Newcomers could be key in MSU lineup

Staff Writer

Josh Hatcher hasn’t played a game yet for Mississippi State.

The freshman first baseman is still waiting to get his feet wet in college baseball. Yet Hatcher is already impressing his teammates and coaches with his work ethic and his production in scrimmages. It’s why he’s likely to lead a large group of first-year Bulldogs who’ll probably get regular playing time in the MSU lineup this season .

“Josh Hatcher has been outstanding for us the past couple of weeks at first base,” State head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “He’s a left-handed thrower and left-handed hitter. He’s going to be a tremendous hitter here at Mississippi State. He’s a guy that has continued to get better and better with time.”

To hear Cannizaro and the rest of the Bulldogs speak of Hatcher, it sounds as though he’ll likely get the opening day nod at first base when MSU starts the season this Friday at Southern Miss. It’s almost a certainty that the Albany, Georgia, native won’t be the only Bulldog making his debut in Hattiesburg though.

Depending on how Cannizaro shakes things out over the next few days, nearly half of State’s starting lineup on Friday could be first-year players.

Hatcher currently seems to be the clubhouse leader to be the starting first baseman. Meanwhile fellow freshmen Tanner Allen (third base) and Rowdey Jordan (left field) look to have outstanding shots at cracking MSU’s first lineup of 2018 as well.

“(Allen) is an outstanding young left-handed hitter,” Cannizaro said. “He is an extremely tough out each and every time he is at the plate. He has been working exclusively at third base for us the last couple of weeks and we feel with a lot of confidence that he is going to play that position at a high level.

“Rowdey Jordan could certainly get some innings at third base as well, although I kind of think Rowdey is going to start the season playing left field for us. Just with his combination of speed and athleticism, being able to run balls down when the ball is down the line or in the gap – I love the fact that he can run, take hits away in the outfield and be a switch hitter that can certainly do some things offensively to create some runs and help us score.”

Hatcher, Allen and Jordan all begin their MSU playing days having already put together impressive high school careers. Hatcher was a first team All-State player in the state of Georgia. Allen and Jordan both accomplished the same feat in the state of Alabama.

While it’s not unusual for freshman players in the Southeastern Conference to have such accolades, it is a bit more uncommon for that high school success to immediately translate to the collegiate game. Yet that’s exactly what the Bulldogs hope that Hatcher, Allen and Jordan can do as the Bulldogs seek to make up for the production lost by the departures of key offensive pieces such as 2017 Southeastern Conference triple crown winner Brent Rooker and the consistent Ryan Gridley.

Arguably the most promising offensive first-year player who could crack State’s opening day lineup though isn’t one of the freshmen. It’s transfer catcher Marshall Gilbert. Gilbert hit .365 with 12 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 67 RBI last year as a sophomore at John A. Logan College in Illinois. This came after a freshman season where he hit .406 with 20 doubles, five triples, 12 homers and 67 RBI.

“Gilbert has been playing good of late,” Cannizaro said. “He’s swinging it really well. He has a chance to hit for some power. I think he has a chance to hit some home runs this year. He is a guy who hit a lot of home runs in junior college and was a guy who hit a lot of home runs in summer ball last year.”

There is no guarantee Gilbert will begin the season as MSU’s primary catcher. Sophomore Dustin Skelton, who started 15 games for the Bulldogs behind the dish a year ago, could receive the opening day nod. Yet Gilbert’s track record as a hitter makes him an intriguing option for the Bulldogs.

In fact, Hatcher, Allen, Jordan and Gilbert all could make big-time waves for MSU over the course of this spring.

With baseball being as unpredictable as it usually is, there will likely be another new Bulldog or two to make names for themselves before this year is said and done.