From Opening Day to Omaha: Mississippi State 2020 Baseball Preview

Another year of Bulldog baseball is upon us

Mississippi State enters the season with the usual high expectations you’ve come to know when it comes to the Diamond Dawgs, favored among the best in the SEC,, with the entire top half of the batting order earning All-SEC honors. Even with those preseason honors, there are plenty of questions as well as the Bulldogs look to make a third straight trip to the College World Series for the first time in school history. Let’s take a look at what you already know, what you need to know, and how it looks like it will pan out come June.

NAMES YOU ALREADY KNOW

When you look at those names at the top of the order, the one that stands out to me is junior centerfielder Rowdey Jordan. Jordan has the unenviable task of replacing a player who was more than just a legend at Mississippi State. Stepping into Jake Mangum’s role in center and as the leadoff man seems almost impossible, but Jordan has the skills and the attitude to pull it off. Jordan adds a little more pop than Mangum provided, but can he be a consistent threat the way the SEC’s all time hits leader was? Jordan suffered through a rough early stretch in 2019, the Bulldogs need him to come out firing on day one in 2020.

Looking at the rest of the order 2-5, Jordan Westburg might emerge as the best of the bunch. After a scorching start to the 2019 season, Westburg cooled off considerably, seeing his average drop from just under .400 to just above .290 by season’s end. Westburg tinkered with his swing during the summer, and reportedly was able to find some consistency with his mechanics. If he can put up an entire campaign similar to his 2019 from February through April, he’ll be a first round draft pick and All-American.

On the mound, there’s only one holdover from the Bulldog staff of a year ago, SEC Freshman of the Year and MSU’s new Friday night starter JT Ginn. Ginn got off to a blazing start in his first year, but arm trouble slowed him up and cost him some effectiveness in the final month and a half. Ginn said himself that he feels completely healthy coming into Opening Day, and he’ll be called upon to anchor a young Bulldog staff loaded with potential but without any production to judge.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW

The biggest question’s about this Bulldog team reside almost entirely on the mound, as State lost so many key pieces from last season’s staff. In the rotation, Eric Cerantola showed some flashes in 2019, but Saturday starter Christian Macleod is the name that seems to be inspiring the most confidence among Coach Chris Lemonis and staff. Macleod was set to play a big part as a true freshman before an illness left him unavailable, but now as a redshirt freshman, Macleod will take the spot Ginn left to move up in the rotation. A 6’4″ lefthander, Macleod spoke back in fall how excited he was to get back to playing in 2020. If he delivers on the faith the coaching staff is showing in him, Mississippi State will join the likes of Vanderbilt and Georgia as having an elite 1-2 punch in the weekend rotation.

Another freshman could be holding things down at the end of games, as most signs point to Landon Sims, a 6’2″ right hander out of Cumming, GA, to get first crack at the role Cole Gordon ably held down last year. Sims was rated as the 48th best prospect in the 2019 class by Perfect Game, and has the top end velocity you would normally expect from a closer. State’s bullpen should see a lot of faces taking the mound in the early season as Lemonis and pitching coach Scott Foxhall try to develop clear cut roles for the young staff.

In the field and at the plate, JUCO transfer Brandon Pimentel is one to watch. A JUCO All-American last year, Pimentel hit .458 with 14 home runs and 70 RBI for Howard College of Big Spring, TX. State will be look to replace the power provided by Elijah MacNamee last season, and Pimentel is a good candidate to bring that to the lineup. He’ll look to be the opening day starter in left field.

YEAR TWO OF THE LEMONIS ERA

Chris Lemonis inherited a strong squad for his first season, and his second team has just as much firepower, but also some big question marks. One thing that impressed me in Lemonis’ opening campaign was his demeanor, he simply doesn’t get too high or too low through the course of the season. I think that mentality allowed him to be successful in this program, as he simply wasn’t fazed by the incredibly high expectations. His staff is as strong as any in the country, with Jake Gautreau and Scott Foxhall likely future head coaches themselves. Lemonis will look to become the first coach to take the Bulldogs to back to back College World Series under his guidance, and in doing so, gain a historic third straight trip, which would be a program first.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

1B Josh Hatcher
2B Justin Foscue
SS Jordan Westburg
3B Kamren James/Landon Jordan
C Luke Hancock
RF Tanner Allen
CF Rowdey Jordan
LF Brandon Pimentel
DH Pimentel/Jordan

KEY RESERVES

C Logan Tanner
OF Bryce Brock
IF Mason Land


WEEKEND ROTATION

RHP JT Ginn
LHP Christian Macleod
RHP Eric Cerantola

PRESEASON RANKINGS

D1 Baseball – #10

Baseball America – #9

Perfect Game – #8

NCBWA – #9

Collegiate Baseball – #6

USA Today Coaches Poll – #6

Picture courtesy of Mississippi State athletics