The strength of Mississippi State baseball the past few seasons has been its bullpen. Will that trend continue in 2016?
There are two seasons that will forever be the benchmark for Mississippi State Baseball until the program breaks through and wins a national championship. In 1985, the Bulldogs were arguably the best team in the country but had a few bad breaks in the national semifinal. The 1985 Mississippi State baseball team could hit and pitch, and they were as good as any team the Bulldog faithful have ever seen.
The other team that every Mississippi State baseball team will be compared to is the 2013 club. The Bulldogs used timely hitting to propel them to the only appearance in a national championship the school has ever played in. And as timely as the hits came, the team was carried to Omaha on the strength of its bullpen.
In the two years since, the Mississippi State Bullpen has been good, but it hasn’t stacked up to the group that included Ross Mitchell, Chad Girodo, and Jonathan Holder. It likely won’t ever reach those heights. A team that used its bullpen more than its starters is unheard of in the sport, and it won’t likely happen again with any success.
The pitchers that are likely going to be used in the Bullpen for the Bulldogs in 2016 are good, but there is a lot of youth. Here is who left after the 2015 season.
- Trevor Fitts: 1-3 Record, 2.03 ERA, 6 Saves
- Levi Mintz: 0-0 Record, 4.10 ERA, 23 Strikeouts in 26.1 Innings Pitched
- Ross Mitchell: 3-4 Record, 4.47 ERA, 56.1 Innings Pitched, 1 Save
The biggest losses to the bullpen will be Fitts and Mitchell. Fitts had his moments, but he did have experience closing games. Watching Mitchell struggle last year was difficult to do. He overcame the fact he was one of the most hittable pitchers in all of baseball for three seasons, and got rocked his senior season.
- Zac Houston: 0-2 Record, 3.66 ERA, 1 Save, 41 Strikeouts in 32 Innings Pitched
- Trent Waddell: 0-0 Record, 5.40 ERA, 10 Innings Pitched
- Vance “Moonlight” Tatum: 3-2 Record, 5.50 ERA, 42 Strikeouts in 54 Innings Pitched
- Logan Elliot: 0-0 Record: 9.00 ERA, 7 Innings Pitched
- Paul Young: 0-0 Record, 9.00 ERA, 1 Inning Pitched
- Myles Gentry: 0-1 Record, 27.00 ERA, 1 Inning Pitched
There are only two players returning to the bullpen who logged any significant playing time from 2015. Zac Houston and Vance Tatum will likely be the rocks of the bullpen in 2016. Zac Houston is expected to compete for the closer role, and he has the stuff to get the job done. Tatum will be used in long relief situations, and I would anticipate John Cohen and new pitching coach Wes Johnson would want to save him for Sunday should the Sunday starter get in trouble.
Tatum is the hardest to predict about how he will be used. He could be a starter, but he could also be used out of the bullpen. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him used as both, so I’m including him in the Bullpen preview.
There are two players who were primarily used in the Bullpen I will cover tomorrow when I go over the starters. Dakota Hudson and Daniel Brown are expected to be starters for this year’s Mississippi State Baseball team.
- Jacob Billingsley, RHP, Magnolia Heights in Senatobia, MS
- Keegan James: RHP, Desoto Central High School in Southaven, MS
- Ryan Cyr: RHP, Blue Valley High School in Leawood, KS
- Ryan Rigby: RHP, East Mississippi Community College
- Parker Ford: RHP, Lufkin High School in Lufkin, TX
- Blake Smith: RHP, Shelton State Community College
- Noah Hughes: RHP, Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson, MS
- Jake Mangum: LHP, Jackson Preparatory School
- Jared Padgett: LHP, Graceville High School in Graceville, FL
- Kale Breaux: LHP, Sulphur High School in Sulphur, LA
- Ethan Small: LHP, Lexington High School in Lexington, TN
- Trysten Barlow: LHP, Dyer County High School in Halls, TN
- Konnor Pilkington: LHP, East Central High School in Hurley, MS
That’s a lot of new pitchers. With approximately 90% of them being freshmen, they won’t all play in 2016. Most will likely redshirt, especially those Cohen and Johnson are thinking about using as starters on down the road. As of right now, it appears Hughes, Padgett, Breaux, and Small are all in line to be on the active roster this season and possibly be in competition for one of the midweek starter slots.
Jacob Billingsley will be getting his first action this year as a sophomore. He spent all of last season hurt. He will be competing with Zac Houston for the closer spot. From what I have seen, his stuff is similar to that of Jonathan Holder even if they don’t look anything alike.
One other thing to take note of is the possibility of Reid Humphreys coming out of the outfield and pitching an inning or two. I don’t know how likely this is, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
There is tons of talent in this group, but there is so little experience. The starters will need to be lights out in 2016 so the Bulldogs won’t have to run a number of inexperienced pitchers out on the mound too often.
Up Next Tomorrow: Starting Pitchers