Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen, right, visits with Wes Rea during a game last season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Mississippi State redshirt sophomore Wes Rea can be an intimidating presence in the batter's box.
When looking at his 6-5, 272-pound frame, one might think Rea is all about hitting the baseball out of the park.
Senior pitcher Kendall Graveman said there's more to Rea than power.
"He's well-rounded," Graveman said. "At the beginning of the fall, Wes had about 13 hits in 15 at-bats. He can hit for power, but when we need a hit, he can hit a single through the right side of the infield. For whatever that calls for, he has the ability to do it."
Rea can certainly hit home runs as he proved against Kentucky last season in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala., when he launched a pitch well over the left field wall at Regions Park.
Since joining the Bulldogs, Rea has adapted his game to where he's not thinking about hitting the long ball all of the time. He has learned in college to hit for average and work on his defense.
"At this level, you are a guy who can do all those things," Rea said. "It's going to be harder to defend and pitch to. That's what you want. You want to make it harder on other guys."
Rea started 63 of 64 games for MSU as a redshirt freshman at first base last year and learned quite a bit. He finished with a .249 batting average, five home runs and a team-leading 41 runs batted in.
Despite battling a shoulder injury for much of the season, Rea still finished strong for the Bulldogs by hitting .308 with a double in each of the three games of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional, where he made the All-Tournament team.
"Last year, I had the shoulder problems and a lot of it had to do being a freshman as well," Rea said of his struggles at times last year. "That's something I learned this fall. I collected my thoughts and got back to what I needed to do. It's going smoother now and I'm figuring it out. I've got a whole season under my belt."
Rea's shoulder problems stemmed from an overgrown cyst in the labrum area. It cut on a nerve that caused his entire right arm to go numb.
After taking the entire summer off and working with strength and conditioning coach Brian Neal in the fall, Rea believes he's ready to perform well this season.
"It's a total turnaround," Rea said. "Sometimes last year, I wouldn't even take batting practice, simply because I couldn't feel the bat in my right hand. It's a total 180 as far as hitting and confidence, my swing and everything at the plate. It's a totally different swing and totally differently approach.
"Hopefully there are no bumps in the road and no health concerns."
MSU baseball coach John Cohen shares in those hopes and likes what Rea can be if there are no setbacks.
"Wes, if healthy, has a chance to be a great player for us both defensively and offensively," Cohen said. "I do like his two-strike approach and he has a chance to have some power. The first time through (the Southeastern Conference) is just difficult, but as a freshman, he did literally well. He's much more knowledgable."
Rea's teammates at MSU trust in him so much that they voted him as a co-captain for 2013 along with Graveman.
Even with the special recognition, Rea said don't expect his approach to the game to be different.
"They know what to expect out of me and will get the same thing every day," Rea said. "There's a big trust factor there. I'm going to be the same than I was before they chose me co-captain of the baseball team.
"I've been with most of these guys three years. It's only my sophomore year as far as the field with a redshirt year. I've been around longer than three years. It's a huge honor, but at the same time, even thinking about the possibilities of becoming a captain, nothing is going to change for me on or off the field. I'll be the same person I was before."
The Bulldogs begin the season on Friday against Portland ranked as high as No. 5 in the Baseball America poll.
Rea knows this can be a very good season for MSU, but it's important to attack the games aggressively so the squad can meet the high expectations.
"Baseball is a humbling sport," Rea said. "As soon as you get out of hand with confidence, you can go downhill really fast. Everybody feels this is the year everybody has been waiting for, and that's put baseball back on the map."
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