Here are 11 thoughts about the Mississippi State baseball team after watching the three scrimmages this past weekend.
1) The first thing that stands out is the number of pitchers who can top out at 90 or 90+ miles per hour with their fastball. Twenty-one pitchers threw during the weekend and eighteen of those topped out at 90 or higher. And nine of those eighteen topped out at 92 or better. The hardest thrower was freshman Graham Ashcraft, who consistently threw 92-95 and topped out at 96 (MSU baseball's gun had him topped out at 97). He was followed closely by juco transfer Trey Jolly (92-94, 95, a MLB scout had him at 96 using the same type Stalker gun that I was using), another freshman, Denver McQuary (91-93, 94), sophomore Konnor Pilkington (91-93, 94) and another juco transfer Hayden Marze (91-93, 93).
2) Of all of the pitchers who threw this weekend, I was most impressed with freshman Denver McQuary. He showed a great fastball and an even better curve. That curve got him four strikeouts during his two innings of pitching. Not far behind him was another freshman, Riley Self. Self, while not as hard of a thrower as McQuary (89-90, 90), had three Ks during his two innings, including two of MSU's top hitters, Jake Mangum and Ryan Gridley. Senior Blake Smith also showed improvement since last season, showing a 90-92 fastball and great command of his off-speed pitches. He struck out the side in his one inning, two on his off-speed pitches.
3) Several pitchers did not throw, including Jared Padgett (surgery/rehab), Ryan Rigby (he is fine, could pitch this weekend), Ethan Small (surgery/rehab), Jacob Billingsley (rehab) and Noah Hughes (surgery/rehab).
4) Who will start in the SEC rotation? While it is much too early to know who will do what, Konnor Pilkington looks to be a strong contender for the SEC Friday night spot. He had a very good freshman campaign, then went to the Cape Cod League and won all-star honors. He showed a very good fastball and two solid other pitchers during his Friday two-inning outing, striking out four, all on his fastball. Sophomore Keegan James, who missed three weeks of fall practice due to resting his arm, will also factor in as an SEC starter. While he struggled early in his outing, giving up a grand slam to Cole Gordon, he settled down after that and got three of the next four batters, two on strikeouts. He showed a low to mid-90s fastball at the SEC Tournament. His arm is obviously not back to full strength because his fastball was in the 88-91 range this past weekend. Any number of other pitchers could contend for SEC starting duties, including sophomores Kale Breaux, sophomore juco transfer Peyton Plumlee, and sophomore Ryan Cyr. Redshirt freshman Parker Ford, who had Tommy John Surgery last year and is still building arm strength from that, could also contend.
5) Who will close? Two pitchers showed closer type stuff, Blake Smith and Denver McQuary. Both showed that they can get strikeouts if needed. Another potential closer, based on his first outing, is Trey Jolly. He showed a low to mid-90s fastball and solid off-speed pitches. One other potential closer, Ryan Rigby, didn't pitch during the weekend.
6) Hitting-wise, outfielder Jake Mangum continues to look like the Mangum of last year, hitting .400 (4-of-10). Two other returners, infielder Hunter Stovall and outfielder Brent Rooker, looked improved, hitting .455 (5-of-11) and .444 (4-of-9). Rooker hit two doubles and a home run. Of the newcomers, third baseman/catcher Dustin Skelton looked the most impressive, hitting .800 (4-of-5) with a home run, three walks and 2 RBI. He also looked good defensively at third base. Although he is not a newcomer (he redshirted last season), junior outfielder Tanner Poole hit the ball well and showed a good eye at the plate, hitting .750 (3-of-4) with 2 walks and 1 HBP. He also showed exceptional speed while legging out a triple. He played left field and center field. He's a guy to keep an eye on.
7) One of the burning questions is who will play first base? During the first three scrimmages, first base was mainly played by junior Cole Gordon and junior college transfer Hunter Vansau. Gordon, due to his hitting, earned an edge. He was 2-of-6 with two walks, a home run and 5 RBI.
8) Anther question mark is who will play third base? Stovall, juco transfer Harrison Bragg and Skelton all played third base this past weekend. If Stovall doesn't play second base, then he would likely be the leading candidate for third. He has a very good arm, is very athletic and is showing very good improvement hitting the ball.
9) There are several newcomers at second base and shortstop but if you want a guess from me, returners Ryan Gridley, Luke Alexander and, if he doesn't play third base, Hunter Stovall are the leaders for those two positions. Newcomer McQuary is making a case for playing time due to his arm, defense and solid hitting.
10) Outfield-wise, Jake Mangum and Brent Rooker have two spots sold up. The two very early contenders for the remaining spot are senior Cody Brown and Tanner Poole. One other potential contender is juco transfer Elijah MacNamee. He didn't play this past weekend but showed excellent hitting ability at Blinn, hitting .403 with 8 home runs.
11) The contenders at catcher are sophomore Elih Marrero, senior Josh Lovelady and freshman Skelton. Both Marrero and Lovelady showed good defensive skills this past weekend, although neither hit the ball that well. Skelton showed the best hitting ability of the three but is behind the other two defensively and knowing the pitchers.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network.