STARKVILLE — Ryan Gridley is the self-proclaimed expert on the last year of Konnor Pilkington’s development.
After playing with Pilkington last season at Mississippi State, Gridley was a teammate of his with the Cape Cod League’s Brewster
Whitecaps before returning to Starkville for the fall and spring.
What Gridley saw was a freshman turn into a bona-fide Friday night starter in the Southeastern Conference.
“I’ve seen every single change along the way. He’s so much more confident now after what happened this summer,” said Gridley, MSU’s shortstop. “He had a great summer. I saw him every single time he pitched. His velocity is jumping, his body is perfect for baseball, and it’s starting to transition with all the confidence he got in the summer, and you can see it in his pitches.”
The year of progress that produced the
current version of Pilkington, a sophomore, was enough to make him the only certain thing about the MSU baseball team’s starting rotation entering this week. Pilkington will start against 2016 College World Series participant Texas Tech at 4 p.m. Friday in the season opener at Dudy Noble Field.
“He’s a guy that, in my opinion, and our coaching staff’s opinion, will be the next great Mississippi State pitcher,” MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said. “He has the opportunity to leave here next year as a high first-round draft pick guy.”
Pilkington’s teammates met the announcement with confidence. Outfielder Jake Mangum brought up the example of Pilkington’s first start — in a Sunday rubber match at Florida last year — as an example of his promising future. Pilkington gave up four hits and five walks in four innings. He struck out two and didn’t get a decision in a 2-1 victory.
“Pilkington is a Friday night starter in the SEC,” Mangum said. “He’s an unbelievable pitcher, and he is 100 percent ready to take the load for this pitching staff.”
Gridley said he thinks Pilkington will be “one of the top Friday night starters in the league.” He bases that confidence off the times he has faced him in the preseason.
“He’s really good because he’s able to locate three pitches whenever he wants,” Gridley said. “He can come inside with the fastball, work a changeup away and then break a breaking ball down in the dirt. … He commands his breaking ball, he commands his changeup, and it makes him very difficult on a hitter.”
MSU pitching coach Gary Henderson has noticed the talents that have impressed Pilkington’s teammates, but he has been more enticed by Pilkington’s intangibles.
“The things you notice about Konnor is he’s serious about pitching,” Henderson said. “He’s a really good listener, he can maintain concentration, he asks really good questions, he works really hard, and he’s really specific in his work in what he’s trying to improve upon. He has done a really good job of getting better, kind of like a week-by-week basis of improving.”
Pilkington said he balanced his excitement for the new role with what it means for his first outing of the season.
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “Texas Tech was ranked high in everything, but it really doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m just going to go out there and give them all I have.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson