2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 3 Mississippi State
Last season: 50-18 (20-10 in SEC); won national championship
Final Ranking: No. 1
Coach (record at school): Chris Lemonis (114-37, three seasons)
The good news: Mississippi State is coming off a national title, and a lot of that championship DNA remains in the program, particularly in the lineup, where eight of the nine projected starters had at least a part-time role while the team was playing in the College World Series. There’s plenty of power returning with this group, led by third-year sophomore catcher Logan Tanner, third-year sophomore first baseman Luke Hancock and third-year sophomore third baseman Kamren James, who all had double-digit home run totals last season. Fourth-year junior left fielder Brad Cumbest and sophomore right fielder Kellum Clark both also pack plenty of raw power and could be in for very productive seasons now that both will be expected to hold full-time roles. Team defense should also be a strength with this lineup, given the presence of plus defenders like Tanner at catcher, fifth-year senior second baseman Tanner Leggett, sophomore shortstop Lane Forsythe and fourth-year junior center fielder Brayland Skinner. Third-year sophomore righthander Landon Sims, coming off of a lights-out season as the team’s closer, has the stuff and competitive nature to be among the best Friday starters in the SEC. Whether that transition ends up being as successful as hoped remains to be seen, but his ability isn’t in question.
The bad news: The weekend rotation has been completely rebuilt after the departures of Will Bednar, Christian MacLeod and Houston Harding to professional baseball. The three projected starters—Sims, sophomore righthander Cade Smith and third-year sophomore righthander Preston Johnson—all have varying degrees of experience in the program, but none of them have been full-time weekend starters in the SEC, and there’s a learning curve to be expected. Sims moving into the rotation also leaves a big hole in the bullpen, putting the onus on pitchers like third-year sophomore righthander Stone Simmons and fourth-year junior righthander Brandon Smith to take steps forward. You also can’t overlook the departures of Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan in the lineup. Not only were they arguably the two most productive hitters in the lineup last season, with Allen winning SEC player of the year, but they were in many ways the heart and soul of the 2021 clu
Player to know: Landon Sims, RHP
Seasons don’t get much more dominant than the one Sims put up in 2021. In 56.1 innings, he had a 1.44 ERA, 13 saves, 100 strikeouts compared to just 15 walks and a .149 opponent batting average. His transition to the rotation this season is a big variable for Mississippi State and it will be fascinating to watch unfold. Sims essentially threw just two pitches last season, but it worked because both were excellent. His fastball averaged over 94 mph last season and touched 98, and because of the high spin on the pitch, it induced a 38% whiff rate. Similarly, his mid-80s slider had a 37% whiff rate. Adding a usable changeup might make the transition easier, but even without it, Sims has the stuff to dominate as a starter. The key will be his ability not only to get deep into games week after week but to hold his stuff along the way.
Path to Omaha: The Bulldogs have now been to the College World Series three seasons in a row, so they seem to have the formula to get there just about figured out. In that way, they really just need to keep doing what they’re doing. More specifically, for Mississippi State’s path to Omaha to open up, it will need Sims, or someone else if Sims’ rotation transition doesn’t take, to be a workhorse at the front of the rotation, and ideally one other starter to be a reliable innings eater alongside the ace. Recall that it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Mississippi State’s weekend rotation at various points last season, but when it was all said and done, Bednar had become the dominant ace the team needed, and despite his struggles in the postseason, MacLeod took the ball every week and gave the club a lot of important innings. It was then icing on the cake when Harding or Jackson Fristoe (who is back as a sophomore this season and could have an important role to play again) pitched well at the back of the rotation. Recreating that situation in 2022 would put the Bulldogs on the fast track to Omaha for a fourth straight season.
Alabama, Kentucky Keep NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive With Crucial Wins
At the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, Alabama and Kentucky both won games critical for keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
|DH||Slate Alford||Fr.||HS—Madison, Ala.|