2019 Preseason Top 25 Preview: No. 9 Mississippi State
Last Year: 39-29 (15-15 SEC); reached College World Series.
Final Ranking: No. 6.
Head Coach (record at school): Chris Lemonis (first year).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: None.
The Good News: Mississippi State capped its tumultuous 2018 season with a trip to Omaha and reached the bracket final before falling to eventual national champion Oregon State. Much of that team returns, including center fielder Jake Mangum, who has led the Bulldogs in hitting two of the last three seasons, and lefthander Ethan Small, who emerged as the team’s best starter down the stretch. The Bulldogs have 20 juniors or seniors on the roster, giving them plenty of experience. They also brought in a strong recruiting class, headlined by righthander/first baseman J.T. Ginn, who was drafted 30th overall but chose to play for Mississippi State instead of signing with the Dodgers.
The Bad News: The Bulldogs spent the 2018 season in a state of flux after head coach Andy Cannizaro resigned after Opening Weekend. Interim coach Gary Henderson kept the Bulldogs on track and guided them to Omaha, but it wasn’t enough to land the job on a full-time basis. Instead, athletic director John Cohen hired Chris Lemonis away from Indiana. Lemonis has a strong background, but he’s never coached in the SEC and will have to get up to speed quickly. Mississippi State also must replace starting pitchers Jacob Billingsley and Konnor Pilkington, as well as its double-play combination of shortstop Luke Alexander and second baseman Hunter Stovall. Ginn will step into the rotation, and Mississippi State has other solid options to start, as well as a strong bullpen. Sophomore Jordan Westburg, perhaps best known for starting the rally banana fad during last year’s postseason run, and junior Gunner Halter, a key junior college transfer, are expected to take over in the middle of the diamond.
Player To Know: Jake Mangum, OF.
Mangum has been a catalyst for Mississippi State since arriving in Starkville and now returns for his senior season. He needs 78 hits to break former Louisiana State star Eddy Furniss’ SEC career hits record (352), a mark well within his reach. Mangum is a career .356/.421/.453 hitter for the Bulldogs, and anything they do this spring will likely start with their star center fielder.
Path To Omaha: Mississippi State has made three straight super regionals with three different coaches leading the way. As a result, each team has done it a little differently, and that will be the case again in 2019. As this year’s Bulldogs set their sights on a return trip to Omaha, they will rely on the experienced bats of Mangum and Elijah MacNamee and a strong pitching staff, anchored by Small and relievers Cole Gordon, Spencer Price and Riley Self, a trio of righthanders that can shorten the game. If a couple young players take a step forward, Mississippi State looks like a dangerous team.
|2B||Gunner Halter||Jr. (Transfer -- Seminole State (Okla.) JC)|
|DH||Landon Jordan||Fr. (HS -- Kiln, Miss.)|
|RHP||J.T. Ginn||Fr. (HS -- Brandon, Miss.)|
|RP||Spencer Price||R-Jr. (Did not play -- Injured)|