Infield preview

Luke Reynolds hit .370 during SEC play last season. (Mississippi State)

Luke Reynolds hit .370 during SEC play last season. (Mississippi State)

Mississippi State will have half of its infield returning for the 2016 season.

The Bulldogs have the luxury of keeping the double play tandem of John Holland and Ryan Gridley intact for another season.

Holland had 40 starts last season as MSU’s second baseman while Gridley started 26 of the final 27 games at shortstop.

Holland set a school record sporting a .992 fielding percentage at second base in his first season at MSU last year. He committed just two errors in 256 chances. At the plate, the 5-foot-10 redshirt senior hit .245 with nine doubles, a home run and 27 runs batted in.

Holland is suffering from a back injury as the season starts which could cause true freshman Hunter Stovall to get some early playing time at second base. Stovall was the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year batting .461 with 10 homers, 57 RBI and 28 stolen bases as a senior at Pelham.

Gridley spent time switching between second and third before settling in as the Diamond Dogs’ shortstop late in the year. The 5-foot-8 Gridley hit .243 with nine doubles, a home run and 21 RBIs while being selected to the 2015 All-SEC Freshman team.

Competing with Gridley is Belmont true freshman Luke Alexander. The three-time All-American hit .505 as a senior and hit 17 homers during his prep career.

Luke has been committed to us for a long time,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “He really understands defense and has bought into Mississippi State baseball.”

State must replace both of its corner infielders as Wes Rea and Seth Heck were both lost to graduation.

Juco transfer Nathaniel Lowe is the man most likely to fill Rea’s shoes at first base. Lowe does have a year of Division I experience at Mercer in 2014 before transferring to St. Johns River (Fla.) State College, where he was an All-American.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder gives the Bulldogs a left-handed power bat after belting 17 long balls as a sophomore and was second in the nation with 54 walks.

“I think Nathaniel is somebody who has the potential to anchor the middle spot in our order with some physicality and a great knowledge of the strike zone,” Cohen said.

Cole Gordon will also see action at first base after redshirting his rookie season in Starkville. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is also a left-handed bat that led the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League with a .400 batting average over the summer with also adding seven home runs.

Converted catcher Gavin Collins will give third base a try this season. Collins has been working at the hot corner since the fall after undergoing two surgeries on his left hand. The 5-foot-11 junior has a .268 career average with three homers and 35 RBIs.

Junior Luke Reynolds is also in the mix at third base after finishing the year as MSU’s hottest hitter. Reynolds hit .370 with four doubles and drove in six runs during conference play and finished his first year in the program with a .304 average.

The junior from Forest led the team going 11 for 32 with runners in scoring position last spring.

Fellow junior Reid Humphreys could also receive some innings at third while not in the outfield or serving as the team’s designated hitter and closer. Humphreys batted .247 as a sophomore with 27 RBIs and is the team’s leading returning home run threat with five round trippers last year.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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