A pair of Mississippi State junior pitchers will likely hear their name in less than two weeks during the Major League Amateur Draft giving them a decision to make this summer.
Mississippi State has two draft-eligible arms on 2011 roster in right-handed Eupora native Devin Jones and left-hander Nick Routt.
While being given a platform that was the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala., which was attended by numerous professional scouts and executives, neither Jones or Routt wowed their up the draft boards with their performances throughout the two days MSU was alive in the event.
Jones threw a total of four pitches in and gave up a solid single to SEC Most Valuable Player Mike Zunino in the Bulldogs 7-5 loss to Florida Wednesday afternoon. Routt was dominated again against one of the nation’s best lineups in Arkansas as they handed him another loss after putting up eight hits and three earned runs throughout 90 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings of work.
The Starkville Daily News has learned over the last week that professional scouts are very interested in Jones after his successful stint last summer in the Cape Cod League, arguably the best wood-bat league for college level talent that included seven starts with the Bourne Braves. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder could be a Top 20 round selection after being in Baseball America’s Top 200 prospect list before this collegiate season.
“What will give him confidence is his consistent success against the wood bat,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “That’s how it sometimes works for a kid like that. You see a wood bat and just feel better and different.”
Jones was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 49th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft out of Eupora High School but elected to not sign and instead honor his commitment to MSU. Jones could be the classic example of scouting potential versus statistics at the college level.
Jones currently has a 4.45 earned run average and made eight starts this season for the Bulldogs but it’s the way his best pitches (fastball and slider) project at the professional level that could make him the first MSU player selected this June.
“If Devin Jones can harness that slider like he did (Wednesday), they're going to be tough,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Wednesday after MSU’s NCAA chances.
Cohen said part of his left-handed starter’s occasional struggles in 2011 are since Routt’s surgery to repair his pitching elbow last year, which will likely concern professional scouts, the MSU junior has removed the circle changeup from his repertoire he has been fighting how to get batters out with just a fastball and curveball.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with Arkansas,” Cohen said Thursday. “It just has to do with not being economical with his pitches. He’s just not really been able to rip through his changeup and that was a swing-and-miss pitch two years ago. When he gets to two strikes now, it’s kind of a bit of no man’s land.”
Despite this being the last year for the Maryland native to have negotiating leverage in signing negotiations, Routt may have to come to back to Starkville to prove he can either pitch a full college season without health concerns or learn how to throw his circle changeup, a pitch Baseball America rated as the best changeup in the SEC in 2009, without hurting his arm because he and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson determined it was best for him not to throw that pitch due to the pronation he must make with his left arm and elbow.
A potential toughness question for the southpaw may have been erased when Routt went 5 1/3 innings and threw 88 pitches in a win at Ole Miss less than a day after a temperature spike caused by a bout of tonsillitis.
“I just want to get back to pitching at a level that I was before and whatever happens, we’ll take from there,” Routt said back in February admitting he wasn’t concerned with the pro draft at that point. “I heard people say I didn’t want to pitch and I tried to just focus on my rehab and ignore all the distractions.”
The round and the organization that selects them in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft on June 6-8 will give the duo a decision to make and it’ll be interesting to see if they return to Mississippi State for their final season of college eligibility.
“We know they’re going to probably be drafted and the relationship between them and the coaching staff is very good,” Cohen said. “We’ll help them however we can when that time comes to make that best decision possible we can but right now I know they’re focused on their first college postseason run.”