The Rebels will once again be a force in the SEC in 2008. With pitching depth and a fall ball session that produced more home runs than in any of Mike Bianco's previous seven autumns, the Rebels will be loaded with hitters, pitchers, and should continue a Bianco trademark of terrific defense.
On the mound, veteran junior righthanders Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite return. Lynn (8-5, 2.85 in 2007) didn't pitch all fall as he recovered from a groin injury he suffered during the summer pitching for Team USA. Satterwhite (4-4, 3.31) pitched in the fall but the coaches didn't bring him along until late. He, too, was rested after a long year of work on the mound.
Other starters should come from a host of talented pitchers, including sophomore lefty Nathan Baker (6-2, 3.92), junior lefty Brett Bukvich (7-3, 4.10), and freshman lefthander Drew Pomeranz. Junior righthanders Scott Bittle (2-5, 2.79) and Rory McKean (0-0, 3.00), and sophomore righty Phillip Irwin (2-0, 3.07) will also be among the starting possibilities. Sophomore righthander Justin Cryer concluded the fall as the most likely candidate for the closer role.
Junior Brett Basham returns behind the plate, but he's in a battle for the top catching spot with junior newcomer Kyle Henson. Both had productive falls and the battle should continue through preseason practice.
The four infield position spots appear to be up in the air among several talented players. First base could find any number of players, including sophomore Cullan Kight, who came on strong at the plate late last season, sophomore Matt Smith, and freshman Cliff Vaughn. Junior Cody Overbeck, who played third last year, could also wind up at first.
At third, Overbeck is still penciled in, but junior Evan Button is also heavily in the mix.
The versatile Button could be the shortstop or second baseman, but several others are also vying for the middle infield positions. Junior transfer Sean Stuyverson may be the frontrunner at short, with sophomore Zach Miller and freshman Tim Ferguson also contenders.
In the outfield, two veterans return along with a handful of newcomers. Two spots will likely go to returning players junior Logan Power and sophomore Jordan Henry. Juco juniors Michael Guerrero or Michael Hubbard, with Matt Smith and junior Jeremy Travis a possibility, will likely man the other outfield spot.
"It may be the most competitive we've been at each position," Bianco said. "We've had some good teams and good players, but it looks like we are at least two deep at every position. And we have a lot of depth on the pitching staff."
By Gene Swindoll
Mississippi State returns most of its pitching staff and five starting position players from a team that appeared in the 2007 College World Series after sweeping Clemson in a two-game Super Regional. That's the good news.
The bad news is State also lost five starting position players, including the top catcher in the nation in Edward Easley, from last year's team. Those five accounted for 29 of MSU's 51 home runs and 233 of the team's 419 runs scored.
State is expected to replace Easley with a left-right hitting combination of sophomore Ryan Duffy and Johnny Allen, a 6-3, 228-pound walk-on from Pearl River Community College. Allen was the surprise of the fall, hitting for both average and power.
The infield will be led by sophomore Brandon Turner, a .399 hitter last season. Also returning are starters Connor Powers (.306), Jet Butler (.245) and Russ Sneed (.316), all of whom are sophomores. While it's expected that Powers will be the opening-day third baseman, look for Sneed and Butler to battle for the shortstop position. First base will probably be manned by junior college transfer Tyler Moore.
In the outfield, starting centerfielder Mark Goforth, a junior, returns after hitting .282. Junior power-hitting Jeff Flagg (.312) is a candidate to play right field along with senior Andy Rice (.209) while redshirt freshman Jason Nappi and junior Nick Hardy will battle it out for left field.
Pitching-wise, State returns two SEC starters, junior Chad Crosswhite and senior Justin Pigott, as well as both mid-week starters and all of its bullpen except for Mitch Moreland, who was drafted and signed, and little-used Mike Valentine. Sophomore Ricky Bowen is expected to take over for departed SEC starter Josh Johnson.
Hard-throwing sophomore Aaron Weatherford, who consistently threw in the 94 to 96 MPH range during the fall, will be State's closer while senior John Lalor, sophomore Greg Houston and Jesse Carver will also work out of the bullpen.
If State's hitting comes through, don't be surprised to see Mississippi State in the 2008 College World Series.