MORE: Summer prospect coverage | Joey Swinarski PG profile
Replacing All-American outfielder and first-round pick Hunter Renfroe won't be an easy task for head coach John Cohen and Mississippi State the next few seasons. However, the Bulldogs have some new blood in the outfield as prep star outfielder Joey Swinarski decided to enroll in college a full year early, skipping his senior year of high school, effectively joining the Bulldogs this fall.
Swinarski's decision comes as a surprise to many in the college baseball community, but not to Cohen and the Bulldogs, who knew of the possibility earlier this summer when speaking with Swinarski's family.
"It's been in the works for a while. He was contemplating it at the beginning of the summer, but it was a question of development for his family. What was going to be best for him in his senior year? Was he going to try to be a high draft pick? Those types of things," Cohen said. "In terms of his development as a player and person, they thought coming to school a year early was in his best interest. It's something I think is going to work out very well."
Though not extremely common, Swinarski isn't alone when it comes to high school players enrolling early for college, thus skipping the MLB First-Year Player Draft altogether. Former UCLA right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer, who went on to be a first-round pick, enrolled early for the Bruins, while Long Beach State's Jake Thompson did the same.
This fall, another talented Florida prospect opted -- two-way talent Bradley Zunica from Bradenton, Fla. (Lakewood Ranch). Zunica's decision, too, was a surprise, and ranked No. 172 nationally, he, like Swinarski for the Bulldogs, is expected to be an immediate impact guy for the Hurricanes in 2014.
As for Swinarski, he's a little raw in some aspects of his game, but advanced in others. Swinarski is a 6-foot-3, 192-pounder, who's ranked No. 232 nationally, No. 50 in terms of outfielders on the national stage, No. 52 overall in Florida and No. 11 in terms of outfielders in Florida. Swinarski has big-time power potential at the collegiate level.
"There's no doubt that Swinarski is a high ceiling talent. He has classic right field tools with a big 6-3/195 body, a strong throwing arm, surprising speed for his size and big right handed power at the plate. The challenge for the Mississippi State coaches is going to be to simplify his hitting approach to improve his game contact ability against good pitching," Perfect Game Director of Scouting David Rawnsley said. "He can put on a show in batting practice right now, especially with his pull power, but his timing begins to break down in games against the type of pitching he'll see in college. He has the physical aptitude to make the adjustments, and he is an extremely intelligent young man off the field. He could contribute this spring because the present tools are there."
Like Rawnsley, Cohen feels Swinarski has a chance to do something in the spring, and certainly feels like something special could be in store for the talented outfielder during his sophomore and junior campaigns.
"I really think he's going to hit the ball well. He's going to be a really solid defender. People ask me, can he replace Hunter Renfroe. Well, the answer to that is no. I'm not sure there's a collection of raw tools that can compare to what Renfroe had," Cohen said. "That's pretty unfair from a comparison standpoint. What he does have, in my opinion, that Hunter didn't early on during his career is an advanced approach with breaking balls. With that said, as you well know, there's a definite learning curve when playing in the SEC."
With Swinarski in tow, Mississippi State is set to begin team workouts on October 4, though individual workouts have already begun. The Bulldogs finished last season as the national runner-up and are expected to once again compete for a berth in the College World Series in 2014.