Keegan James played a variety of roles for Mississippi State on the mound as a true freshman this past season.
James appeared in 14 games for the Bulldogs and made four starts. It is in that starting role that the right-hander hopes to help MSU moving forward.
“In the future, I definitely see myself as a starter,” James said. “That’s what I’m wanting. But this (past) year I was just comfortable on the mound. I didn’t care when it was or what the situation was and that will be the same in the upcoming years. If my role is to not be a starter and come out of the pen, then that’s something I’m perfectly fine with. Just whatever gets me on the field and gives our team a chance to win.”
James was 3-0 overall on the year with a 3.24 earned run average with 15 strikeouts and eight walks over 25 innings of work. During his four starts, he was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA, three strikeouts and three walks.
However, James’ longest outing came in relief and was actually his Diamond Dog debut. He fired 4 1/3 innings against South Dakota State on Feb. 20 giving up just one run while scattering five hits and striking out a pair.
“I was more excited than I was nervous,” James said. “I told myself in the bullpen before I went out that I didn’t want to be the guy that goes out there and looks nervous. The whole time I was thinking be calm, be cool and be collected. I was extremely excited and a huge opportunity to be able to go out on opening weekend and throw 4 1/3 innings. It gave me a ton of confidence and jump-started my season.”
James’ last six outings of the spring came out of the bullpen. While he still envisions himself as a starter, he feels there are some advantages to being a reliever as well.
“When you come out of the pen, you never know how many pitches coach wants you to throw,” James said. “I threw three pitches against Alabama one time and coach came out and told me I did my job. You don’t know how short your leash is so you go out there and pound the zone throwing as hard as you can and give the hitters your best stuff. You don’t have to pace yourself.”
James certainly did not have to pace himself much at the prep level. The three-time Perfect Game All-American mowed through high school hitters with a blazing fastball, striking out 54 in 61 1/3innings as a senior. That season he was 7-2 with a 0.91 ERA and helped lead DeSoto Central win the Class 6A State championship.
After arriving in college, James quickly learned he would have to develop his secondary pitches and not be able to rely of his two-seam fastball quite as much.
“It’s a big difference,” James said. “You can’t beat everybody with a fastball. If you are trying to beat them with a fastball, you’ve got to be able to locate it. In high school I really didn’t have good off-speed stuff and didn’t throw my change-up hardly at all and my breaking ball was weak. Now everything has gotten tighter.”
James worked on developing a cutter during his freshman campaign and even unveiled it in a few games late in the year. He is continuing to hone his pitching prowess this summer with the Strasburg Express in the Valley Baseball League.
In two starts, James is 1-0 with a 1.63 ERA, 10 strikeouts and five walks through 11 innings.