Fall work considered successful for MSU baseball

Mississippi State's Jake Mangum

Staff Writer

So much has changed for the Mississippi State baseball team over the course of a year.

For one, the Diamond Dawgs unexpectedly lost its head coach after one weekend last season when Andy Cannizaro abruptly resigned. It was year two for the promising young head coach who had sent the Bulldogs to the super regionals as a first-year head coach and was putting together a talented second team.

That crew overcame some early struggles to become a super regional team once again and booked a trip to the College World Series getting within a game of the national championship finals. Now, former Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis has taken over and he just completed his first fall as the head coach of MSU.

The fall practices might have been the biggest change from one year to the next. The Diamond Dawgs spent almost the entirety of last fall practicing and scrimmaging inside the Palmeiro Center with limited space as the new Dudy Noble Field was being constructed.

“It was a lot smoother," MSU senior outfielder Jake Mangum said. "Last year we were inside every day and tougher to get done what we needed to get done. It was a lot healthier. It was an early fall. Last year I think we were just getting started so it was productive and fun.”

Mangum has turned down the Major Leagues two years in a row to stay in Starkville and compete for championships. His first goal was to make it to Omaha, Neb., and the CWS and it was accomplished this year. Now, he’s waiting to accomplish winning it all.

The team took a step into that direction during the fall baseball scrimmages and in practice. Much of the positive work came from the new coaching staff and what they’re implementing.

“Coach Lemonis brings something different to the table, as every new coach would," Mangum said. "We’re getting positive feedback from the guys and everyone is buying in,” Mangum said. “We’ve got a game plan together and we’re going to stick to it.”

Lemonis inherited a pretty strong situation in Starkville. He’s returning the starting outfield as well as first and third base and ace pitcher Ethan Small on the mound. Add in a top 10 signing class and there’s much to like about what is returning.

As much as the experienced players have proven themselves in the Southeastern Conference and on the biggest stages, there’s still competition to be had with the incoming group of players. The every day starters appear to be just about set in stone at the outfield spots with Rowdey Jordan in left field, Mangum in center and Elijah MacNamee in right field, but everywhere else is still unknown.

State had Justin Foscue repping at second and third base as did true freshman Landon Jordan who was one of the most impressive hitters of the fall. Both players are likely to find a spot at either of those infield positions.

That leaves Tanner Allen to likely occupy first base again, and junior college transfer Gunner Halter the prime candidate for shortstop. Catcher is set to be a battle between Dustin Skelton, Marshall Gilbert and impressive freshman Hayden Jones.

As Lemonis said, there’s a great mix of young and old among the talent.

“We do have a lot of older guys, but it’s a new staff and coaching system," Lemonis said. "The older guys helped the younger guys out. We have a very talented incoming class and I’m thinking a lot of those guys will help us out. I like the chemistry of where we are.”

As for the pitchers, they might be as talented and deep as they have been since the 2016 SEC Championship team. Small projects to be the Friday night starter followed by first round draft pick J.T. Ginn, who turned down the pros to come to school.

MSU also has a fully healthy Keegan James pushing for a starting job and Peyton Plumlee returns after sitting out the entire season last year. Add in several impact newcomers and there’s much to like.

“The pitching staff is where a lot of the competition is,” Lemonis said. “We’ve got a couple of established guys, but a lot of them are here for the first time trying to win a job for the first time.”

Those that weren’t participating much in the fall were Riley Self, Spencer Price and Trysten Barlow. Self had a familiar shoulder injury lingering that Lemonis said should be corrected by the spring. Barlow missed most of last season with Tommy John surgery and Price missed all of last year after a Freshman All-American season as the team’s closer.

All three are on track to be ready for the season.

So Lemonis counted all things a success in the fall. Players got better, competition was high and injuries were at a minimum. The next few months will be spent in the cages and the weight room as they prepare for his first season on campus and State goes back after a national title.

“We got to put in our system, we got to evaluate the program and we’re building a relationship with the players,” Lemonis said. “There’s a lot more work to do, but I feel good about where we are right now.”