By LEE ADAMS
There are only two returning starters to the lineup next season for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in baseball.
With the loss of six positions starters, there are some new faces on the field, but MSU coach John Cohen still likes what's available.
"We have 26 freshmen and sophomores but the benefit I think we have is a lot of our freshmen are redshirt freshmen," said Cohen, who is entering his fourth season at MSU. "We are pleased with some of the progress that some of those young players have made but the strength of our club is our very experienced pitching staff."
Experience is definitely something the Bulldogs have when it comes to the pitching staff. They are returning 14 of the 16 pitchers from last season.
"We really feel like we have some leadership guys on the mound," said Cohen.
One of those guys is junior Chris Stratton, who hit a bit of a sophomore slump last season for MSU with a 5.21 ERA and a 5-7 record.
"Chris has had a great summer and and a great fall," said Cohen. "We feel like he's a huge factor for us this year."
The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-25 season that ended in a Super Regional appearance and are currently preparing for the 2012 season with their fall practices.
Behind the Bulldog pitchers could be a very young and inexperienced infield as the two returning starters are outfielders in Brent Brownlee and C.T. Bradford.
"We're going to have freshmen on our infield, there's no doubt about that," said Cohen. "There's a chance we could have as many as three freshmen on the infield at one point and time, which is a pretty frightening feeling, but we really believe these redshirt freshmen guys are guys who can step in and play."
Two of the true freshmen that Cohen thinks could have the best chance to see playing time in the infield is Matthew Britton and Nick Flair.
"These guys are really really good freshmen players," said Cohen. "We'll have to wait and see how much development and how much progress they make before the season starts."
At the plate, MSU could have some power this season with redshirt freshman Wes Rea and sophomore Hunter Renfroe. Renfroe started five games last season and had plate appearances in a total of 14 games. Even though Renfroe batted .154 in his 26 at-bats, Cohen feels he and Rea could impact and add power to the lineup.
"Hunter had a great great summer and had a solid freshman year in the catching position and the outfield as well," said Cohen. "I think Hunter has as much power and anybody in the SEC and Wes has tremendous power. I certainly think that those are two guys who can produce with power for us."
Another player who can possibly add power to State's lineup is junior college transfer Mitch Slauter. Slauter hit .353 and had five home runs for Barton County CC in Great Bend, Kansas.
"Mitch has power and is a big physical kid," said Cohen. "We certainly think we have options in the middle of our order in terms of power."
Power is something that can get lost at Dudy Noble Field so the Bulldogs will play the way their home field allows them to.
"Our ballpark just doesn't give home runs (because) there's a lot of real estate to cover," said Cohen. "Our main stay is going to be athleticism, defense and pitching because that's what our ballpark dictates, and we're fortunate enough to get to play 37 home games at our ballpark this year."
Having 37 home games could improve MSU's record from last year as they were 22-12 at home and 12-11 on the road.
The Bulldogs have been scrimmaging this fall so Cohen is getting a good look at all of his young players so he can put his best nine of the field when the season opens on Feb. 17, 2012 in Starkville.