Andy Cannizaro recently talked to the media in preparation for opening day February 16th down in Starkville South against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and answered a lot of the questions we have had this offseason.
• Luke Alexander is our starting shortstop with Hunter Stovall sliding into what I consider his preferred 2B position. I like this move as Luke showed a real knack for defense last year in his shifts at 3B and I trust him to have the range to play SS. Stovall just looks like a 2B and with his grit will be a player Bulldog fans come to love. The Alexander/Stovall connection up the middle should bring back the Cohen like days of huge amounts of double plays.
• Despite him being experimented with at 1B, it looks like Elijah MacNamee will assume his preferred role of RF which he really made his own at the end of last year. In a bit of a surprise, Canni said that freshman Rowdey Jordan will most likely be starting in LF. This was a surprise because many expected Hunter Vansau to take that spot being the veteran. It looks like for now Vansau will assume DH duties and the freshman will get his chance to prove his worth.
• It does not look like Jordan will be the only freshman starting though, as Canni led us to believe that 3B and 1B will be occupied by some talented freshman as well. Tanner Allen has been receiving rave reviews by Canni dating back to signing day and despite missing fall ball due to injury has already pulled even with Justin Foscue for the starting 3B spot. Allen is expected to be a dynamic hitter so I would imagine he will get the first look next weekend.
• At 1B another freshman Josh Hatcher has really impressed in the scrimmages and shown great pop with his bat. Based on the reports I have read about the scrimmages, I would agree and am excited to see this kid make a name for himself at 1B. Especially knowing we have MacNamee we can throw in there if need be and rotate our outfield depth.
• Catcher appears to still be a toss-up but based on what I have been seeing in the scrimmage reports, I would anticipate Marshall Gilbert might get the opening day nod. He has shown great defensive abilities throwing out a number of runners this spring in scrimmages and seems to be farther along offensively than his backup Dustin Skelton. Skelton is still young and can certainly turn it on this year if it starts to click. Catcher is a trying positon so anticipate both of these guys to play a good bit.
• Pitching wise we learned who the first 2 starters will be in Konor Pilkington and Ethan Small, which came as little surprise in my opinion. Pilk is in his money year and with a good year can be a top draft pick while Small is coming off TJ surgery and has looked the part of dominant SEC starter hitting the mid-90s this spring from the left side.
• Jacob Billingsley seems like the likely 3rd starter at this point based on how he ended 2017 and has pitched in scrimmages thus far hitting mid-90s over his innings. JP France brings a wealth of experience as a grad transfer from Tulane who has pitched and beaten LSU, twice.
• The X-Factor in my opinion is Keegan James who, like Small, is coming of TJ surgery and has looked very sharp thus far this spring. I hope Canni lets him start the early midweek games to get some reps and his stamina up before he likely assumes the 3rd spot in the rotation come SEC play.
• We already knew that Spencer Price and Graham Ashcraft are lost for this season, and while many MSU fans screamed the sky is falling down; I am here to say….guys…..relax. We are good. This is nothing like last year in the sense that we still have 14 capable and strong arms with WAY more experience than we did last year. We actually know who 2 of our starters are already which we never knew at any point last year. While Price was a big blow he was not the closer, Riley Self is our closer. He pitched us out of trouble in Hatty and Canni will go to him in the late innings. Oh, and we also have Blake Smith back who probably has the best slider on the team and closed out an SEC Championship for us in 2016. Be cool guys, the pitching is there.
So based on Cannizaro’s press conference and what I can best interpret from the spring scrimmage reports thus far it looks like our lineup will be something like this:
1. CF Jake Mangum (Water is wet sky is blue, Jake Mangum will hit .450)
2. 3B Tanner Allen (Will he start? yes. Will he hit 2nd? Maybe. A bit of a reach but Canni loves this guy and I believe in Canni with every fiber of my being so I am all in)
3. 2B Hunter Stovall (Canni called him perhaps the strongest guy on the team, besides Cannizaro (humble brag), so I want him knocking in Mangum)
4. RF Elijah MacNamee (Our best power hitter should provide the pop in the middle of the lineup)
5. DH Hunter Vansau (He may not start in the OF but his production at the plate will not be ignored)
6. 1B Josh Hatcher (He has homered and doubled multiple times this spring)
7. SS Luke Alexander (Defensively, outstanding. Offensively, Inconsistent. He can pop the ball but needs to just do it more often than once a week like last year)
8. C Marshall Gilbert (JUCO transfer with a solid bat and above average defensively)
9. LF Rowdey Jordan (Canni is high on this kid so again, In Canni I Trust. Show me something kid)
Friday: Konor Pilkington (Think Dakota Hudson of 2016, except left handed)
Saturday: Ethan Small (Think Austin Sexton on 2016, except left handed)
Sunday: Jacob Billingsley (Showed great promise at the end of last year and is showing that this spring)
Midweek Starter: Keegan James (X-Factor)
The road to Omaha is about to begin and the 2018 Diamond Dawgs look primed for greatness. I expect nothing less than for them to usher in the new Dudy Noble right, with a host of a Regional and Super Regional before sending our beloved Dawgs off to Omaha in search of riches and trophies. Clear your June, Dawgs by 90.