Mississippi State returns three-fourths of its infield from a team that finished National Runner-Up at the College World Series last year.
Two of those three returning players are back for their senior year but the newcomer at shortstop will have some big shoes to fill.
Gone is Adam Frazier, who led the country with 107 hits establishing a new single-season school record. Frazier was selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates after starting all 71 games at shortstop last year.
Junior Matthew Britton is the leading candidate to take over at shortstop. The left-handed hitter played in just 18 games last season and had five hits in 20 at bats. Britton is a career .188 hitter with two doubles, 10 runs batted in and four stolen bases.
“I think Britton at his best is one of the premier defenders in our league,” said MSU skipper John Cohen. “There’s never been a question about that. He has arm strength, lateral quickness and long limb length but gets into a low fielding position. He gets it in and out of his glove and has great range. I’m very impressed with how he’s turned the corner offensively.”
Battling Britton for playing time is junior college transfer Seth Heck. The Edmonds, Wash., native was a two-time NWAACC West Division All-Star and multiple Gold Glove winner at Tacoma Community College last season. Heck hit .355 with 22 RBIs and made fewer than 15 errors in over 500 chances in the field.
“Seth Heck has come in and fit in nicely,” Cohen said. “He’s really worked hard to compete for a spot on our infield.”
Settling in at third base is senior Alex Detz. The San Luis Obispo, Calif., native played a variety of positions for the Diamond Dogs in 2013 at first base, third base and designated hitter. Detz started 66 of the 69 games in which he plays finishing third on the team with a .318 average with 14 doubles, one triple, one homer and 31 RBI. He also topped the team with 53 walks and a .449 on-base percentage.
“I think Alex has really gravitated toward the third base position,” Cohen said. “He came to us as a second baseman. I think he has really improved as a defender at third base. I’m really proud of him. He’s an on base machine; a savvy hitter. He makes everybody in front of him and behind him a better player in our lineup. His arm has been really accurate and gotten stronger over time. His range is better.
Backing up Detz at the hot corner will be 2013 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year Reid Humphreys. The younger brother of former MSU standout and current Washington Nationals player Tyler Moore, Humphreys was also selected in the 36th round of the MLB Draft by the Nationals.
Humphreys hit .419 with 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs as a senior at Northwest Rankin. He was also a stellar prep pitcher but did not throw his senior year coming off Tommy John surgery.
“Reid is a guy who’s been really good and deserves opportunities,” Cohen said. “He’s really improved at third base. He’s battled back from his arm surgery and it gets a little bit better every day.”
Brett Pirtle is also back for his senior campaign at second base. The switch-hitting Texan batted .336 in conference play and earned second team All-SEC honors. Pirtle finished his first Division I season with a .310 batting average, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs, 33 RBI and nine steals.
“Brett Pirtle has a chance to be everything he was last year and more,” Cohen said. “A dynamic athlete, who can get to balls, who can throw, who brings energy to our club. A guy, because he’s a switch hitter, brings a lot of flexibility to our club and our order.”
Behind Pirtle at second base is Canadian Kyle Hann. The sophomore saw action at second and third base last season drawing nine starts. Hann went 7-for-32 at the plate but went hitless in just three at bats in conference play.
Wes Rea returns for his second year as team captain. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound first baseman batted .291 with 12 doubles and 40 RBI in 53 starts last season. Rea is State’s top returning long ball threat with seven homers last season and a dozen for his career.
“I think Wes is in the best physical condition of his career,” Cohen said. “He’s like having a coach on the field. He sees the game differently than most kids his age. He’s a great defender and has learned to negotiate at bats. His plan has gotten better and if he stays healthy I think he can have a great year for us.”
Rea will have a couple of true freshman trailing behind him at first base in Dylan Ingram and Brent Rooker.
Ingram was named the ASWA/AISA Player of the Year in both baseball and football last year at Edgewood (Ala.) Academy. He led the Wildcats to four state titles in baseball and three in football during his prep career. As a senior, Ingram hit .433 with seven home runs and 63 RBI and also threw for 4,182 yards as a quarterback.
Rooker is a first baseman/ outfielder from Germantown, Tenn., who earned honorable mentions from both the 2013 Rawlings Southeast Region and 2012 Perfect Game Underclass All-American. Rooker was a finalist for the Tennessee Player of the Year after batting .430 with nine home runs, 32 RBI and 23 stolen bases at Evangelical Christian School as a senior and won two state baseball titles.