It’s a year of change for the Mississippi State Baseball team. 2017 will see the introduction of a brand new coaching staff. There will be a host of new players in the lineup and on the pitcher’s mound. We’ll even see the start of construction to a massive overhaul of Dudy Noble Field when the season comes to an end. So what will it mean to the on field results?
No one really knows for sure, but in general, I am probably a little more optimistic than most when it comes to the prospects of the 2017 Mississippi State Baseball season. The team lost a ton of talent from the SEC Championship team from a season ago, but years of great recruiting leading into this season should help keep the team afloat. I think the Bulldogs will be okay because of their depth and their schedule.
Mississippi State is going to go into the 2017 season with very few questions about the lineup, and a lot of questions about the pitching. In the lineup, the only positions Andy Cannizaro didn’t seem 100% on during Baseball Media Days was Catcher and Left Field. He had first base narrowed down to two players, but it seemed to be pretty much determined aside from that.
If for some reason some of the players who will be new to the lineup this season don’t pan out at first, there will be options behind them. In the outfield, Mangum and Rooker should be solid as we have seen what they can do, but Poole, Vansau, Blaylock, and MacNamee will all be options if one of them struggles to get the job done.
In the infield, there is a proven player in Ryan Gridley, but Luke Alexander at third looked good until he was hurt in 2016. Hunter Stovall has been a solid utility player in the past, and Cole Gordon provides tremendous upside while Cody Brown provides a consistent presence if Gordon can’t cash in on that upside. Harrison Bragg, Reed Smith, and possibly Dustin Skelton, depending on how the coaching staff chooses to use him, could all provide backup options should the players pegged to start struggle.
Catcher might have the most questions surrounding it for everyday players, but the team has three players who can compete. Lovelady and Marrero both have experience, and Dustin Skelton provides some of the best raw natural talent at any position on the team.
For pitching, the team has lots of questions but lots of options. There could be 10 to 15 players competing for what amounts to 4 or 5 starting rotation spots. The only one who is locked into a role is Konnor Pilkington. Everyone else is searching for their identity and their role on the roster.
The 2017 schedule won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination simply because it is the SEC. But if you wanted to call any schedule for an SEC team a favorable one, this is probably as close as you can get.
The Bulldogs will have challenges before they reach their first weekend of SEC play against Arkansas in Fayetteville. Texas Tech and Western Illinois come to Starkville this weekend. Western Illinois should be two wins, but the Bulldogs have quite the challenge in Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were a College World Series participant in 2016, and have a good offense with some experienced pitching coming with them in 2017.
In two weeks, the Bulldogs will travel to Eugene, OR to take on the Ducks. The Ducks likely won’t enter that series with the same amount of hype as they did in 2016, but they still have quality arms to run out on the mound. If the Bulldogs can keep the Ducks’ bats silent as they did a year ago, they should be able to take home a road series win.
The last weekend of non-conference play will see South Alabama and Columbia come to Starkville. South Alabama is being picked by many experts around the country to be the sleeper team that surprises people this year. They won’t be an easy out.
The Bulldogs caught some breaks in the SEC schedule. The team doesn’t have to play Vanderbilt or Florida from the East, and the only one of the big three from that side of the SEC they have to challenge is South Carolina.
The first four series of SEC play are at Arkansas, home against Tennessee, at Ole Miss, and home versus Kentucky. All the series are winnable, (not saying they will win all of them, it’s just possible) and if they can come out with a chance to be no worse than .500 when they travel to South Carolina for the fifth series of the season, then the Bulldogs could rack up some wins when Alabama and Auburn come to Starkville for weekends six and seven of SEC play.
The Bulldogs need to enter the last three weekends of play with no worse than a 12-9 record, preferably 13-8 or 14-7, if they want to have a decent chance of getting to at least .500 in SEC play. The Bulldogs will head to Texas A&M and Georgia, and then get the team I personally believe is the best in the country in LSU at home for the last weekend of the season. Georgia will be a winnable series, but pulling out a series victory over Texas A&M on the road and against LSU at home will be daunting.
This team probably won’t win the SEC Championship again, but they have talent. A season that sees the Baseball Team win anywhere from 32 to 36 games overall seems like a reasonable range. In SEC play, I wouldn’t expect them to win less than 13 games as a floor and a ceiling of 17 to 18 wins.
As much as Mississippi State fans love to see us host, this season seems like a long shot, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility. A two seed seems like the best bet, but the possibility of going as low a three seed. It’s not completely far fethced for this team to not make the NCAA Tournament, but there is enough talent in place to make that a severe worst case scenario.
The Bulldogs will get a chance to defend an SEC Championship for the first time in 27 years. Will they do it? We’ll find out starting today.