Mississippi State is one of the few teams on the college baseball landscape to return with its weekend pitching rotation intact.
Seniors Trevor Fitts and Ross Mitchell along with junior Preston Brown are all back for the Bulldogs but that does not necessarily mean there won’t be changes made to their roles.
Fitts is making the transition as the team’s closer while Mitchell might move back to his role as a middle reliever.
Brown will be one of MSU’s weekend starters with senior southpaw Lucas Laster, sophomore right-hander Austin Sexton and true freshman righty Jesse McCord as other possibilities.
“We will have competition for those spots,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “But we have also been able to piece together a bullpen really well, so hopefully all those pieces will come together for us.”
Brown started nine games last year but was slowed by injury midway though the season. The Germantown, Tenn., right-hander went 4-3 with a 3.00 earned run average, 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 45 innings of work.
Cohen stated on Head-to-Head Radio that Brown would likely start the Diamond Dogs opener against Cincinnati on Friday.
“When I first came here it was not something I ever expected to do,” Brown said. “I feel like I can do that on a consistent basis throughout the year and I would love the opportunity to be able to do that.”
Laster emerged as a starter late last season after transferring in from Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College. Laster started four of his nine mound appearances in 2014 going 0-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 34.2 innings.
Sexton started three times in nine appearances on the bump as a true freshman last spring. The Huntsville, Ala., native was 2-0 with a 5.16 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 16 walks in 22.2 frames.
McCord was a Louisville Slugger All-American at Spanish Fort (Ala.) High School last year where he went 12-1 with a 0.73 ERA. He fanned 122 batters in 86 innings and issued only 24 walks. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder notched eight shutouts among his 16 starts as a senior.
Fitts spent his first two seasons in Starkville as a reliever but transitioned to a starter late in 2013. Last spring he started a team-high 16 games going 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 15 walks in 69.2 innings.
The team captain is excited about his new role of replacing All-American Jonathan Holder at the back end of the bullpen.
“My fastball was not good enough to survive five innings in the Southeastern Conference,” Fitts said. “I think it is going to be good for five to six outs, or however my team needs me. I went to coach (Butch) Thompson and asked him what he thought, and we both decided that it was best for me and for the team if I made the move to the bullpen.”
Mitchell also made the move from a reliever to a starter last season. He made a dozen starts and tossed four complete games in 2014. In 19 appearances, Mitchell went 8-5 with a 2.53 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 30 walks in 110.1 innings.
The Smyrna, Tenn., All-American holds a 24-5 career record and a 1.93 ERA.
“We would love to have the capability of putting Ross Mitchell in the bullpen,” Cohen said. “I am not sure if we’ll have that luxury. Is he the third starter? I am not sure yet.”
Dakota Hudson (1-2, 4.67 ERA) and Vance Tatum (2-0, 4.87 ERA) also earned starts as true freshmen last year. Hudson drew five starts while Tatum garnered one starting nod.
Junior righty Myles Gentry returns in a relief role with his sidearm delivery. Gentry made 20 appearances logging 32 innings out of the bullpen last year. He sported a 4.78 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Sophomore right-hander Zac Houston pitched in four games last spring. He held a 3.00 ERA with a walk and a pair of punchouts in three frames.
“(The bullpen) is limitless,” Fitts said. “We have a lot of new guys people do not really know much about. They are going to step up and do a good job.”
Paul Young, Levi Mintz and Jacob Billingsley all redshirted their initial season in Starkville. Young is expected to miss the start of the year while still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
McCord is one of seven new arms Cohen signed in his nationally ranked recruiting class joining Paxton Stover, Cole Gordon, Aaron Dominguez, Trent Waddell, Andrew Mahoney and Daniel Brown.
Gordon and Waddell are also two-way players both backing up Wes Rea at first base.
State’s hurlers finished the 2014 season with a 3.06 team ERA, 513 strikeouts and 211 walks in 571.1 innings of work. The Bulldogs allowed the fewest home runs in the SEC (13) and its strikeouts ranked second in the league.