On my radio show this morning (BulldogSportsRadio.com), I listed five reasons why MSU’s baseball team will make it to Omaha, annual site of the College World Series (June 15-26). I’m not predicting the Bulldogs will make it, but I think they’ve got a good shot, thus the five reasons. So if you missed the show, I give them to you here.
1. Pitching will be strong. MSU had the SEC’s best pitching staff last year, with a team ERA of 2.58. While you can’t really replace a Chris Stratton, this pitching staff should collectively be the strongest John Cohen has had in Starkville. Kendall Graveman, Jacob Lindgren, Evan Mitchell and Brandon Woodruff are all strong weekend starter candidates; there’s a wealth of options for middle relief; and sophomore Jonathan Holder returns as one of the country’s top closers.
2. Lockdown defense. MSU made its share of errors last season – 81, third-most in the league – but it was also second in the league in chances and first in assists. And the Bulldogs led the nation in double plays turned with 71. The infield returns fully intact and with more depth, led by shortstop Adam Frazier (first in the SEC last year in assists) and first baseman Wes Rea (first in chances and putouts). In the outfield, State has speed to spare with the likes of C.T. Bradford, Demarcus Henderson and others, and Hunter Renfroe has a rocket arm. Mitch Slauter is back at catcher and knows how to handle a pitching staff.
3. Hitting will improve. This is a very important key for MSU, which ranked 11th in the SEC last year with a .251 average. MSU returns most of its position players, and the natural expectation is that many of them will come around at the plate, much as Frazier did from his freshman to sophomore years. Players and coaches alike have reported a significant improvement in the hitters during offseason work, and if it carries over into the season, MSU will certainly be worthy of its No. 5 preseason ranking by Baseball America. This team will have speed throughout its lineup with a little bit of pop, so it should fit nicely into Cohen’s offensive vision.
4. Overall depth. MSU lost several players for long stretches to injury last season, and that was part of the reason the Bulldogs struggled offensively. Right now, this team is generally healthy. That could certainly change once the season begins, but State should be better equipped to handle such circumstances because of all the returnees and the promising young talent backing them up. That goes for position players as well as pitchers, and also aiding the depth is Cohen’s use of some dual-position guys like Bradford, who will play the outfield and pitch, too.
5. Experience. MSU returns 23 lettermen and seven position players, plus DH Trey Porter, and the only two notable pitching losses are Stratton and Caleb Reed. More importantly, these guys have postseason experience, with trips to an NCAA regional each of the last two years (and two years ago included a super regional). Don’t expect this group to get easily rattled.