just turned 17 years old in June, had a .429 batting average with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs for Gulfport High School and defensively committed just one error in 135 total chances at first base.
"He's an absolute cage rat that I can tell you two weeks ago called me up on Saturday night and minutes later I'm pitching batting practice to him at 7 p.m.," Dowdy said. "This kid wants to be coached at everything."
On the mound, Holder posted a 3-5 record with a 2.54 earned run average. He said he's currently trying to work in a three-pitch arsenal that includes an 87-90 mile-per-hour fastball along with a curveball and a developing changeup.
â€śWhat attracted all the coaches to his pitching was his ability to understand how to throw a curveball for strikes," Dowdy said. "The way he spins that curveball is a major weapon right now to go along with his heavy fastball."
Holder becomes Cohen's fifth commitment for the Class of 2011, joining a pair of Mississippi recruits in St. Stanislaus southpaw pitcher Jacob Lindgren and Wheeler's outfielder/right-handed pitcher Brandon Woodruff along with right-handed pitcher Trevor Fitts from Pelham, Ala., and shortstop Phillip Casey from Clements, Texas.
"I trust coach Cohen completely that he'll get this program turned around and I want to be a part of that," Holder said. "Today I just feel like this unbelievable weight has been lifted off my shoulders and now I can enjoy my senior year of high school without worrying about this,"