College Preview Capsules: No. 20 Mississippi State

No. 20 Mississippi StateMississippi-State
2015 Record (Ranking): 24-30 (NR). RPI: 131.
Coach (Record at school): John Cohen (240-185, 7 years)
Postseason History: 32 regionals (last in 2014), 9 CWS trips (last in 2013), 0 national titles.

For Mississippi State, 2015 was a season to forget. Just two years after getting to the finals of the College World Series, the Bulldogs went 24-30, finishing last in the Southeastern Conference (8-22) and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

Mississippi State dealt with injuries to several players and struggled to adjust to the flat-seam baseballs introduced last year. Coach John Cohen said the Bulldogs pitchers had succeeded in the past based on getting groundball outs but found it difficult to create the same kind of sinking action with the new balls.

2016 Lineup
C Elih Marrero, Fr. HS—Miami
1B Nathaniel Lowe, Jr. Tr.—St. John’s River (Fla.) JC
2B John Holland, Sr. .246 .316 .316 1 27 1
3B Gavin Collins, Jr. .228 .313 .299 2 16 1
SS Luke Alexander, Fr. HS—Belmont, Miss.
LF Cody Brown, R-Jr. .309 .400 .450 1 16 3
CF Jacob Robson, R-Jr. .324 .436 .368 1 9 21
RF Reid Humphries, Jr. .247 .328 .389 5 27 0
DH Brett Rooker, R-So. .257 .325 .378 2 12 0
Pos. Name, Year W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Dakota Hudson, Jr. 1 1 4.32 16 26 0
LHP Daniel Brown, Jr. 1 0 4.87 20 28 1
RHP Austin Sexton, Jr. 4 4 3.77 76 61 0
RP Zac Houston, Jr. 0 2 3.66 32 41 1

“The ball added power, but we don’t play in a power park, and it took away movement,” he said. “Then you look at the guys we wanted to get on field last year, we lost about 260 games due to injury and other reasons. In our league, you’re going to get beat up pretty quick if you can’t put your best players on the field every day.”

After last season’s disappointments, Mississippi State is eager prove it was an aberration. A bevy of Bulldogs went out to play summer ball and were so successful that Mississippi State won the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball Most Valuable Program award.

Emblematic of the Bulldogs’ summer success was righthander Dakota Hudson, who took a massive step forward while pitching in the Cape Cod League. He threw just 34 innings in the first two years of his career at Mississippi State, but excelled on the Cape and established himself as a potential first-round pick. His fastball sits in the low 90s with good life and, if he can keep throwing it for strikes, should be in line for a strong spring. Cohen said the addition of a cutter was critical for Hudson.

“He can throw that thing around the strike zone and in the strike zone anytime he wants to,” Cohen said. “He just matured into what we thought he could be. It’s exciting to see him move forward.”

Righthanders Daniel Brown and Zac Houston also took steps forward on the Cape and figure to take on greater roles this spring. Mississippi State had 11 players earn all-star honors in various leagues this summer, including two who won MVP awards.

To that mix, Mississippi State added the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class. The class added depth as well as top-end talent to the roster, and at least a few of the freshmen will be counted on to play right away. Junior college transfer Jack Kruger and freshman Elih Marrero will likely both see time behind the plate. Lefthanders Kale Breaux, Jared Padgett and Ethan Small, and righthander Parker Ford all have the stuff to compete for significant innings as freshmen. And Cohen believes shortstop Luke Alexander will surprise this spring.

“He really kind of flew under the radar in terms of what he can do,” Cohen said. “We feel like he’s going to be a great player at Mississippi State.”

Mississippi State will have to overcome the loss of pitching coach Butch Thompson, who left in October to become the head coach at Auburn. Cohen hired Dallas Baptist pitching coach Wes Johnson to replace Thompson.

Cohen brought Thompson to Starkville when he was first hired in 2009 and will miss having him on staff but is excited to have Johnson, who was noted for developing velocity on DBU’s staffs.

“I think our kids are just elated,” Cohen said. “They love Butch, they got a ton out of Butch, but they’re also getting a ton out of Wes Johnson, who’s helping them increase their stuff level.”

Though last season was a difficult one for Mississippi State, Cohen believes the players have come out stronger and are ready for a successful 2016.

“We have so many kids who struggled with one thing or another,” Cohen said. “I think that’s where character is born. We feel like we are in a position for them to have some breakout performances in the spring.”

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