Draft, Departure Begins Trimming 2016 Roster

There will still be plenty of roster trimming between now and Opening Day 2016. But the first few self-selected ‘cuts’ have already occurred, whether by recruited players opting for professional baseball or veterans moving on in their own career paths.

Starting pitcher Preston Brown has made official the anticipated choice to pass on a senior season with Mississippi State. Brown will enroll in medical school, a move discussed by Diamond Dog folk and fans through the 2015 season.

Brown exits after achieving the status of lead Dog in the 2015 starting rotation. He was 5-8 in 14 starts with a 4.77 ERA. Brown had the most victories of any MSU moundsman, starter or relief, and was second in both innings and strikeouts. He finished a three-season career with a 9-11 record in 35 appearances, 23 of them starts.

With Brown’s leaving and graduation losses, State returns at-most 26 starts out of 54 games. Realistically the only returning weekend starter is junior righty Austin Sexton, who opened all 13 of his appearances with a 4-4 record, 3.77 era. Junior lefty Vance Tatum started eight of his 15 outings though with a 3-2 record. So there is some starting experience to build with. Objectively though State is banking heavily—to say the least—on younger and newer arms to form a real rotation for the first time in many seasons.

Brown is the first underclassman to leave the program, though obviously for a very different and laudable career reason than usual. There were 29 Bulldogs on the 2015 roster who were juniors, sophomores, or freshmen. None were selected during the June 8-10 Major League Baseball draft, though realistically just one or maybe two players were regarded as potential picks.

Obviously not all those 29, or now 28 with Brown’s graduation to medical college, are scholarship players since the NCAA caps that roster at 27. There were only eight seniors on the ’15 roster, none of them drafted either this June.

Meanwhile Coach John Cohen’s seventh recruiting class at Mississippi State is not only the largest with an acknowledged 19 signees and at least four more un-acknowledged walk-ons. It is by all measures the best signing class procured by this coaching staff.

That was shown during the draft when six State signees were drafted. Three of them won’t make it to Dudy Noble Field though, having signed professional contracts already.

The latest and likely the biggest ‘winner’ is righthanded pitcher Gray Fenter. A seventh-round selection by Baltimore, he went into the draft at least publicly talking about having to make a decision. Within hours of hearing his name called on the second day, he was hearing some surprisingly big numbers from the Orioles.

Ten days of waiting and working the process produced a $1,000,000 contract, according to media covering the club. That was far above the standard allotment for a seventh-round pitcher, especially a righty, which is listed at $178,000 from the ‘draft pool’ money for 11-through-40 round picks.

State’s hopes of holding Fenter vanished the day he was drafted even before negotiations got serious. And no Bulldog seriously figured to keep third baseman/righthanded pitcher Austin Riley even before he was taken on the first day, 41st overall, by Atlanta. He has signed a deal reported at $1.6 million which is a bit better than the listed ‘slot value’.

Also, outfielder and power-hitting lefthander Greg Pickett was a recruiting reach all along. Though not drafted until the 8th round, by Philadelphia, which is a listed value of around $160,000, Pickett quickly came to terms.

But again none of these three cases surprised State’s coaching staff. Nor was it a waste of recruiting effort either. Signing top-tier talents is an obvious gamble but never signing them guarantees no chance of the player coming to school should he drop unexpectedly in the draft, have a high school injury, or just decide he’d enjoy a few years developing in college baseball.

Mississippi State certainly hit it big with, apparently, keeping three drafted recruits; along with some highly-rated prospects who made clear their college ambitions. Lefthanded pitcher Jared Padgett (26th round, Chicago Cubs), shortstop Delvin Zinn (28th round, Cubs), and C Elih Marrero (29th round, Cincinnati) are all standing by their Mississippi State signing so far.

July 17 is the deadline to sign with the drafting franchise.

Assuming no late signings or issues with recruits and walk-ons, there will be a projected (but not official) 19 new Diamond Dogs at the very least enrolling this fall semester. Add that to the eligible underclassmen count and Mississippi State would be way, way over the maximum Opening Day roster of 35 players.

Meanwhile, a total of at least 23 Mississippi State underclassmen are reported playing in summer leagues around the country. The exact number is somewhat flexible as players come and go during June and July weeks. Also, two players are shown as representing MSU who were not on the 2015 roster at all; righthanded pitchers Cole Barlow and Blake Smith.

The summer ball crew does not include one absolutely key ’16 figure. Junior catcher Gavin Collins is sidelined by another surgery for the catching-hand condition that was also addressed last winter. Collins battled back to play 35 games with 30 starts either behind the dish, as a designated hitter or outfielder. This operation should have him ready for the junior year and, for once, at full-health.

Health issues also have limited two Bulldog pitchers. RHP Jacob Billingsley was lost before the ’15 season to a shoulder surgery; and RHP Myles Gentry went down after five early-season appearances. And while he did throw twice, very briefly, during the season, righthander Paul Young is still not entirely back from his 2013 Tommy John procedure.

Whether any of these recovering players opt out before fall ball remains to be seen. Also not listed on any summer league roster at the moment are outfielder Joey Swinarski, lefthanded pitcher Paxton Stover, and lefthanded pitcher/first baseman Trent Waddell. UPDATE: MSU Media Relations confirmed those three are not playing on a summer league roster.

A couple of pitchers not listed in the original MSU release on summer league play have been on the hill this month. Righty Levi Mintz did make it to the Cape Cod league, which features a sizable contingent of Bulldogs this summer; and lefty Andrew Mahoney was to throw in Elmira, conveniently where catcher Josh Lovelady is working.

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