October 10, 2017 10:38:03 AM
STARKVILLE -- Going up the stairs from the usual home dugout at Dudy Noble Field isn't going to get one very far. A staircase that used to take one directly onto the turf in foul territory now lies just a few feet away from a temporary fence, shielding the construction crews from the newly planted grass.
Such is the reality for the Mississippi State baseball program as it began fall practice Monday: one with a disjointed routine as construction on Dudy Noble Field rages on.
"There's been so many hoops to jump through in terms of not presently having a field we can go onto each and every day," MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said. "Our guys have been extremely diligent in getting their work done in the Palmeiro (Center); football's been extremely kind to us and allowed us to get our defensive work on practice field No. 4. The last couple of weeks we've been doing some simulated hitter vs. pitcher game stuff on the softball intramural fields. It's been pretty interesting, to say the least, but at the same time, extremely proud of the work our guys have done."
For its official fall practices, MSU will only do fielding practice on the field and do all of its hitting in the Palmeiro Center. It will play two intrasquad scrimmages in Jackson's Wills-Smith Stadium, Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 17-19. Construction will continue on in the winter until MSU's regular season begins in February.
"I continue to tell our players all along: in the first couple of weeks of fall practice, there's going to be some trial and error," Cannizaro said.
As MSU embarks on fall practice, the pitching staff will be one of its biggest priorities. After an injury-riddled 2017 forced MSU to get creative beyond imagination with its pitching staff, it turns to a crop of new additions and other returning from Tommy John surgery to fix that problem.
Cannizaro said Ethan Small and Noah Hughes are two coming back from Tommy John that are cleared to pitch as fall practice began Monday. Cannizaro mentioned Keegan James and Blake Smith among a list of others that could be cleared as early as the final weeks of fall, but could also wait until January to pitch.
The new additions to the staff include a duo of junior college pitchers, Cole Marsh and John Mason. MSU also added JP France from Tulane and Zach Neff from Austin Peay.
"It feels really good to look down a roster right now and envision who's going to be healthy this year and what roles those guys could potentially fit in for us," Cannizaro said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to have a healthy pitching staff."
The fall will also give Cannizaro an extensive look at the battle for the starting shortstop position. Luke Alexander had a shot at the position last year, but shifted to third after Ryan Gridley took it over. Hunter Stovall started the entire season at second base and will join Alexander in competing at shortstop.
"We feel like we have two really good options and I'm really excited about both of those guys," Cannizaro said. "Luke Alexander came back from the Cape Cod League, where he had a really impressive summer, Luke lost about 12 pounds from last baseball season. He's moving better, there's better range. He's already a plus defender at third base and now there's a little more agility, his feet have gotten better over the course of the summer and fall.
Those former positions are of no priority anymore: Cannizaro said the two will be put on different teams when the roster splits up for intrasquad scrimmages, giving both the most opportunities at shortstop.
"(Stovall) is a guy that probably turns a double play at second base better than anybody in the country right now, but he's a guy that can really pick it at shortstop."
That's not the only upheaval in the infield: Cannizaro is experimenting with outfielder Elijah MacNamee at first base. Cannizaro hopes MacNamee can stick at the new position and open up a spot in the outfield, where Cannizaro says MSU has more depth than any other spot on the roster.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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