The award for most excited Mississippi State athlete on campus Thursday had to go to Jarrod Parks.
The Bulldogs redshirt senior infielder sat in the Dudy Noble Field stands the entire 2010 season with a back injury, which specifically included a ruptured disc, that he’s still currently rehabbing as fall practice began yesterday.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be back out here with the jersey on and working out with the guys even if nobody is watching,” Parks said.
Parks, who was tabbed by Baseball America as the Southeastern Conference’s eighth-best pro prospect after the 2009 season, will be one of the many transitional players on the MSU roster that could see playing time at third base, first base and even might try a new position he’s never tried even as far back as high school.
“I’ve talked to the coaches about possibly playing outfield if that’s what they’d like for me to do,” Parks said.
Parks told the Starkville Daily News he is still in rehabilitation mode of his back injury but has been fully cleared for all drills and participation. This past July, Parks competed in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League with senior infielder Nick Vickerson and catcher Cody Freeman. Park hit .304 with 10 runs batted in and a .494 on-base percentage.
“I had a pretty hot stretch with the bat over a month,” Parks said. “I hate to admit this because I want to play but while it was frustrating to watch a whole season without being able to help, I think it allowed me to notice some things from a new perspective.”
In the first day of fall baseball practice, Parks is one of at least seven players on the roster trying to come back from injuries suffered last season.
“I know some of these kids are dying to compete a little bit,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “We’ll do some intersquad scrimmages for six-inning games.”
One of the players not with the team Thursday was junior left-handed pitcher Nick Routt. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore starter was unable to pitch past March 21 because of an injury to the ulnar nerve in his pitching arm. Routt and his family got multiple medical opinions this past spring but Cohen announced his pitcher had ulnar nerve displacement surgery that basically suggests a normal prodocal of the surgeon putting the nerve back where it's supposed to be in the forearm.
“It’s a four-week type of deal but like I always say the kid dictates a lot of it because I never know exactly how he feels,” Cohen said. “I know Nick wants to pitch as soon as possible and we will try to help him get ready when he’s healthy.”
Routt finished his first season in an MSU jersey with freshman all-American honors that saw him lead the staff wins, earned run average, innings pitched and strikeouts and share the SEC lead with four complete games. The southpaw has struggled in 2010 with a 1-1 record, 6.52 ERA with batters hitting .357 against him in six starts.
“It was obviously difficult without a Nick Routt on the mound because he’s one of our experienced guys,” Cohen said.
Freeman has been prohibited from hitting but can play defense for the first two weeks and left-handed junior college transfer Tim Statz is two weeks away from being fully cleared to pitch.
Chris Stratton, one of the first MSU pitchers to take the hill for the Bulldogs, was a consistent mainstay in the rotation and ended the 2010 season being named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Stratton had a dominate two innings of work as the MSU pitching coaches are limited its arms to 40 pitches per session during the fall.
In year three of his coaching tenure in Starkville, Cohen hopes he can use more quality veteran players that he’s recruited over the past two seasons similarly to when he won a Southeastern Conference championship in his third season at Kenutcky.
“We can’t have freshmen on the mound 68 percent of the time like we did last season,” Cohen said. “What we’d obviously like to do is shelter our young players.”
A lot of those young players are among the 12 two-way talents on the fall roster and over the next month, Cohen said he’d like to evaluate where a lot of them can be slotted on a consistent basis.
“A Division 1 baseball roster is kind of always a transitional thing so we have to evaluate what we have that’s different every year,’ Cohen said. “I will say that while we think fall baseball is important, I’ve seen kids have horrible falls and great spring seasons so this isn’t the end-of-the-world type deal out here.”