STARKVILLE — Jake Mangum already has been the best hitter in college baseball’s best conference.
Last season, Mangum hit .408 as a freshman to help the Mississippi State win the Southeastern Conference regular-season title en route to a 44-win campaign.
Mangum’s next plateau hasn’t been determined, but he thinks he can reach it.
“I’m a much better hitter than I was last year,” he said.
Those are big words for a .408 hitter.
After earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors last year, Mangum has earned preseason first-team All-America honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association (NCBWA), Perfect Game, Baseball America, and most recently, D1baseball.com.
Despite all of the attention, Mangum hasn’t noticed.
“Last year’s done. I’m hitting zero now. It’s a new year and a pretty new team on the field this year,” Mangum said. “It’s pretty easy (to put last season behind me) because when you come out here every day, we’re working on this year. We got some guys back from last year that are going to help us win, and we got some guys that are new with some talent that are going to help us win games.”
MSU will continue its preparations at 5:30 p.m. today when it scrimmages at Dudy Noble Field. The game is part of a busy week that will see MSU scrimmage at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, at 1:30 Saturday, and at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The scrimmages are free and open to the public. That action will put MSU less than a week away from its season opener against 2016 College World Series participant Texas Tech at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU first-year head coach Andy Cannizaro has seen that forward-thinking attitude from new center fielder all preseason. He, too, believes Mangum will be better in 2017.
“I think he’s got so many tools in the game and he combines tools with the intangibles,” Cannizaro said. “His work ethic is unreal, and his hand-eye coordination is off the charts. He’s a leader every day with how hard he plays the game and he brings a lot of energy to the field every single day.
“He’s an outstanding player, and I’m really excited and really glad I get an opportunity to coach him.”
Last season, Mangum became the first freshman in the 12-year history of the Ferriss Trophy to win the award, which is presented annually to the top collegiate baseball player in the state Mississippi. The Pearl native is the fifth MSU player to win the honor. He joins outfielder Hunter Renfroe, pitcher Chris Stratton, catcher Ed Easley, and shortstop Thomas Berkery.
“Jake Mangum is a stud,” Cannizaro said. “He is a bona-fide superstar in college baseball.”
Cannizaro said Mangum is a high-average hitter because he limits strikeouts (he was the only Bulldog with more than 175 at-bats to strikeout fewer than 21 times last season) and his running ability (6-for-7 on stolen base attempts). Still, Mangum pushes for more, as Cannizaro as seen him do all preseason. Last month, Cannizaro said the example Mangum sets in training and optional work is one he wants his younger players to follow.
“Plate discipline, I can always get better,” Mangum said. “No baseball player is ever a finished product. There’s always room for improvement for everybody.
Cannizaro, who served as an assistant coach at LSU for the past two seasons prior to taking over for John Cohen, who is now director of athletics at MSU, said Mangum’s work ethic extends to defense. But he knows Mangum has earned most of his attention for his hitting prowess. He said Mangum’s desire to get even better fuels him to stay late in the cage every day to take more swings.
“For a guy that won the batting title last year, he hasn’t rested on what he did last year,” Cannizaro said. “He’s always looking to get better, always asking questions. He has a tremendous baseball makeup and wants to be great.”
NOTES: Fans and students will have two chances to interact with the baseball team this week. Cowbell Yell will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday. Gates will open at 5 p.m. The event will precede the women’s basketball game against Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. in Humphrey Coliseum. The first 1,000 students will receive a voucher for a free “The Dudes” T-shirt to be redeemed at the women’s basketball game. Fan Day will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Palmeiro Center. Doors will open at 9:45 a.m. Autograph lines will last from 10:15 a.m.-noon, and will be split between pitchers, position players, and Diamond Dawgs in Minor League Baseball. Cannizaro and MLB players in town will be on hand to greet fans and sign autographs. There will also be the Fan Zone near the batting cages, which will include inflatables, photo opportunities, face painting, and more.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson