After a long wait following a disappointing 24-30 campaign No. 15 Mississippi State takes the diamond again to battle Florida Atlantic and South Dakota State.
The Owls lost several players in the draft but return several more off a team that finished 42-19, defeated two top 10 opponents, and was ranked as high as No. 12 in the country. I'll focus solely on them right now and break down South Dakota State on Friday.
Friday vs. Florida Atlantic 4:30 p.m.
Saturday vs. South Dakota State 12 p.m.
Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic 3:30 p.m.
Sunday vs. South Dakota State 3:30 p.m.
Who has the edge?
Pitching advantage: Tie
FAU lost its top two starters in the MLB draft to go along with its No. 1 hurler out of the pen. Lone returning starter Brandon Rhodes is scheduled to pitch on Friday against Dakota Hudson. Rhodes doesn't have as much swing-and-miss stuff as Hudson and opponents hit .309 off the lefty last season. Granted, the preseason All-American Hudson has a lot to prove after a down year in which he only contributed 16.2 innings. We'll see if he's ready to prove the hype.
FAU will send a first-year sophomore to the hill on Saturday to go up against Austin Sexton or Daniel Brown (likely Sexton). No explanation needed, advantage Bulldogs. Although MSU has the upper hand in starting pitching, I'll give the edge to FAU in the pen. I already mentioned the Owls lost their top reliever, but they also return five guys that posted a sub 3.60 ERA. The same can't be said for MSU, who lost some of its better relievers. With so many freshmen in the bullpen for MSU, and you can expect some first-time jitters, FAU is better equipped here.
Matchups (2015 stats)
FAU: LHP Brandon Rhodes (4-1, 3.78 ERA, 78.2 IP, 41 K, 14 BB, 33 ER)
MSU: RHP Dakota Hudson (1-1, 4.32 ERA, 16.2 IP, 26 K, 11 BB, 8 ER)
FAU: RHP Marc Stewart (No stats)
MSU: RHP Austin Sexton (4-4, 3.77 ERA, 76.1 IP, 61 K, 24 BB, 32 ER)
Or LHP Daniel Brown (1-0, 4.87 ERA, 20.1 IP, 28 K, 12 BB, 11 ER)
Hitting advantage: Florida Atlantic
I'll probably look like a fool for saying this after the weekend is over but right now FAU returns more players who are proven at the plate. Although two of the Owls' top three hitters are gone off last year's team, they bring back four players who hit over .300 and six of their eight position starters hit .268 or better, led by Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American SS CJ Chatham. Granted, they didn't see the quality of pitching that MSU did, but FAU also returns more power with two players in Esteban Puerta and Christian Dicks who combined to hit 15 long balls.
MSU has loads of talent offensively, both from a speed standpoint and from power potential. But that's assuming guys like Reid Humphreys and Brent Rooker take major steps forward from last season. I don't know what to expect from the Bulldogs offensively until I see it. Not only that, but there are so many guys competing for starting spots that I expect Cohen to play a ton of different players this weekend and mix the lineup dramatically from game to game. Will they be able to stay in a rhythm being moved around? We'll find out.
Starting next weekend I'll also include batting lineups for each team as part of the preview. Until we get a better idea of what Cohen wants to do, that's kind of hard to project at this point.
I will go out on a limb and say MSU takes both games from FAU, only because it's at Dudy Noble and the diamond dogs will come out with a chip on their shoulders after last season's performance. I'm also buying into the hype a bit here and assuming Dakota Hudson is as advertised and the Bulldogs bring more pop with the bats than we saw last year. However, it wouldn't surprise me to see FAU come in and compete even if MSU plays like a top 15 team. In reality, a split is more likely than either team taking two.