July 4, 2017 8:36:10 AM
While I've been spending the last couple of weeks getting to some offseason content and planning for the next academic year (LOTS of good stuff coming, guys), it's always nice to have a blog idea fall in my lap. And for that, I must thank @gridirondawg.
He recently asked me if 2018 will be the real rebuilding year for the MSU baseball team. I'm assuming that question came after he read the content from my sitdown with Andy Cannizaro, in which he addressed the recent transfers (Brant Blaylock and Jared Padgett) and hinted at the possibility of more. Since MSU got to the Super Regionals and was generally successful in the first year -- where we often see the rebuilding pains -- of the Cannizaro Era, the man can't help but wonder if offseason attrition will force the rebuilding pains to come now.
I don't think so. I've actually been thinking for a while that the 2018 team has a chance to be better than the 2017 team, but I'm certainly aware that a rebuild might be here. I'll make the case for both.
The Case for Improvement:
- Pitching has to get better, almost by default based on roster numbers and avoiding the problems lacking them creates. Expectations for Noah Hughes, who missed last year with Tommy John, continue to climb. His return, plus expected improvement from Konnor Pilkington and some Sunday starter to be determined, could give the bullpen a much easier job to do and with more arms to do it. Riley Self and a healthy Spencer Price in the back end, with backing of a few arms to get the game from the starters to them when needed, and MSU's pitching staff won't be staying at the bottom of the SEC ranks.
- At this point, we know what Jake Mangum is, and that's great news for the MSU lineup. And he's not alone. A full season from Hunter Stovall would be massive. Then MSU is only in need of a very simple next step in development from a short list of names -- Elijah MacNamee, Hunter Vansau and Luke Alexander being the biggest ones -- would give MSU a good shot at getting at least similar production from the lineup compared to last year. (Admittedly, probably not in power numbers thanks to the absence of that Brent Rooker fellow, but college baseball isn't a power game anyway.) Remember, in theory, that's with the backing of a better pitching staff.
- There's reason to think some guys in the incoming class are going to fit very specific needs for this particular roster. In the absence of Josh Lovelady behind the plate, MSU will need a catcher and it has a junior college guy, Marshall Gilbert, coming in on top of Dustin Skelton's return. The pitching needs are painfully obvious and Cannizaro seemed excited about a JUCO addition, Cole Marsh, among other potential arms.
- Finally, look at the losses that really hurt MSU in its bid to host a Regional or maybe even a Super. LSU regular season series, Auburn doubleheader, Hoover, etc. What's the common factor? Lack of bullpen depth. With that issue solved due to health and incoming arms, unless MSU loses another three or four notable pitchers to transfer or otherwise, some of those losses turn to wins and MSU's road to Omaha gets much, much easier.
The Case for the Rebuild
- The transfers the questioner is alluding to are the obvious starting point. If there are more transfers and they are of higher quantity than I think they will be, it's well within reason that MSU's depth issue from 2017 actually doesn't get better for 2018.
- MSU pitching coach Gary Henderson said this to me in as many words at some point during the season: the transition from junior college to the SEC is hard. There's no guarantee the incoming guys can fill MSU's needs immediately. Just look at last year: for every Peyton Plumlee (strictly on the field), there's a Jacob Barton on the opposite end of the spectrum. When a program brings in players this highly rated over a long period of time, the law of averages will be on your side, sure, but this is one class we're talking about here.
- On that same thought, it's no guarantee that guys like MacNamee and Vansau improve from what they did last season. I think they will, of course, but I'm not the one trying to make up the half-second difference between hitting a 93 mph heater for a double or fouling it off behind me to strike out on the next pitch.
- Of positions to be looking for answers, catcher and shortstop are about as bad as it gets. I don't think I need to add anything else there.
- Speaking of things that are difficult to replace: Brent Rooker. If this were the MLB and we had stats like this one, that's a lot of wins above replacement that no one man can take up by himself.
Final Thought: I'll admit I didn't think I would have this many points in The Case for the Rebuild when I started this post. The exercise @gridirondawg sent me was a fun one, so thank you, but call me a believer in MacNamee, Vansau, Hughes and others to give the '18 Dawgs a higher ceiling: Omaha.