Skelton, Gilbert likely to split catching duties at MSU

Dustin Skelton signs a poster during Sunday's Fan Day.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State head baseball coach Andy Cannizaro has his sights set on again leading the Bulldogs deep into June and making a run at the College World Series.

Yet Cannizaro knows it’s a grind to get there.

The marathon that is the college baseball season is perhaps no harder on anyone than the men behind the plate. That’s why Cannizaro insists he’s going into this year with plans for catchers Dustin Skelton and Marshall Gilbert to split time behind the dish.

“In terms of a full length of a college baseball season, when you talk about a 56-game regular season, an SEC Tournament, a regional, a super regional and an Omaha run, you might be talking about playing upwards of 70-plus games this year, so you need two guys at that position to be able to play that many games," Cannizaro said.

Last year, Josh Lovelady shouldered the brunt of Mississippi State’s catching load. He started 51 of the Bulldogs’ 67 games. This season, at least for now, it appears State is not planning to lean quite so heavily on one guy.
“Both (Skelton and Gilbert) are certainly going to play,” Cannizaro said.

When it comes to deciding who will be the primary guy behind the plate, it’s Skelton that has the edge in experience at least when it comes to time spent at MSU. Now a sophomore, Skelton started 15 games at catcher for the Bulldogs a year ago. He even started at third base in a couple of affairs and played in 34 total contests.

Skelton had mixed results in his first season at State. He wasn’t much with the bat, hitting only .206 with just a pair of extra-base hits. However he was strong at times defensively. He gunned down nine would-be base stealers to lead the team, despite playing significantly fewer games at catcher than Lovelady.

While Skelton’s strength appears to be his defensive skills up to this point, Gilbert looks to pose more of an offensive threat. The junior college transfer out of John A. Logan College in Illinois has legit power. Last year at John A. Logan, Gilbert hit .365 with 12 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 67 RBI.

“I think each one of them does something a little differently than the other guy does,” Cannizaro said of Skelton and Gilbert. “Gilbert has been playing good of late. He’s swinging it really well. He has a chance to hit for some power. I think he has a chance to hit some home runs this year. He is a guy who hit a lot of home runs in junior college and was a guy who hit a lot of home runs in summer ball last year. He is a little bit bigger and stronger and more physical than Dustin.”

Even with Gilbert’s offensive potential, perhaps the biggest job a catcher has is managing a pitching staff. Skelton arguably has a bit of an edge there, at least in terms of time spent with MSU hurlers, as he enters his second season with the Bulldogs.

Both young men appear to have strong arguments to get playing time. That’s why both likely will get plenty of chances as the year goes along.

“We have a lot of confidence in both Marshall Gilbert and Dustin Skelton,” Cannizaro said.