Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Monday Morning Coffee Break

Now that the fall baseball practices have been completed. here are my thoughts about the Mississippi State baseball team.

Two things come to my mind about this year's team .... 1) the depth and quality of the pitching staff and 2) more power hitting.

This year's pitching staff could be the most talented and deepest staff during the John Cohen era.

You can start with the junior class of Dakota Hudson, Daniel Brown, Austin Sexton, Vance Tatum and Zac Houston.

Hudson, Sexton and Brown had outstanding falls. Hudson, who is a potential first-round draft pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, showed a moving 93-95 miles per hour fastball that topped out at 97 and an 89-91 miles per hour cutter. His ERA was 1.80. Sexton, who has one of the top changeups in the SEC, had the best fall of the three with an ERA of 1.15, allowing just 9 hits and 4 walks in 15.2 innings while striking out 19. Brown was consistently in the low 90s with his fastball. Like Sexton, his strikeout to walk ratio was outstanding - 19 Ks to 4 walks.

Those three should be MSU's SEC starting rotation. But don't count out Vance Tatum if anybody falters. While his fall ERA was higher than the other three (3.80), like them he didn't walk many, 3 in 16.1 innings. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s. It's very possible he could be used in relief during SEC games or as a mid-week starter.

Houston, with his mid-90s fastball, could end up being MSU's closer this coming season. He just needs to develop more consistency with men on base.

Another junior could factor in as a closer, Paul Young. He didn't have good stats during the fall but he showed signs of getting his mid-90s fastball back after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He was consistently throwing 91 to 92 miles per hour during the fall with a Jonathan Holder type curveball at times. If he continues to add velo, then he could be a big factor in relief. A third junior pitcher is juco transfer Blake Smith. He showed a low-90s fastball during the fall and could definitely be a factor in middle relief.

Sophomore Jacob Billingsley is another one to watch. Due to an injury, he only pitched once in the fall but showed good stuff during his lone appearance, topping out at 90 with an outstanding curve.

Junior Logan Elliot and sophomore Ryan Rigby, both sidearmers, should also factor in as middle relievers or spot relief.

If any of the veterans don't live up to expectations, a very talented freshman class is waiting in the wings.

All 10 freshmen pitchers hit 90 or above with their fastballs during the fall, with 8 topping out at 91 or better. Four of those eight - Ethan Small, Keegan James, Jared Padgett and Ryan Cyr - topped out in the 92-93 mph range.

I see most of the freshmen pitchers getting their feet wet this year, most likely as mid-week starters or relievers.

While the pitching will be this year's strength, something else about this year's team will get the fans even more excited, more power hitting.

During the 2014 fall scrimmages, MSU hitters hit 6 home runs, 27 doubles and 5 triples. This fall, Bulldog hitters doubled those numbers, 14 home runs, 54 doubles and 10 triples.

Leading the way in home runs were redshirt sophomore Brent Rooker with 4 and redshirt freshman Cole Gordon and sophomore Jacob Barfield with 3 each. All three should see action during the upcoming season. Rooker will likely be MSU's right fielder while Gordon and Barfield could factor in at first base or DH.

Two other potential power hitters are juco transfer Nate Lowe and junior Reid Humphreys. Neither one hit a home run during the fall but the potential is there. Lowe, who hit .300 in the fall, is likely the leading candidate for first base, while Humphreys in one of the leading candidate for left field. Cody Brown, who batted .333 during the fall, is also a factor at both corner outfield spots.

Redshirt junior Jacob Robson and senior Michael Smith are in a battle for center field. During the fall, Robson had a better batting average but Smith was better at getting on base.

Freshmen Jake Mangum and Brant Blaylock add depth in the outfield.

Second base should once again be manned by senior John Holland. Holland was dealing with an injury the entire fall and didn't have any at bats. He will likely be the starter on opening day but two outstanding freshmen are waiting in the wings, Hunter Stovall and Delvin Zinn. Both were impressive in the fall, especially defensively.

Sophomore Ryan Gridley is likely the leading candidate at shortstop but highly-touted freshman Luke Alexander is ready in the wings if needed.

Third base could end up in the hands of junior Gavin Collins. Collins was MSU's regular catcher last season but due to an injury didn't catch much during the fall. He spent most of his time at third while recovering from the injury. If he ends up back at catcher, then third base should be a battle between junior Luke Reynolds and senior Matt Spruill. Freshman Stovall could also factor in.

The emergence of freshman switch-hitting catcher Elih Marrero bodes well for that position for the next three years. He not only looked good defensively but he also showed an outstanding arm and hit the ball really well (.318 batting average).

The best hitter during the fall is a third catcher, juco transfer Jack Kruger. Kruger originally signed with Oregon before transferring to juco ball after his freshman season. During the fall, he batted .400 with a .557 on-base percentage, both the best among all hitters. In 62 plate appearances he only struck out 3 times. The Bulldog coaches will need to find a place for him in the lineup.

With the potential for an outstanding pitching staff and more power hitting in the lineup, 2016 could be another outstanding season for Bulldog baseball.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network.

Gene's Page Top Stories