Small expected to do big things for baseball Bulldogs

Ethan Small
Staff Writer

What’s better than having a dominant, left-handed ace to anchor your starting pitching rotation in the Southeastern Conference? How about having two of them?
That’s exactly what Mississippi State thinks it might have as the 2018 baseball season draws ever closer.
For the second-straight year, Konnor Pilkington will serve as MSU’s Friday night starter. Odds are he’ll again be the consistent, at times dominant, hurler that is expected to go rather quickly in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft.
Right behind him in State’s rotation stands a guy with the last name of Small, who Mississippi State is expecting to come up big.

“Ethan Small has been outstanding for us,” MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “In terms of a one-two punch right now with a Pilkington and a Small, I think you are talking about two 6-foot-4 lefties that are going to run the ball in the mid-90s with nice secondary stuff and be strike throwers. I think that is an outstanding one-two punch when it comes to running those guys out there on back to back days.”

Just the fact that Small has basically already earned the No. 2 spot in MSU’s rotation is indicative enough of his potential. Yet there is plenty more evidence to suggest he can be special.

D1 Baseball lists Small as the 40th-best Southeastern Conference prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft, so scouts are fully aware of what Small has the potential to do. He flashed glimpses of that potential two years ago in Starkville.

As a true freshman in 2016, Small appeared in 15 games as a reliever for the Bulldogs. In only 10.1 innings of work, the southpaw struck out 20 batters.

However Small didn’t get the chance to build on that success in 2017. He missed the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. Now though, Small is back and everyone believes the sky is the limit for him.

“When he’s on the mound, his mound presence is crazy,” MSU second baseman Hunter Stovall, a former roommate of Small’s, said. “He looks at you like he wants to kill you. He’s really going to get after it. He’s an unbelievable competitor. He thinks he’s the best in college baseball, which is awesome. He has velocity. He has dirty off-speed stuff. His changeup works for him. His curveball is filthy. He can spot pitches. I think he’s going to make a humongous name for himself this year.”

Maybe the only thing that can slow down Small is himself. Back in his freshman season, control was a problem for Small. While he racked up the punch-outs, he also walked 10 batters, hit two more and threw a couple of wild pitches in his 10.1 innings.

The good news for State is that it appears Small has ironed out some of his command issues.

Pilkington says Small has gotten older and wiser and that has allowed him to be able to throw more strikes.

“Over the past two years, he has really been able to settle down in college and everything,” Pilkington said of Small. “He’s got a lot of confidence in himself now and doesn’t get too amped up. I felt like as a freshman he was kind of just throwing as hard as he could and it didn’t really matter where it went. He was hitting 96, 97 or 98 miles per hour, but didn’t know where it was going. Now, he’s around 92 or 94 and really spotting the ball.”

If plans hold, Small will make his first career start on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Southern Miss in Mississippi State’s second game of the season. If the Bulldogs get their way, it’ll be the first of many starts for Small.

State has already seen how valuable that a durable, talented lefty starter can be in the SEC as Pilkington’s career has evolved. The Bulldogs are counting on doubling their pleasure this season with Small.

“We have a lot of confidence in Ethan,” Cannizaro said.