Jun 8, 2013; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs pitcher Ross Mitchell (48) throws the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers in the seventh inning during the Charlottesville super regional of the 2013 NCAA baseball tournament at Davenport Field. The Bulldogs won 11-6. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
As we get closer and closer to the opening day of College Baseball, we are previewing each position on the baseball diamond. Today, we take a look at the biggest strength of the team, the Pitchers.
There is no question about what it is going to take for Mississippi State to have a special season. The pitching has to be among the best, if not the best, in the SEC. The Bulldogs have plenty of talent returning, but they also have some pretty big holes to fill from the 2014 squad. Here is how the pitchers fared last season.
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The two biggest losses to the pitching staff are 2nd round draft pick Jacob Lindgren and 6th round draft pick Jonathan Holder. Both were drafted by the New York Yankees and Lindgren will likely factor prominently in the Yankees’ bullpen this season. Replacing those guys is the top priority.
The one thing that will help is the Bulldogs will take a different approach to their pitching staff than they have the past two years. John Cohen led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship Round with the most unlikely of strategies in 2013. He ran his starting pitcher out on the mound without any real intention of getting him past the third or fourth inning. He then turned it over to the bullpen and let those guys dominate the rest of the game.
Mississippi State tried to get away from that strategy in 2014, and they wanted to take a more traditional approach. There was all kinds of talk entering the season that Brandon Woodruff was finally going to live up to all the hype that had surrounded him since he had made his way to Starkville. It never happened though, and was relegated to a little used reliever after his start against Georgia in the opening weekend of SEC play. His lack of production forced Cohen to bring Ross Mitchell out of the bullpen and start on Saturdays. Preston Brown started the season off solid, but suffered a mid season injury and wasn’t the same after that. So it was back to the same strategy of 2013, and while it did work to a certain extent, the Bulldogs never got the consistency from their bullpen that they did the prior year.
The Bulldogs need to get a more established rotation this year. One change that seems likely is Trevor Fitts. He started most of the Friday night games in SEC play, but he and Vance “Moonlight” Tatum are combining as the closers so far in the scrimmages we have seen up until this point. Fitts being a dominant righty is balanced well by the lefty Tatum.
Assuming that Cohen doesn’t try to move Ross Mitchell back to the role he had in the bullpen in 2013, Mitchell will be one of the weekend starters. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed on the Saturday spot as well, or possibly moved to the Sunday slot. I truly believe Cohen wants Mitchell back in the bullpen, and if some of the other pitchers can step up and live up to their potential, he likely will send Mitchell to the bullpen. Cohen liked Mitchell on Saturday because of the type of pitcher Mitchell is. Mitchell has no room for error when it comes to his location. He is a soft throwing left with average break on his breaking balls. What he lacks in velocity and stuff, he makes for with command. As “hittable” as his stuff is, if Mitchell throws his pitches in the right spot then he frustrates batters into poor at bats. On the few times it was off last year, he was hit hard. He struggled against Ole Miss and Louisiana Lafayette in the regional, mostly due to not locating his pitches the way he normally does. Pitching against the opposing team’s second best starter on Saturday gives Ross Mitchell a little bit of wiggle room if his control isn’t as sharp as usual. If Mitchell didn’t start until Sunday, Cohen could possibly get an inning or two out of him on Friday simply because of the way Mitchell throws.
The rest of the starters will be chosen between Preston Brown, Lucas Laster, Dakota Hudson, Austin Sexton, and Freshman phenom Cole Gordon. Lucas Laster had a strong close to the 2014 season and I would be shocked if he isn’t in the weekend rotation. Preston Brown was as good as any pitcher in the SEC to begin 2014 before his injury, so look for him to be back in the weekend rotation now that he has had time to heal.
The most important thing is for the starters to go deep into games. Winning the way we did in 2013 will likely never be replicated. Winning in a more conventional manner is paramount to the success of the Bulldogs, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs won’t have a strong bullpen. Whichever pitchers are used in the mid week, I’d expect them to be some of the first to come out of the bullpen. It will still be a strength of this team.
Pitching is going to carry the Bulldogs. Just how far it can take Mississippi State will largely depend on how much we get from our starting rotation.