STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s 2021 baseball roster got a little more crowded Monday as the NCAA offered extra eligibility to players affected by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Following the NCAA’s ruling, the Bulldogs could have as many as 50 players returning to Starkville for next season. And while it’s expected a handful of players will depart, coach Chris Lemonis should have a loaded roster heading into his third season at the helm.
With that, here’s a look at what the 2021 roster could look like:
While another year of Jordan Westburg and Justin Foscue in the middle of the MSU infield sounds like a thrill, both will almost assuredly be selected in the MLB’s First Year Player Draft. Though it’s only slated to be five rounds, Westburg is a likely first round pick, while Foscue’s pop at second base makes him a prime second or third round selection.
With Westburg and Foscue gone, freshman Kamren James — who’s a virtual carbon copy of Westburg physically — should move to shortstop, though it remains to be seen who gets slotted at second base.
JT Ginn is also a likely MLB Draft casualty. Ginn was a first round pick out of high school before he spurned the Los Angeles Dodgers to play at MSU. After a string of shoulder issues muddied an otherwise brilliant showing in parts of two years for the Bulldogs and a season ending surgery ended his 2020 campaign, he should still be taken in the draft’s first two rounds.
Depends on the draft
While Westbrug, Foscue and Ginn are safe bets to be drafted no matter how short it may be, it remains unclear when fellow juniors Josh Hatcher, Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan are taken, if at all.
Hatcher was primed for a breakout campaign after he hit .311 with four doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in 16 starts. Despite that, it’s a small sample size and MLB ball clubs may want to see what he can do in a full season as a regular starter in the Southeastern Conference.
As for Allen and Jordan, both have a string of question marks when it comes to their pro prospects. Allen has played everything from first base to outfield since he arrived at MSU, but it’s still unclear what his true position is. His bat mitigates those concerns a good deal, though finding some better footing in the outfield as a fourth-year junior could entice MLB teams even more.
That said, Jordan is the more flawed of the pair as his lack of plate discipline can get him behind in counts. He did still hit .308 with 20 hits and six RBIs in 16 starts this year, but another season in the leadoff spot vacated by Jake Mangum could do wonders for his stock.
In a normal year, both Allen and Jordan are assuredly off the professional ball. Instead, they should return to Starkville next season while still maintaining bargaining power due to their extra year of eligibility.
Should they stay or should they go?
While the junior class has ample professional prospects, it’s murky as to whether MSU’s five-man senior class returns.
Graduate transfers David Dunlavey and Carlisle Koestler — fifth and sixth-year seniors this season, respectively — could both theoretically come back as neither should be taken if the draft drops to five rounds.
Spencer Price and Riley Self were in the midst of major bounce-back years, but both boast long injury histories. If they hope to continue playing, another year at MSU in major roles would behoove them should they stay healthy.
Jack Eagan appeared in 18 games as a junior but hadn’t seen action yet in 2020. He would give MSU a talented left-hander out of the bullpen if he comes back.
The returning core
While there will undoubtedly be some roster moves despite the NCAA’s extension of eligibility, MSU is primed to again be among the nation’s elite next spring.
The aforementioned Kamren James showed a solid glove and a smooth stroke at the plate in his first season in Starkville. Expect him to be a star as soon as next year.
Fellow freshman Logan Tanner also had his moments both at catcher and at the dish.
Perhaps more importantly, two-thirds of MSU’s weekend rotation should be back in 2021. Christian MacLeod has been billed as a potential first rounder down the line and his four starts this season backed it up. Totaling an ERA of 0.86 in 21 innings pitched, MacLeod allowed just nine hits while striking out 35.
Hard-throwing right-hander Eric Cerantola flashed an improved command of the strike zone in his second season under pitching coach Scott Foxhall’s guidance. With a fastball that can reach the high-90s, Cerantola could skyrocket up draft boards in 2021 if his command continues to improve.
Freshman Landon Sims and former Itawamba Community College product Houston Harding were stellar in limited action. Freshman reliever Will Bednar also seemingly found his footing as soon as the season was canceled and could move into the weekend rotation.
In addition to the current roster, the Bulldogs welcome the No. 13 ranked recruiting class according to Perfect Game. Top prospect Blaze Jordan should be one of the first 10 players to hear his name in the MLB Draft and likely won’t make it to MSU, but the bulk of the Bulldogs’ haul should help round out next year’s squad.
Assuming Allen and Jordan come back too, MSU will have an experienced core as college baseball rosters across the country are loaded with as much talent as the game has never seen before.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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