This is going to be a very exciting season for the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball program. The Diamond Dawgs will be introducing the new Dudy Noble field this fall and expectations are high. Currently ranked 13th in pre-season polls by Collegiate Baseball Magazine, the bulldogs are expected to make the post season again this year and possibly a run for the college world series, which would be their first since 2013.
As most baseball enthusiasts know, baseball is a game of numbers. I have always said that baseball is a sport you cannot pretend to be good at. Many sports allow better or more talented athletes to pick up the slack of their fellow team mates, but not in baseball. The reason for this is because baseball is a team sport based on individual stats and averages that require specific skill sets. It is through these numbers that decisions are made by coaches to better position a team for success.
Second year coach Andy Cannizaro understands the numbers game of baseball, which is a strategical process like a game of chess. Currently Coach Cannizaro is moving his pieces around to counter balance the void left behind from three outstanding players from the 2017 team. First and foremost Brent Rooker, the five tool athlete, was a first round draft pick to the Minnesota Twins and carried some big numbers with him. Rooker Hit 23 of the teams 59 home runs last year, roughly 40 percent of the teams total, while also driving in 82 RBI’s, roughly 24 percent of all runs scored. These are big shoes to fill and most likely cannot be replicated by a single player on the current roster. Other big losses were Ryan Gridley (Oakland A’s) and Cody Brown (New York Yankee’s) together they combined for 15 home runs and 81 RBI’s both roughly 24 percent of the teams totals. In combination, the three athletes accounted for 38 home runs (64 percent) and 163 RBI’s (48 percent) of the 2017 team totals. Here is another number to think about, 346, this is the combined batting average of the three players in 2017, compared to 244, which was the combined average of the rest of the team. The team average included all hitters with 30 or more plate appearances. In actuality only one other player from the 2017 roster managed a batting average over 300, and that was returning center fielder, Jake Mangum.
Yet as mentioned earlier, baseball is a game of numbers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are loaded with talent that can overcome the void left behind. Here are a few names that standout this season and everyone should keep an eye on:
Jake Mangum; the center fielder is a hitting machine and was the SEC batting champ in 2016 as a red shirt freshman and a 2018 Preseason All-American. Mangum is an aggressive hitter that puts the ball in play. Last season Jake accounted for 90 hits and 26 RBI’s those numbers will grow due to the placement in the order.
Hunter Vansau; this young man really got going toward the end of the season and provided several key hits in the regionals; he should carry that momentum into this year’s campaign. Vansau finished last season with 35 hits and 14 RBI’s those number will greatly improve.
Elijah McNamee; is another hitter that should put up good numbers this season both for average and home runs, and finished last season with 48 hits and 22 RBI’s.
Hunter Stoval; is a potential candidate for the lead-off spot and held a pretty good average last season of 288 with 46 hits and 18 RBI’s. Stoval also has the ability to hit for power and will put a few deep for the dawgs this year.
The Bulldogs also have several pitchers returning this season that were out due to Tommy John surgery and other related issues. Last season was filled with pitching issues and the lack of quality starters put unneeded stress on a depleted bull pen. A healthy pitching rotation will ease the pressure on the pitching staff and assist holding teams to a lower scoring rate compared to last season. In 2017, the Bulldogs surrendered 353 runs throughout the season while scoring 373. Having more options on the mound this season should help improve those numbers. The two top pitchers returning this season are Konnor Pilkington, most likely filling the Friday starting role, and Spencer Price, a shutdown reliever. Both pitchers were named as preseason All-American selectees’ last month.
Last, but not least; the Bulldogs have something no other team in the country has and that is Coach Cannizaro or as I like to call him “Buzz Lightyear “due to his intergalactic strength and calmness under-pressure. You must admit , he looks like Buzz Lightyear when he is standing there with his hands on his hips. Moving on, Cannizaro has gained a level of respect from his players and they want to win for him and the university. Cannizaro is a great motivator and showed last season that even with the pitching situation he knew which moves to make to win. I believe he will have every player in position to be successful this season and will lead them to a historic season. Hail State