By JOEL COLEMAN
With the 2016 baseball season still almost three weeks away, the hard-throwing arm of Dakota Hudson has already garnered plenty of attention. Mississippi State’s junior right-hander has been tabbed a Preseason All-American by D1Baseball and Perfect Game, and he has been consistently projected as a top pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft.
When you possess a 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and can hum a fastball to the plate at more then 95 miles per hour, such accolades come. However it’s not the physical tools and abilities of Hudson that have MSU head coach John Cohen believing his veteran hurler is on the verge of a breakout year. It’s what lies beneath Hudson’s M-over-S ball cap that has impressed the Bulldogs’ eighth-year leader.
“Dakota has matured so much,” Cohen said. “He’s a confident young man and he deserves to be confident after what he did last summer and so far this year.”
The seeds for all the hype surrounding Hudson were planted as he played summer ball in the Cape Cod League over the offseason. Playing for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Hudson posted a 1.43 ERA, striking out 54 batters and walking 14 over 56 2/3 innings. Hudson’s performance put the Harbor Hawks in their first CCBL League Championship Series since 2000 and earned Hudson a spot on the CCBL Year-End All-League Team.
Was Hudson’s summer league success indeed a precursor to a season as an ace for one of the Southeastern Conference’s most tradition-rich programs though? New Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson thinks that is entirely possible.
Johnson, who joined MSU just last October, has sought to take Hudson’s game to the next level by “freeing him up.”
“We’re freeing up where he pitches in the strike zone,” Johnson said. “(During Friday’s first scrimmage of the season) he had a couple of fastballs he was able to elevate and got some swings and misses on and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to get him comfortable in those situations throwing his fastball a little different.”
Hudson has eagerly listened to Johnson’s teachings. Aside from learning to trust his fastball more, Hudson also says he now feels stronger on the mound under Johnson’s guidance.
Hudson admits everything has come together to make him a more calm, resilient pitcher. That much was on display in his scrimmage start on Friday. After beginning his outing with a pair of strikeouts, Hudson surrendered two runs on three hits and a walk in the first inning. In years past, such a chain of events might have rattled Hudson. He says that is no longer the case.
“I feel like with two years that have past now, in game situations like that, I’m a lot more prepared for it,” Hudson said.
Hudson bounced back to pitch a scoreless second inning.
In the grand scheme of things, no one will remember Friday’s happenings when the Bulldogs are battling through the grind of the SEC schedule later this year. Yet it may have been the first glimpse of Hudson’s newfound swagger.
Who knows how far Hudson’s improved mindset can take him? If the prognosticators are correct, it could punch his ticket into the big leagues and allow him to join a host of recent Bulldogs who have ridden breakout junior seasons to the professional ranks.
That’s not Hudson’s concern right now though.
“I feel like if all that’s going to come, it’s going to come,” Hudson said. “I’m just going to go out there and compete everyday and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. God’s got a plan for all of it.”
First and foremost on Hudson’s mind is helping MSU erase the memories of last year’s tough season. Just one year after the Bulldogs missed out on postseason play, they are a consensus top-20 team. Hudson has made it his goal to help Mississippi State climb even higher.
“Baseball has always had a strong tradition here,” Hudson said. “Going into this season, I feel like we can bring that back.”