Although preseason rankings in any sport are essentially for the fans, it is a necessary part of the offseason as fans countdown the final days until that sport arrives. For Mississippi State baseball, this dwindling offseason has seen several preseason rankings come the Bulldogs way, but none like the vote of confidence given to them by Baseball America today.
Mississippi State is ranked 5th in the initial Baseball America Top 25 poll, according to the site's first poll of 2013, which was released today. The Bulldogs, who had previously been ranked 13th by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and 16th by Perfect Game, will start off the season with their highest preseason ranking since 1989, when Ron Polk's team started the year ranked in the number 1 overall spot in the nation. This is also MSU's highest ranking since it was ranked #1 briefly in 2006. Here's just a little of what Baseball America had to say with regards to the 2013 squad:
Defense: 70. This defense has a chance to be special. Slauter has excellent game-calling skills, toughness and intelligence behind the plate, and his catch-and-throw skills are solid. Every infielder returns from a unit that led the nation with 71 double plays. Frazier has fluid actions, sure hands and an accurate arm at short, and Pirtle's instincts and arm strength should make him a fine double-play partner. Rea moves well for his size at first, and Norris is a stalwart at third. All three outfielders have serious athleticism and range; Bradford and Renfroe also bring plus or better arms, and they combined for 15 outfield assists last year.
Although MSU's depth of talent is undeniable coming into the 2013 season, it appears that the difference in this ranking and the others the Bulldogs have received is Baseball America's belief in two things. 1) That three players -- C.T. Bradford, Daryl Norris, and Wes Rea -- will bounce back strongly from injury plagued 2012 seasons, and 2) that MSU will be able to replace All-American Chris Stratton on the pitching staff.
Now that expectations have been laid out for the diamond dogs, it will be interesting to see how they meet them. State will have a chance to stay near the top [of the rankings] for a good portion of the opening part of the season, as MSU will get 23 of its first 24 games at home to start the year. The key will be to avoid the pitfalls of the 2006 squad mentioned previously. That team started the year 19-1 against a mostly favorable schedule, only to finish by losing 21 out of their last 40 games, missing the SEC Tournament and sneaking into the Clemson Regional. Still, after watching the nucleus of this team fall just outs away from the College World Series in 2011 and overcome an inordinate amount of injuries to win the 2012 SEC Tournament, State fans can't help but think that this season should be much different than the 2006 one, or any one that we've seen in quite some time.
Also today, MSU open ranked 18th in the initial USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Poll.