(Jake Mangum) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

A look at some of the top freshmen in the Southeastern Conference

The Southeastern Conference began awarding the league's annual Freshman of the Year award in 2000. Despite having some talented frosh the past 16 years, Mississippi State baseball has never seen one of their players win the coveted honor. With first year outfielder Jake Mangum making a name for himself in league play, the Bulldogs may need to make some room in the trophy case.

Once again the SEC is littered with some of the top freshmen baseball players in the country. While there is not necessarily a youth movement in the league, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, and Missouri are seeing some major contributions from some of their freshest reinforcements. 

Mississippi State fans are awfully proud of freshman outfielder Jake Mangum who found a solid groove once SEC play began. The Jackson Prep product came into his own with some clutch hitting on the road at Vanderbilt and the Pearl, Mississippi native has not looked back.

Mangum is currently second in SEC with a .429 batting average. Only Texas A&M's Boomer White has a better season average at .432. To put that in its' proper perspective, Mangum is fifth nationally in hitting and a serious threat to win the SEC batting title in just his first year on the college level. 

Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen recently commented that one of the keys to Mangum's success is his ability to avoid hitting the routine fly ball. Bulldog fans can bear witness to that fact.

Another variable in the equation is Mangum's ability to simply put the ball in play. Mangum has just seven strikeouts on the season, which is the fewest punch outs in the SEC for players with 100 at bats or more. 

With 41 appearances and 21 starts to his credit, Mangum has become a big part of the Mississippi State offensive attack. Bulldog captain Jacob Robson has been on the shelf nursing a hand injury and Mangum has held down the center field spot like a seasoned veteran during Robson's absence. 

Regional and National analysts are all beginning to take note of Mangum and his hard nosed brand of baseball. As the Bulldogs continue to chase an SEC West crown and a potential top eight national seed in the College World Series, Mangum's national profile is expected to grow.

In order to become the first Diamond Dawg to be named Freshman Player of the Year, Mangum will have to beat out some extremely talented players, many who have more starts and at bats on the campaign.

Perhaps the biggest competition Mangum has is LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis. Duplantis has started all 41 games for the Tigers and is currently hitting .358 and has 59 hits on the season, ten stolen bases in fourteen attempts and has not committed an error. 

Florida third baseman Jonathan India has begun making a name for himself in a Florida line-up that features three talented freshman. India is hitting .323 and has started 38 games for the Gators. India's 27 RBIs are tops among SEC Freshmen.

Vanderbilt has a pair of first year infielders who are producing well above Freshmen expectations. Ethan Paul has pounded out 32 hits in 36 games for a .320 average. On the defensive side of things, Paul has had some growing pains committing 12 errors so far on the season.

Commodore teammate Alonzo Jones has been better in the field and also boasts a solid .303 average on the season. Jones has been especially effective with runners in scoring position driving in 27 runs so far. 

Ole Miss outfielder Ryan Olenek excited Rebel fans last week when his late home run tied the Sunday game with Auburn, which propelled Mike Bianco's team to a three game sweep of the visiting Tigers. Olenek is hitting .305 on the year and has worked his way into an every day starter with 28 starts under his belt. In 33 games, Olenek has 32 hits, six of those for extra bases.

Alabama second baseman Cobie Vance has started every game for the Tide this season. Vance is currently hitting .280 and leads the team with 110 defensive assists. Vance elected to head to Tuscaloosa despite being drafted in the 16th round in last June's Major League Baseball draft. 

Georgia's Michael Curry has hit his way into the regular starting line up. While his .237 average is not especially noteworthy, Curry has connected for six home runs this season, which gives him the big fly lead among the league's freshmen.

Former SEC Freshman of the Week Tristan Pompey of Kentucky is also enjoying a coming out party. The talented Canadian is ,248 with a dozen extra base hits including four home runs. Like a lot of young power hitters, Pompey has been subject to the strikeout. The 6-4, 205 pounder has been rung up 32 times in 101 at bats. 

South Carolina has an experienced club, which makes it difficult for young guys to break through. Freshman L.T. Tolbert has started 38 games this season and hit safely 33 times. The promising first baseman has been solid on defense having a hand in 221 put outs against just four errors.

The Gamecocks have also had two freshmen pitchers receive weekly league honors this campaign with Adam Hill and Braden Webb both being recognized. In ten starts, Hill has a 6-0 record with a 2.57 ERA and nearly a 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. Webb has been just as strong, recording an 8-2 mark with a 3.28 ERA and 76 strikeouts. 

Missouri has also seen a pair of newcomers honored by the league for their Freshmen exploits, second baseman Connor Brumfield and utility guy Brian Sharp. Sharp serves as the designated hitter and pitches on occasion. While neither are serious threats to win Freshman of the Year honors, both are candidates for the All-Freshmen team.

With four SEC series left to play, it appears that Mangum should be one of the top four serious contenders for the Freshman of the Year honor.  LSU's Antonie Duplantis may prove to be the biggest threat, but if Mangum stays hot and makes a run at the SEC batting crown it would be tough to argue against him.

On the pitching side of things, SEC leaders South Carolina have some very talented arms putting up some big numbers. Nearly half of the Gamecock wins have come with a Freshman starter on the mound. With top five match-ups coming up against #1 Florida and #2 Texas A&M, the young South Carolina arms will have a chance to play their way in or out of contention. 

It is still a pretty much a dead heat. The SEC Weekly honors have been spread out among several players, so there is no consensus favorite as a result. Jake Mangum won the weekly honor earlier this month, while Duplantis has not been tabbed with the award yet. 

While each team continues to fight for post season seeding, the battle for first year player supremacy will be waged as an interesting subplot. Who can stay hot? Only time well tell, but Bulldog fans everywhere are more than happy to make the case for their guy who is clearly a star on the rise.

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