For more than a decade, we have enlisted college coaches who have faced the super regional teams to break down the matchups. Sources are given anonymity in exchange for their candor. All times are Eastern. Rankings indicate national seeds.
Mississippi State (46-18) at No. 6 Virginia (47-10)
Saturday: 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sunday: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Monday: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Coach: John Cohen.
Postseason History: Fifth super regional appearance (last in 2011). Seeking ninth trip to Omaha (last in 2007).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Starkville Regional. Won in four games, beating Central Arkansas in the final.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“I think they’re a very good club, very solid on both sides of the baseball. The thing you can say about their club is they’re gritty, tough kids, they compete every single pitch no matter what the score, no matter what’s going on in the game.
“Renfroe is just a very talented kid, tremendous amount of bat speed. This year he’s really figured it out. He has a great approach at the plate, not the kind of guy you get out the same way two times in a row. He shows the ability to make adjustments, and not only can he run the ball out of the yard but he runs well to boot. He’s turned into a great player. He’s absolutely the guy you circle in that lineup and say don’t let him beat you. But the kid at the top of the lineup, Frazier, he’s a terrific player as well—just a gritty, grinder-type kid, seems to have the ability to get the big hit in the big situation. When you talk about them as an offense, he sits at the top of the lineup and really gets them going. He has a good approach at the plate, obviously can swing the bat, but has a very good feel for the game. Up and down the lineup, they have several lefthanded hitters who are scrappy guys who grind out at-bats. They’ll foul pitches off, work counts, get on base for the big guys, so Renfroe and Rea can drive them in.
“Wes Rea is a very good player. He’s not the typical big, physical first baseman that most people think—a guy that’ll have a big swing. He has a better approach and feel for hitting than you think; he’s not the dead-red pull guy. He uses the middle of the field well, hits offspeed well. And he’s very coordinated. I’m not saying he’s a burner or anything, but at first base, picking balls in the dirt, he does a good job. And he uses his hands well in his swing at the plate, a lot of times drives the ball well in the right-center gap, or over the second baseman’s head. Then you’ve got Bradford—he’s a kid that had a tremendous freshman year, think he was banged up last year. For the most part at the plate, they’ll really try to work the middle of the field. When they get to a two-strike count, they’ll sit offspeed, battle, take pitches or take the HBP. They all seem to have very competitive at-bats. They’re not an easy team to pitch to—they’re going to grind out at-bats. Guys that could give them trouble are lefthanded arms, guys that can really command the fastball to both sides of the plate—not so much stuff guys but guys who can really pitch. But if you leave stuff over the middle of the plate, they’ll make you pay for it. And they’ll compete first inning through the ninth inning no matter what the score says.
“Defense is something they work on very hard in terms of turning double plays. They do a very good job with their infield defense. Obviously they have guys in the outfield that can run balls down. Then a pitching staff that can match up well, righties and lefties, and Holder at the end is tremendous. They play great team defense, throw a lot of strikes, don’t make mistakes, force you to beat them. Frazier plays shortstop well. At the college level, he’s a tremendous shortstop, fantastic. He has a very good internal clock, he knows the runners, knows how quick you have to get it airborne. And of course he has great hands and moves well to his left. I think they’re very solid up the middle; they make all the routine plays well. Bradford can go get it in center, and even behind the plate, Ammirati’s solid, does a good job, seems to handle their staff well.
“The strength of their pitching staff is more depth than having just one dominant guy like (Chris) Stratton was last year. So the thing they do a very good job of is they use their kids to play matchups, and to put them in the best position to have success. They have several guys that are three-out guys, six-out guys if they need. They can piece it together, and at the end of the weekend you look at their stats and they’ve pitched it well. They have low-angle guys from right or left. Chad Girodo is a funky three-quarter lefty. From the right, (Will) Cox and (Myles) Gentry drop down. Ben Bracewell is your stock righty who’s 88-92 with a good breaking ball, throws strikes. Ross Mitchell is another three-quarters lefty that’s not overpowering, but the thing he does a terrific job of is he never elevates the ball. Everything’s at the knees or below. He can spin a decent breaking ball, and he understands how to pitch. He can keep guys off balance by changing speeds, changing locations. He’s not overpowering; you really have to be disciplined when you face him. He’ll just bridge it until the end with Holder, then he comes in and does his job. It’s a pretty good recipe.
“At the end, Holder has dominant stuff: 90-93, deception in his delivery, throws a good breaking ball 74-76, sometimes a little harder, and it has depth, and a good change in speed as well, so it really keeps hitters off balance. He commands it down and away, down and in, and the curveball has a ton of depth, good spin, he can throw it for strikes when he wants to. He has a little turn in his delivery that creates deception. If you don’t get good swings off early, you’re going to be behind in the count quickly. He doesn’t fall into patterns. He’s a strike-thrower with two good pitches, and you can tell guys aren’t comfortable at the plate against him.
“Graveman is just a very good college righthanded pitcher. He really sinks the fastball, understands how to pitch. He has a lot of toughness about him, and he’s a competitor. A sinkerball guy, does a good job keeping the ball down in the zone, lot of double plays, a lot of ground balls. The thing he does the best is command the sinking fastball. His secondary stuff is not overwhelming. The thing he does, if he gets in trouble, he can usually sink a fastball, turn a double play and get out of it.
“Pollorena is just a competitor. He’s an undersized lefty but still will show you some decent velocity, 88-90, just competes his tail off. He’s done a good job for them whether he’s started or pitched out of the pen. I don’t think too many times he’s given them six, seven, eight innings, but he gives them four or five and hands it off to bullpen. I think (lefty Jacob) Lindgren probably would be the guy who would start if I was guessing, but I think they’ll get to game three, see what worked, and go with what’s the best after that. Lindgren’s a power lefty, anywhere from 89-92 with the fastball. His slider is a pitch he hasn’t been as consistent with, hasn’t been a great pitch for him. But he’s a lefthanded guy with velo that will beat a lot of bats.
“They’re an older, scrappy ballclub that plays well as a team, that’s the best thing you can say about them. They really compete and do a good job playing together from top to bottom.”
Coach: Brian O’Connor.
Postseason History: Fourth super regional appearance (last in 2011). Seeking third trip to Omaha (last in 2011).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Charlottesville Regional. Won in three games, beating Elon in the final.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“You’ve got to have quality lefthanded pitching, because that team more than any team I can remember just feasts off righthanded pitching. We couldn’t get them out with righthanders. From what I can tell, the right type of lefty can match them up a little bit, but you’ve got to be able to run multiple lefthanders at them to have success. The thing that makes them special is their plate discipline is unreal. You just can’t get them to go outside their strike zone.
“I was really, really impressed with their club offensively. For my money, even though (North) Carolina has scored more runs over the course of the season, I’d rather pitch to Carolina any day of the week than UVa. That’s a very tough team to pitch to. I think the one thing I was so impressed with was the job they did with two strikes. I felt like all weekend long, we got in counts where it was 1-2, we’d execute a pretty good pitch, and they’d either spoil it or take it or wind up coming up with a hit on a pitch you feel like you executed. Almost like they get better when they get two strikes on them.
“You look at the three guys they’ve got in the outfield, Papi and McCarthy, and Downes may have been as good as any player in our league. They’re a very, very dynamic team. You look all the way around their outfield, that’s the most complete outfield in college baseball, offensively and defensively. Then you’ve got Fisher, a guy with big-time draftable tools who’s DHing because they don’t have room for him out there. I think McCarthy’s a future first-rounder. He’s big, he’s physical, he runs. He looks like a tight end in football, but he gets down the line big-time. He hits a ground ball to the left side, you’d better hurry up and get rid of it—he runs a 4.25 to first base, and he’s got power.
“Downes is such a complete player in every aspect. He runs, he hits for power, he’s physical, he really can go get the baseball, the arm strength is there. He’s another guy you look at, evaluate all the tools, and say, ‘How high is he going to go in the draft?’ Papi, you can’t get him out. He epitomizes why their lineup is so tough, because if you challenge him in the heart of the zone, he’ll make you pay. He’s got enough juice to drive the baseball, but you can’t get him to expand his zone on anything. He’s an on-base machine. And up and down their lineup it felt that way.
“The thing that’s so scary to me is I left there feeling like, ‘Gosh, this team is that good and they’re full of sophomores.’ It’s a good sophomore group, it really is. Howard probably is the most pitchable guy out of that group in the middle of their lineup, but even he is a big-time OBP guy, he’s got doubles power. You look at Irving, look at his numbers at the bottom of the lineup, you say that’s the one guy in the lineup who’s kind of a weak link, but he comes up with big hits, especially with two strikes. You can’t sleep on that guy at the bottom of the lineup. Gragnani and King are just kind of glue guys. They’re not the guys that have the physical tools like some of those others, but good glue guys.
“Waddell reminded me a lot of Chris Diaz from Miami. He doesn’t overpower you with the fastball—it’s a good, firm fastball, but he won’t beat you with the fastball a lot. The breaking ball, none of his pitches by themselves leaves you feeling like, ‘If we don’t get in a good count, we have no chance against that pitch.’ But everything is very solid. He does have a lot of trust in his changeup, and I think he’s a very, very good competitor.
“Silverstein was consistently up to 94 early in the game against us, it was a plus fastball early in the game. He didn’t maintain that, the fastball fell off pretty quickly after the third or fourth. But we went into the game thinking we’d have to really fight to stay back on that changeup, and he threw few of them, mostly a fastball-breaking ball guy. We just didn’t see that changeup a lot out of him, we were pretty surprised. At times, he flashes a very good changeup. The breaking ball’s a slurve, it’s a low arm slot. It’s not a pitch with a lot of tilt to it because he’s got that lower slot, kind of pushes the baseball. Not a ton of depth, but certainly serviceable. The thing I was surprised about was the firmness of the fastball.
“UVa. doesn’t have the depth in the bullpen that an N.C. State does. I think they’re much more inclined to get as deep as they can with their starters and go to Crockett. Obviously he’s very, very good—as good as anybody I saw all year. A lot of it for them is, is (shortstop Branden) Cogswell healthy? If Cogswell plays, they’re a very different team, because when Cogswell’s at short, then they leave Howard at third base, which makes it easier for him to pitch, too. He can help them on the mound. Howard was 90-92, really just showed a good two-pitch mix, fastball and slider to go with it. He liked to go to the slider when he got ahead as a putaway pitch, a typical power pitcher’s approach. Mayberry’s numbers are good, but his stuff is not as good as his numbers—he’s not a guy you feel like can overpower you. He’ll give up some barreled baseballs.
“Their relievers looked susceptible to me, outside of Crockett. I felt like with their bullpen, you look at their numbers, and this is a compliment to (pitching coach) Karl (Kuhn) and the job he’s done with them, their numbers are better than their stuff. But Crockett, he’s got the arm angle where he’s just poison for lefthanders. It’s got a ton of deception, gets down in that slot where lefties just don’t see it. The thing that makes him so special is he locates with such ease, puts it wherever he wants to. He’s a guy, I feel like he could be in the big leagues by the end of the year if he signs, because he’s that polished in terms of being able to locate three pitches in the zone, he stays down, moves it in and out. And he’s firm, 91-92, just so easy in the zone. The slider is really tough on lefthanders, when he gets ahead. If I’m a lefthanded hitter, I’ve got to hope to get a fastball early in the count. He throws that sweeping slider, it’s very tough. He handles righties OK too. He can throw that breaking ball in the zone to righthanders. It’s not as electric to righthanders, but you look at the numbers, obviously he’s had success against both sides of the plate.
“I watched them in the ACC tournament, and Howard handles shortstop just OK. I’m sure if I’m Brian (O’Connor), if I’ve got to run Howard out there in a super regional or an Omaha setting, I don’t feel great about that. He’s not Cogswell. He’s pretty darn good at third. But you see the limited range, he has to hurry on some balls because he doesn’t have the footwork to play short consistently like a Cogswell does. Irving throws really well behind the plate. The one thing they do, they basically completely neutralize the running game. Their pitchers hold runners very well, and Irving throws well.
“I think they have a chance to win it all. If they don’t have to overuse Crockett, that’s a team that can win it all.”