Mississippi State baseball had one of its most productive seasons in decades at the plate in 2016. But despite the production with the bat, the team likely doesn’t make its run to the 2016 SEC Championship without the stellar starting pitching it received from Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton. Both Hudson and Sexton were drafted by the Cardinals in 2016, so the Bulldogs will have to turn the pitcher’s mound over to some new starters in 2017. Zac Houston started some at the end of the season, but I included him with the relievers since that was the role he served for most of the season.
Departing Bulldog Starting Pitchers
- Dakota Hudson - 2.55 ERA, 9-5 Win-Loss Record, 115 K, .248 BAA, 35 BB
- Austin Sexton - 3.56 ERA, 8-3 Win-Loss Record, 98 K, .264 BAA, 25 BB
The most important thing for the Bulldog pitching staff is to have a true ace emerge for the opening game of SEC play each weekend. If everything we have heard is right, Konnor Pilkington is ready to take that role. Everything else is going to be worked out in the weeks leading up to SEC play.
Returning Bulldog Starting 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.
- Konnor Pilkington - 2.08 ERA, 3-1 Win-Loss Record, 42 K, .229 BAA, 15 BB
- Ryan Cyr - 1.04 ERA, 1-1 Win-Loss Record, 11 K, .233 BAA, 7 BB
- Jacob Billingsley- 1.80 ERA, 0-0 Win-Loss Record, 14 K, .278 BAA, 3 BB
Konnor Pilkington made his debut as a weekend starter in one of the toughest spots imaginable. He took the mound in game 3 against Florida needing to pick up a win to take the series. He didn’t get the win himself, but he held a very potent Florida offense at bay and allowed the Bulldogs to stay in the game and win the game in the late innings.
That start helped propel him to a solid freshman season. Pilkington began to struggle late in the season, but he took what he learned and had an amazing Summer League performance in the Cape Cod League. The growth he showed and the way scouts have raved about his maturation rivaled what we heard about Dakota Hudson leading into the 2016 season.
I don’t know if Konnor Pilkington will be able to match those lofty expectations, but he has shown the talent to do it. If he can go out and match the best starters in the SEC on Friday nights, the Bulldogs will have a chance to be pretty good.
Between Ryan Cyr and Jacob Billingsley, I would anticipate at least one of them starting, either during the midweek or on the weekend. They both could end up starting despite their lack of experience doing so. Both players started in their summer leagues, and they performed really well themselves, it just wasn’t in the Cape Cod League which is the premiere league for college players to develop in the offseason. Jacob Billingsley has been rehabbig an injury, and that might hurt his progress toward getting in the starting rotation. It’s entirely possible both end up in the bullpen as well, but they were signed to be starters and I think at least one of them will make that transition this season.
Keegan James looked like he was going to have a really good chance to join the starting rotation earlier in the year. He was pitching as well as anyone on the staff, but then he suffered an injury and had to have Tommy John surgery, so he won’t be pitching this season. Kale Breaux shouldn’t be ruled out either, but he’ll have to be more consistent to get in the starting rotation.
Incoming Bulldog Pitchers
Some of these players will start, the rest will be used primarily as relievers.
- 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
- Graham Ashcraft - Huntsville High School (Gurley, AL)
These five newcomers appear to be the best candidates for starting spots in 2017. Three of them are JUCO transfers, and will be the most ready to start. Marze and Jolley have strong arms and consistently hit 95+ on their fastball. Peyton Plumlee doesn’t throw as hard but showed he could be an innings eater at Northwest Community College, and made some impressive strides in his Summer League play.
Of the two incoming freshmen, Graham Ashcraft has the most potential. He was a 12th round draft pick by the Dodgers, but he has to demonstrate he can control his amazing stuff. If he can, he could be an impact player as a freshman.
The starting rotation is going to be a work in progress. If three or four players can step up and get a firm grip on rotation spots, then there should be less games where the Bulldogs have bullpen games. But with the uncertainty of who will be the guys to take the mound each week, expect there to be some shuffling early on in the season. If Pilkington can be the ace, and the Bulldogs can find two more guys to be solid on the mound for them, then the Mississippi State baseball team should be fine in 2017.