The strength of the Mississippi State baseball team has always been in its pitching. The number of quality arms the Bulldog have gathered is impressive, but there will have to be a few players step up and define their role on this year’s team.
Departing Bulldog Relief Pitchers
- Zac Houston - 1.63 ERA, 6-0 Win-Loss Record, 42 K, .201 BAA, 19 BB
- Daniel Brown - 3.62 ERA, 4-2 Win-Loss Record, 54 K, .258 BAA, 18 BB, 2 Saves
- Vance Tatum - 5.24 ERA, 0-0 Win-Loss Record, 23 K, .268 BAA, 7 BB, 1 Save
- Reid Humphreys - 5.56 ERA, 0-1 Win-Loss Record, 31 K, .304 BAA, 7 BB, 7 Saves
Zac Houston made serious strides as a pitcher toward the end of the season and will be seriously missed. He made such great strides, he supplanted Konnor Pilkington as the third starter on the team behind Hudson and Sexton after serving most of the season in the bullpen. State fans are still trying to figure out why he wasn’t brought in at some point during the final game of the Super Regional to help stem the tide.
Brown was the opposite of Houston. He struggled when in the starting rotation, but once he was moved to the bullpen, he began to thrive. Tatum tried his best, but he gave up 5 home runs in 22 innings pitched. Fans started changing his nickname from moonlight to moon shot.
Reid Humphreys took over the closing duties. It wasn’t always easy, but for the most part, he did the job. Someone will need to step up and take over that role in 2017.
Returning Bulldog Relief Pitchers
For the purpose of this preview, if a pitcher was used primarily as a reliever in 2016 but is projected to start in 2017, I’m including them with the starters.
- Ryan Rigby - 2.25 ERA, 5-1 Win-Loss Record, 43 K, .211 BAA, 13 BB, 1 Save
- Blake Smith - 2.93 ERA, 2-2 Win-Loss Record, 31 K, .168 BAA, 15 BB, 5 Saves
- Kale Breaux - 5.40 ERA, 2-1 Win-Loss Record, 19 K, .292 BAA, 10 BB, 1 Save
- Noah Hughes - 8.22 ERA, 0-0 Win-Loss Record, 6 K, .290 BAA, 6 BB, 1 Save
- Ethan Small - Had Tommy John Surgery and is out for 2017
- Keegan James - Had Tommy John surgery and is out for 2017
- Jared Padgett - Had Tommy John Surgery and is out for 2017
The numbers on everyone on this list outside of Blake Smith and Ryan Rigby aren’t pretty. Don’t fret too much, because some of the players who will compete for starting roles will join the bullpen when the rotation is decided upon.
The key for this group will be consistency and maturity. Most of them were called upon way earlier than the coaching staff would have liked in 2016 because the team had to replace so much on the pitching staff. Based off their summer league performances, Ryan Rigby and Blake Smith should continue to pitch well. Rigby will likely fill the same role he did last season as a long relief pitcher and Smith is the likely favorite for closer.
Ethan Small, Jared Padgett, and Keegan James all pitched well in their summer league performances, but all three had Tommy John surgery. None of them will pitch until 2018.
Kale Breaux and Noah Hughes showed improvement over the summer, but there are still questions about their consistency. They need to eliminate walks to stay on the mound.
Incoming Bulldog Pitchers
I’m including every freshman, transfer, and redshirt player. Some will be used in a relief role and some will be used as a starter, but it is too difficult to determine at this point.
- Parker Ford - Lufkin High School (Lufkin, TX) Redshirt Freshman
- Peyton Plumlee - Northwest Community College (Olive Branch, MS)
- Hayden Marze - Louisiana State University Eunice
- Trey Jolley - Hinds Community College (New Albany, MS)
- Trysten Barlow - Dyer County High School (Halls, TN) Redshirt Freshman
- Denver McQuary - Houston High School (Houston, MS)
- Graham Ashcraft - Huntsville High School (Gurley, AL)
- Riley Self - Magnolia Heights (Coldwater, MS)
- Logan Cooke - Punter for the football team
- Jake Mangum - Strictly an outfielder in 2016
- Cole Gordon - Played 1st Base in 2016
It wouldn’t surprise me if any combination of Hayden Marze, Trey Jolley, Graham Ashcraft, Denver McQuary, and Trysten Barlow ended up in the starting rotation. Maybe none of them will. Kale Breaux might as well, but there will be a lot of tinkering with the pitching early on in the season.
The pitcher with the highest upside in this group is Graham Ashcraft. The Dodgers thought high enough of him to draft Ashcraft in the 12th round of the MLB Draft in 2016. He might need some refining much like Dakota Hudson did. Hopefully it won’t take him two years of little to no production to get there, but the potential is definitely there.
Of the true freshmen who could come in and have the most immediate impact would be Denver McQuary. He has received the most buzz as a pitcher, but he has also shown he can handle the bat and might see time at shortstop.
Then there’s Logan Cooke, Jake Mangum, and Cole Gordon. Cooke is supposed to be a strong armed lefty who has been impressive in the Fall. But he’s been the punter for the football team, so I’m not sure how he even got on the team. There’s likely an interesting story behind that, and I can’t wait to hear it.
Mangum has been wanting to pitch for a while, and it looks like he’ll get the opportunity to this season. He’s pitched well, but he might be the most important hitter on the team. If he were to come in as a relief pitcher, you lose his bat, much like the team had to do with Reid Humphreys in 2016. On days the coaches might plan to use him, Brant Blaylock might be the best choice to replace Mangum in the outfield. He has a similar skill set to Mangum so you would hope there wouldn’t be much drop off by putting him in the game.
Gordon has seen some time on the mound, and he could see some time out there as well during games. If he should come off first base to pitch some, there would have to be some juggling of the lineup. Projecting how these players will contribute who also play in the field might be the most difficult call.
Pitching is the biggest question outside of second base entering 2017 like it was in 2016. Players need experience and roles need to be established. If those things can be worked out, the talent is there for a special season.