I'll look at each position, starting with the pitching.
MSU returns three pitchers who started a game in SEC action (including SEC Tournament games), juniors-to-be Trevor Fitts and Jacob Lindgren and senior-to-be Ben Bracewell.
Fitts started one SEC game, against Missouri in the SEC Tournament. He also started four games in regional and College World Series action. In those five games, he allowed 5 earned runs in 12 innings for a 3.75 ERA. He normally threw 2+ innings in each. Look for him to compete for one of the three SEC rotation spots during the 2014 season.
Lindgren was very effective in non-conference games, giving up 2 earned runs in 18.2 innings (0.96 ERA) but struggled in SEC action, giving up 21 earned runs in 36.1 innings (5.20 ERA). Now that he's gotten a taste of what it's like in SEC ball I expect him to work on his weaknesses and be a strong candidate for a spot in the SEC rotation.
A pitcher who was expected to be a strong candidate for one of the SEC starting rotation spots was Brandon Woodruff. A minor injury caused the junior-to-be to be inconsistent. He eventually had surgery, which ended his season. He's expected to be 100% by the fall. He should once again be a strong candidate for a starting role in SEC action.
Another possible candidate for an SEC role is Bracewell. Ben started one game in SEC action. His overall SEC stats were a 1-1 record and a 2.33 ERA in 19.1 innings of work.
Others will come to the forefront during the fall but those are the ones that stand out at the moment.
As for possible candidates for mid-week games, that could include guys like Myles Gentry, Will Cox, any of the four above that don't pitch in SEC action, and a few of the incoming guys such as hard-throwing RHPs Dakota Hudson and Zach Houston, LHP Vance Tatum, RHP Ben Hudspeth, RHP Austin Sexton, LHP Glenn Irby and RHP Avery Geyer.
I expect the MSU coaching staff to keep Gentry in a middle relief role similar to what he did this past season. I also believe Cox is more of a reliever as well. Due to that, I would anticipate one of the newcomers to fill the mid-week role.
Hudson has the best stuff of the five newcomers, throwing in the low-90s, while touching 95. If he has consistent control of his pitches he could have a very significant impact on next year's team as a starter. I see him starting in SEC action, maybe as early as his sophomore season.
Tatum normally sits in the mid to upper-80s with good control. He could be an option against lineups with a large number of lefties.
Hudspeth, a junior college transfer, is another pitcher who sits in the mid to upper-80s. Unlike the other guys, who are all freshmen, he has experience facing college hitters.
Sexton, who had to sit out the 2013 season due to rehabbing from surgery, is a guy who should throw in the high-80s, touching the low 90s. He was considered one of the top pitchers in the south prior to his injury. If he regains his velo and control this coming season (as is expected), he will be a candidate for the mid-week starting role.
Irby is an intriguing left-handed pitching prospect due to his annual velocity increases. He has seen his consistent velo increase from 78-80 in October, 2010 to 82-86 in October, 2011, then to 86-90 in October, 2012. It wouldn't surprise me to see it increase a couple of more miles per hour by the time he attends MSU this fall. His older brother, C.K. Irby, was drafted in the 10th round by the Minnesota Twins this past June. Like with Hudson, I see Irby being an SEC starting rotation pitcher sometime during his MSU career.
Geyer, a 1st Team Louisville Slugger All-American, led his team to the 2013 national Championship. He was 12-0 with a 0.74 ERA. While he's not what you would called a hard-thrower, he does know how to pitch and win. He's the perfect guy for a pitching coach like Butch Thompson.
Despite the loss of Girodo, the MSU bullpen should once again be a strength of the team, thanks to returners such as juniors-to-be Jonathan Holder and Ross Mitchell and sophomore-to-be Myles Gentry.
Holder and Mitchell gives MSU two post-season All-American pitchers, while Gentry is expected to make a big jump next season after getting his feet wet in SEC and post-season play.
Holder's role will once again be as a closer while Mitchell and Gentry should once again be middle relievers.
Another pitcher who is expected to take a big leap forward is hard-throwing sophomore-to-be John Marc Shelly. He showed promise in non-SEC games but wasn't used in SEC action. Summer baseball at San Luis Obispo should be big for him. In two games with SLO, he has thrown 7 innings, allowing no runs on 4 hits. Teams are only hitting .167 against him.
Sophomore-to-be Preston Brown will also be in the mix for a spot in the bullpen. He had a 3.38 ERA in 8 appearances. His role will likely be more of a middle reliever type.
Add to this mix all of the newcomers listed above - Hudson, Tatum, Hudspeth, Sexton, Irby, as well as hard-throwing RHP Zach Houston - who don't earn a starting spot and you have the potential for another great bullpen for the Bulldogs.
With the departure of seniors Nick Ammirati and Mitch Slauter, this position is wide open. But there is no shortage of talented players, just lack of experience considering none of the ones competing for the spot have played a single game in D-I college baseball.
Two players, redshirt freshman Daniel Garner and redshirt junior Zach Randolph, have worked with the pitchers and with pitching coach Butch Thompson. Due to that, they have a slight advantage over newcomers Cody Walker, a junior college transfer who is a solid hitter and very good defensive catcher, and Gavin Collins, a highly touted freshman who is also a solid hitter and excellent defensive catcher.
Although Garner was redshirted this season, it should be noted that he is playing at San Luis Obispo in the California Collegiate League this summer and doing quite well offensively, hitting .342 with a home run and 23 RBI. He is 16th in the league in batting average and 2nd in runs batted in. Something else that is impressive is he has only struck out 11 times while walking 13 in 89 total at-bats. Due to his offensive game, if he doesn't earn the starting catcher's spot, I could see him being used as the DH.
Junior-to-be Wes Rea will once again be the starting first baseman for the Bulldogs. Rea batted .291 with 7 home runs and 40 RBI during the 2013 season. He played his best ball in post-season, though, hitting ,325 (13-for-40 with 8 RBI) in regional, super regional and College World Series play.
I expect his backup to either be returning senior Alex Detz or newcomer Brent Rooker, a power-hitting freshman who bats from the right side.
Senior-to-be Brett Pirtle won the second base position this past season but could wind up moving to shortstop. Pirtle, once he got into SEC action, hit the ball really well, batting at a .336 clip (36-for-107, 16 RBI) in SEC play. He continued his hot hitting into NCAA post-season play, batting .311 (14-for-45, 5 RBI).
If Pirtle is moved to shortstop, then the second base candidates will likely include junior-to-be Matthew Britton (.250, 0 HR, 1 RBI) and sophomore-to-be Kyle Hann (.219, 0 HR, 1 RBI). Both have excellent arms with Hann having a little more pop in his bat. It's also possible that senior-to-be Alex Detz could move here if freshman newcomer Reid Humphreys shows that he can handle the third base position. Humphreys will also be a candidate for the shortstop position.
I see Pirtle, Matthew Britton and Reid Humphreys competing for the shortstop position. Britton has the strongest arm of the three, with Pirtle being the best offensively on a short-term basis. Long-term, Humphreys is the most talented of the three, defensively and offensively. Humphreys, who was selected Louisville Slugger 1st Team All-American and also selected the state of Mississippi's Gatorade Player of the Year, led the state of Mississippi in home runs with 11 this past season, while batting .389.
Alex Detz, who is set at the third base spot unless he is needed at second base, hit .318 with 1 home run and 31 RBI this past season. During post-season play, he hit .350 (14-for-40, 1 RBI). Other third base candidates include Hann and Humphreys.
Senior-to-be Demarcus Henderson earned the starting left field spot this past season and did well, both offensively and defensively. He hit .274 with 0 home runs and 23 RBI for the season but played his best ball, offensively, in post-season, hitting .308 (12-for-39, 4 RBI).
But with the departure of 1st Team All-American and 1st-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe, it's very possible Henderson might be looked at in right field due to his strong arm. While he doesn't have the bat or power of Renfroe, he has the best arm in the outfield.
If he is moved to right field, then that opens the door for sophomore-to-be Jacob Robson in left field. Robson hit .206 with 0 home runs and 16 RBI this past season but I expect those numbers to be much, much better next season due to his experience.
Also in the mix for left field could be senior-to-be Derrick Armstrong, who hit .266 while knocking in 8 RBI.
Senior-to-be C.T. Bradford returns as MSU's center fielder. He hit .281 with 1 home run and 27 RBI. His backup will likely come from either Jacob Robson or Derrick Armstrong.
With the departure of Renfroe, right field is wide open. If DeMarcus Henderson remains in left field, then that opens the door for Armstrong, Robson and redshirt freshman Cody Brown.
Armstrong and Brown have good arms while Robson might be the best hitter of the four. Armstrong, Brown and Robson are all very good defensive outfielders.
The one to really keep an eye on at this position is Brown. He could end up starting here. Plus, he might even fit into the lineoff spot, replacing Frazier.
Perfect Game predicts MSU will be among the top 8 teams in the nation going into next season. What are the five keys to making that happen?
Key 1) A couple of pitchers have to step forward and give MSU competitive starting pitchers in SEC action.
Brandon Woodruff and Jacob Lindgren are the two that will likely step forward.
Key 2) Renfroe's power and RBI numbers will have to be replaced.
A combination of players will replace his numbers, including, among others, Wes Rea, Alex Detz and Brett Pirtle.
Key 3) A new leadoff hitter has to be found.
He will likely come from one of these three - Brett Pirtle (very rarely strikes out, great on-base %), Alex Detz (outstanding on-base %) or Jacob Robson (great speed)
While the above three may have the lead for this spot, another one to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Cody Brown. If he ultimately wins the right field spot, then he will definitely be in the mix as a leadoff hitter due to his hitting ability, on-base ability and running ability.
Key 4) Someone among the catching candidates has to step forward.
Cody Walker will step forward due to his college experience, excellent arm and defensive ability.
Key 5) Middle reliever Chad Girodo's numbers will have to be replaced.
A combination of Myles Gentry, Preston Brown and John Marc Shelly will offset Girodo's loss.
My Best Guess 2014 Position Starters