A good indication of the MSU baseball team’s talent level will be the upcoming Major League Draft, which begins tonight. First baseman Connor Powers will be the first Bulldog taken, no doubt, and has the best shot of making the show.
I spoke with MSU’s six other seniors, and while they all want to give pro ball a shot, most have pretty solid backup plans outside of the game.
Luke Adkins, OF
• Adkins, a Nettleton native who began his college career at Southern Mississippi, hit .327 with 30 RBIs this past season. He made 52 starts. He said he’s spoken with the Cardinals and Phillies, and he’s been working out with Ridgeland High School coach Brian Rea, brother of former Bulldog Jeffrey Rea.
“I told them it doesn’t matter to me if they take me in the draft or free agent or when, what round, I told them I just want a chance to play,” Adkins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve peaked out yet. It’s kind of been like a gradual rise every year that I’ve been in college.”
Right now, Adkins is working for a resource acquisition company in Flowood, where he handles things like land permits and lease options.
Jet Butler, UTL
• I list Butler as utility because he played outfield and second base for MSU this year, and apparently some teams are looking at him as a catcher, which he said he hasn’t played since he was 11 or 12 years old. He said he had some workouts last year as a catcher.
“I had several clubs tell me that they plan to take me,” said Butler, who declined to name the interested teams. “As far as when, I don’t have a whole lot of (knowledge). Going through this last year, I heard a lot of things.”
Butler batted .329 in 38 starts, and he had a .932 fielding percentage. He thinks his versatility in the field will be attractive to teams.
“I’ve had clubs say they’ll take me as a hitter and figure out the position later,” he said.
Ryan Duffy, OF/C
• The free-swinging lefty (he throws right-handed) said he hasn’t heard from any teams yet, but he’s been working out hard. “I really want to play, and I really hope somebody gives me the opportunity to play.”
Duffy batted .358 – second on the team – and slugged 10 home runs with 41 RBIs and a .642 slugging percentage. His .371 average in SEC play led the team.
On adjusting to the next level, he said, “Probably just adjusting to different styles of pitching, and probably going back behind the plate again, so I’m going to have to work on catching a lot more. I haven’t done that in a little while.”
Greg Houston, RHP
• On a staff full of young and inconsistent arms, Houston was a solid reliever. He went 5-1 with a team-best 4.60 ERA, striking out 26 in 29.1 innings. But he thinks his rough junior year – 2-2, 6.93 – could hurt him in the draft.
"It would’ve been better to have a good junior year than a good senior year,” Houston said. That’s true, considering that in baseball, seniors don’t have nearly as much negotiating leverage as juniors.
Houston said that if he’s not drafted, he might consider free agency. Right now, he’s working to complete his engineering degree while working at MSU’s research park, where he’s studying alloys.
“I’ll give it a shot if I get a chance in the draft,” he said. If not, he’ll go for a PhD in engineering.
Russ Sneed, INF/DH
• Sneed was quite limited this year because of the two hip surgeries – one on each side – he’s had the past couple of years. While he batted .292 with nine homers and 44 RBIs, he was relegated to DH duty and will certainly be a risk for whoever takes him.
He knows that, and he said he’s not spoken with any teams.
“They know everything they need to know about what I can and can’t do. … If I get picked up, I’ll get drafted, I’ll take my few thousand dollars.”
Otherwise, Sneed might be content to stick with what he’s doing now. He’s doing intern work as a financial analyst in Memphis, and for a guy who coach John Cohen said had trouble getting on and off a bus, that would be a healthier route to take.
“I’m certainly not going to bank up on (baseball) and lose the potential of getting quality work experience like I’m doing right now,” Sneed said.
Tyler Whitney, LHP
• A weekend starter as a junior, Whitney never really found a role this past season. He made 14 appearances, seven of them starts, and went 0-3 with a 6.66 ERA. In his final collegiate game, Whitney started against LSU and gave up 12 runs (seven earned) on 14 hits in 7 innings.
Whitney said he was invited to work out for the Reds but decided instead to rest his body. He’s talked to a few other teams but has no idea if/when he might be drafted. He’d be more than willing to go the free agent route.
“I still really love to play, and I still think I can play at a high level. So I’ll at least go try it and see if I measure up. I think I’d always kick myself if I didn’t try.”
Whitney said he has two semesters left to complete his master’s in business administration.
• Powers was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round last season, but he returned and had an outstanding senior year, batting .379 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs.
I never could get Powers on the phone, but last month he told me, “As far as when I do get there, I think I’m going to be a lot better off than I would’ve been last year.”
• Outfielder Jaron Shepherd, a junior college transfer, found a starting role and hit .250 with 34 RBIs and seven stolen bases. He had a .371 on-base percentage. Shepherd has been drafted twice before: the 17th round by Pittsburgh in 2008, and the 44th round by Cincinnati in 2009.
He told me this afternoon that if he’s drafted a third time, he might sign. “Just depends on where I’m taken,” he said via text message.
• Also eligible for the draft from MSU: RHP Justin Bussey, Sr.; INF Jonathan Ogden, Jr.; INF Nick Vickerson, Jr.; OF/LHP Trey Johnson, Jr.; C Cody Freeman, Jr.; C Wes Thigpen, Jr.; RHP Corey Collins, Jr.; OF Ryan Collins, Jr.; RHP Paxton Pace, So.; OF Brent Brownlee, So.
It should be noted that Bussey was injured the entire year, which is why I did not include him with Adkins, Butler, et al.