Mississippi State’s Newcomers that will play a big role in 2019
Mississippi State ended opening weekend of the 2019 baseball season with a three-game sweep of Horizon League contender Youngstown State, and many Bulldog fans got their first glimpse at some of the new faces that will be contributing to both State’s 2019 campaign and seasons to come. The most glamorous name amongst those newcomers is freshman RHP JT Ginn. Ginn turned down the seven figures that the Los Angeles Dodgers would’ve doled out to their 30thoverall pick last season to come play college ball in Starkville for at least two years. The kid racked up more All-American honors during his time at Brandon High School than an Alabama front seven does in four years. His senior year, Ginn posted a 0.36 ERA in 39.1 innings with 78 strikeouts (almost exactly 2 K’s per inning). On Saturday, Ginn equaled his prep career homeruns-allowed total with a two-run blast in the first inning of Saturday’s first game. But the freshman settled in to allow only two runs on two hits with seven strikeouts and a walk in five innings of work. Ginn has the stuff and the command to be an effective pitcher in the SEC, even as a 19 year old.
Another freshman making a splash is infielder Landon Jordan of Poplarville, Mississippi. The left-handed hitter led the team during fall scrimmages with a .471 batting average, a continuation of a senior year of high school were Jordan posted a .579 batting average and 10 homeruns in 22 games. Jordan served in the DH role this weekend, starting all three games and going 3 for 9 with a double and a stolen base. Jordan may play the field some at second base this season, according to coach Lemonis. The freshman proved in practice that, as deep as MSU is as a hitting squad, State can’t afford to have his bat out of the lineup.
The only other starter in the batting order that wasn’t here a season ago is Gunner Halter, a JUCO transfer out of Kansas. Halter is a scrappy player that put up video-game numbers during his JUCO years, with a career average above .420, 179 hits, and 39 HRs in 109 games. Halter does have some correctable holes in his swing, but his speed and sneaky power make him a valuable nine-hole hitter that should be great getting back to Jake Mangum and Co. at the top of the order.
Hayden Jones is a catcher that followed Coach Lemonis from the plains of Indiana to play in the pastures of Starkville. Jones started the third game in the opening series, giving Dustin Skelton a rest and supplanting senior catcher Marshall Gilbert, who sat for a tardiness infraction that occurred earlier this month. He pinch hit during the first couple of games, and started his career off with a bang by sending a ball on a 390-feet trip over the right-field stands for his first career hit. Saturday, Jones also made noise from behind the plate, scooping a breaking ball out of the dirt and rifling it to second base so quickly that the Penguin baserunner probably regretted even considering taking that extra bag. Jones batted around .500 his last two years of high school and hit 10 homeruns as a senior, so he’s a guy that probably doesn’t represent a hole in the batting order should his number be called upon again.
Another out-of-state JUCO guy that should contribute great innings to State’s 2019 season is Jack Eagan out of Wautoma, Wisconsin. Eagan is a leftie coming off a season where he broke his own Madison College record for strikeouts in a season with 96. He led the team in starts and had an ERA of 3.00. Eagan is familiar with Coach Lemonis, having served a redshirt season at Indiana before transferring to a junior college. On Saturday, Eagan shined in his debut by dishing out four strikeouts and a walk to the tune of zero hits in 2.0 innings of relief.
Freshman RHP Eric Cerantola is perhaps the hardest thrower on the entire State pitching staff. The Canadian out of Oakville, Ontario, was a likely early-to-mid-round draft pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, but early indications of his intentions to attend college allowed him to fall to the 30thround. His fastball approaches 96 mph, but there are some control issues to be addressed as the 6’5” hurler gave up two walks in his inning of work Saturday. He did have two strikeouts, the last of which made a talented Penguin hitter look foolish when Cerantola proved he was more than a fastball pitcher by throwing two knee-buckling sliders that caught the batter completely off-guard.
State may be returning 75% of its hitting production from 2018 as well as a weekend starter and three key relievers; but for this team to be successful, these new faces are going to have to meet and exceed the standards of Mississippi State baseball. The talent is there—now they just need to adjust to the pace of the SEC and the talent in this league. The experience they gain over the next few weeks will go a long way for these players, not just in their development but in finding out who’s ready for the moment and who still needs to figure some things out. Most of them got their feet wet on an emotional opening weekend, and there’s a talented and steady group of older players and coaches to guide these young studs into significant contributing roles for the 2019 season and seasons after.