2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 9 Mississippi State

Image credit: Mississippi State third baseman (Trevor Birchett, Mississippi State Athletics)

Last season: 52-15 (20-10 in SEC); reached College World Series.
Final ranking: No. 5.
Coach (record at school): Chris Lemonis (52-15, one year).

Top 100 draft prospects: RHP JT Ginn (No. 12), 2B Justin Foscue (No. 34), SS Jordan Westburg (No. 36).

The good news: Mississippi State returns several pieces of the core of last season’s team, which helped the Bulldogs reach the College World Series for the second straight year. Righthander JT Ginn, a Freshman All-American last season, is back and ready to take over at the front of the rotation. Second baseman Justin Foscue and shortstop Jordan Westburg, who form what might be the most dynamic double play combination in the country, are back. Foscue’s return means Mississippi State has its best power hitter back after he led the team with 13 home runs and a .564 slugging percentage a year ago. Outfielders Tanner Allen, who will move from first base to right field, and Rowdey Jordan also return after playing in every game a year ago and give the lineup another pair of experienced bats.

The bad news: While Mississippi State has some stars returning, it also must replace a pair of superstars. Center fielder Jake Mangum, who finished his career with the fourth-most hits in Division I history, graduated after four years of hitting at the top of the Bulldogs’ lineup. Lefthander Ethan Small, who was the team’s best pitcher during both Omaha runs, was drafted in the first round by the Brewers. Ginn provides Mississippi State with a readymade option to front the rotation, but not only do they have to backfill his spot in one of last season’s best 1-2 punches, they also must account for the loss of righthander Peyton Plumlee. Mississippi State will turn to redshirt freshman lefthander Christian MacLeod, who last year was sidelined by a double bout of pneumonia, and sophomore righthander Eric Cerentola, who moves to the rotation from the bullpen. Jordan, who last year played left field, could provide Mississippi State with a replacement for Mangum both in center field and at the top of the lineup. But accounting for Mangum and Small in a baseball sense is the easy part. Finding a way to replace their leadership and presence is a tougher – and perhaps more important – task for Lemonis.

Player to know: Jordan Westburg, SS.

After mostly seeing action at third base or off the bench as a freshman in 2018, Westburg last year took over as Mississippi State’s starting shortstop. He has a big, powerful frame at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds and has a strong offensive profile. He hit .294/.402/.457 with 21 doubles and six home runs last season, fitting right in with the rest of the Bulldogs’ powerful offense. With another strong season – and maybe a few doubles converted into home runs – he can be a first-round pick and be a pivotal part of the Mississippi State offense.

Path to Omaha: Mississippi State has plenty of talent on the mound but it will need its young pitchers to grow into their new roles. That starts with Ginn, McLeod and Cerantola in the rotation but must also include some young pitchers establishing themselves in the bullpen in support of righthanders Spencer Price and Riley Self, who are looking for bounce-back seasons. Mississippi State’s offense will be different without Mangum getting things started, but it should again have good depth. If the pitching lives up to its potential, the Bulldogs can make a third straight trip to Omaha.

C Luke Hancock, So. .326 .483 .419 0 14 43
1B Brandon Pimentel, So. Transfer — Howard (Texas) JC
2B Justin Foscue, Jr. .331 .395 .564 14 60 275
3B Landon Jordan, So. .328 .397 .426 1 11 61
SS Jordan Westburg, Jr. .294 .402 .457 6 61 255
LF Josh Hatcher, Jr. .321 .379 .500 3 21 106
CF Rowdey Jordan, Jr. .290 .370 .420 6 49 255
RF Tanner Allen, Jr. .349 .426 .516 7 66 275
DH Logan Tanner, Fr. HS — Lucedale, Miss.
RHP JT Ginn, So. 8 4 3.13 86 105 0
LHP Christian MacLeod, R-Fr.  Did Not Play — Injured
RHP Eric Cerantola, So. 3 0 4.30 15 21 0
RP Carlisle Koestler, Sr. Transfer — Southeastern Louisiana
RP Riley Self, Sr. 2 0 4.91 26 18 0

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