The Cleburne County High School product signed on as part of MSU coach John Cohen’s second recruiting class in a major rebuilding undertaking. Watson saw opportunities to play right away, as well as a chance to make a significant impact in the Bulldogs’ future.
That also meant Watson — and the rest of the freshmen — would endure some growing pains. Mississippi State isn’t a deep enough team yet to shelter talented young pitchers, such as Watson, from big spots in important games.
Such was the case Saturday when Watson made an appearance in the pivotal seventh inning of Auburn’s 16-14 victory.
Watson entered with the game tied and a runner on third and two outs. On two occasions, he came within a strike of escaping the jam — getting two quick strikes on Trent Mummey and Brian Fletcher.
As true freshman are prone, however, Watson made two-strike mistakes. He hit Mummey, who had flailed on two previous curveballs, with an 0-2 fastball. He also gave up a two-run double to Fletcher when the junior sat on a 1-2 curve.
“As a freshman in this league, it’s such a huge jump that it’s hard to allow a freshman to get big innings,” Cohen said. “(Saturday) was kind of a tough day for him, but we really believe in C.C.
“There’s no shortage of effort or great attitude or skill level. I think he’s going to be a great one.”
Speaking a day later, Watson had seemingly already shaken off the rough outing.
Even after Saturday, Watson still has very respectable numbers as a freshman. He has a 2-1 record with a 4.85 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 13 innings.
Right now, everything he encounters is a lesson in learning how to succeed in the SEC.
“The first lesson I learned is to keep the ball down,” Watson said Sunday. “If you leave it up, it gets hit a long way.
“I also learned you have to throw more than one pitch in this league, and they’ve all got to be quality pitches. You can’t ever take a pitch off or anything.”
Watson is one of five Alabama pitchers that Cohen has charged with the task of rejuvenating MSU’s program.
Ben Bracewood, Luke Bole, Chad Girodo and Kendall Graveman make up the rest of the youth pitching movement infused from Alabama at MSU.
All of them have been forced into significant roles as true freshmen and Cohen turned to all five during the weekend. Bole, a Hartselle native, started Sunday’s game.
“There are times where they get exploited because they’re experiencing Alabama for the first time or Auburn for the first time,” Cohen said. “They’re really important and they’re all going to be good players. The positive thing about it is it’s a good experience.
“Even to get beat and get punched in the nose a little bit, that’s a good experience because you remember that.”
As for Watson’s future, the southpaw said he would like to eventually start.
Cohen said he has not closed the door on that possibility, but said he could also see Watson in a closer role as a power arm.
Which path Watson takes, Cohen said, is up to how far the true freshman progresses.
It could also depend on Watson’s health. He has been unavailable in several games this year with a shoulder injury.
Watson visited James Andrews to inspect his shoulder and got encouraging news from the famed orthopedist: No surgery. Still, Watson is pitching through a sore arm — which he said feels somewhat dead.
Write it off as one more lesson Watson is learning as a freshman.
With the way last year unfolded, these were lessons Watson could be learning in a professional organization last year.
Instead, he chose to attend MSU. One year in, it’s a decision of which Watson said he is still proud.
“In the long run, I think it’s going to help me a lot,” Watson said. “This year, it’s a tough freshman year. There’s no doubt about it. But I believe in the long run, I’m going to be a lot better and have good draft stock.”