Can Mississippi State baseball repeat? What the Bulldogs roster could look like in 2022
College baseball is due for a repeat champion.
No team has repeated as College World Series champion since Ray Tanner led South Carolina to victories in 2010 and 2011. There have only been nine repeat College World Series champions since the trophy was first awarded in 1947, and four of those were USC pulling off a five-peat from 1970-74.
Since USC's string of success, college baseball has had approximately one repeat champion every 10 years. Stanford pulled it off in 1987-88, LSU went back-to-back in 1996-97, Oregon State took two in a row in 2006-07 and then South Carolina got its rings.
Vanderbilt came close to joining that group. The Commodores were one win away from a repeat in 2015 and then one win away again in 2021 if it wasn't for Mississippi State taking down the team poised to repeat behind ace arms Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.
Mississippi State goes into 2022 with a chance to join elite company. It'll be an uphill climb; the Bulldogs are expected to lose a number of huge pieces including their top arms and bats. But with the core Mississippi State has a chance to return, there's no reason to count the Bulldogs out of the repeat conversation just yet.
Here's a quick look at what Mississippi State's roster might look like in 2022.
It's hard to imagine a world where Will Bednar or Christian MacLeod are back for 2022. Both have eligibility remaining, but both are also expected to be picked in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Draft this weekend. Bednar could go in the first round. It'll be hard for either of them to turn down the opportunity to go pro.
That means Mississippi State's starting rotation is due for some revamping. Jackson Fristoe and Houston Harding should be back and should be favorites for spots in the weekend rotation. As should Preston Johnson.
With Johnson's junior college starting experience, he could be a candidate for a promotion. Rising sophomores Mikey Tepper and Cade Smith and rising junior Stone Simmons are also players who could make a jump this offseason and factor into the role.
The real names to watch are the incoming players. Freshmen Maddux Bruns, Pico Kohn and Jack Walker are all top 500 recruits according to Perfect Game and junior college transfer Andrew Walling has a chance to be a top 200 draft pick. If any of those guys get to campus, Mississippi State's rotation can be dominant.
Plus there's still the force in the back end. All-America closer Landon Sims should be back in 2022. So should every bullpen arm except for fifth-year seniors Riley Self and Carlisle Koestler. The strength of Mississippi State's pitching staff was its bullpen, and that whole unit should be able to return, barring transfer portal attrition or players getting promoted into starting roles.
There won't be an obvious star at the start of the season like MacLeod, Bednar, J.T. Ginn or Ethan Small in past years. But Mississippi State's pitchers should still be high-volume strikeout guys who limit balls in play and keep the Bulldogs ahead in games.
Seniors Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan should hear their names called in the MLB Draft. Graduate transfer second baseman Scotty Dubrule is out of eligibility. Beyond that, there shouldn't be too much change in Mississippi State's lineup.
Logan Tanner, Kamren James, Luke Hancock, Brad Cumbest, Kellum Clark, Lane Forsythe, Brayland Skinner, Tanner Leggett and Josh Hatcher all have eligibility remaining. Those nine players accounted for 43% of Mississippi State's home runs, 53% of the Bulldogs' doubles, 55% of the runs scored and 61% of the RBIs in 2021.
Mississippi State is going to need to find some outfielders to replace Allen and Jordan. Skinner, Cumbest and Hatcher have outfield experience. Rising juniors Drew McGowan and Kyte McDonald might be called upon for increased roles too.
But like before, it'll be important to monitor the MLB Draft to find Mississippi State's future bats. Outfielder James Wood might be a first-round pick and shortstop Jordan McCants could go in the first five rounds. Either of those players sliding in the draft and getting to campus could be huge.
Infielders Aaron Downs and Slate Alford and outfielder Trey Higgins are some of the prospects to watch. All three are top 500 recruits per Perfect Game, but only Downs is listed in Baseball America's top 500 prospects for the 2021 MLB Draft.
Offenses don't lose the SEC Player of the Year and get better. Replacing Allen won't be a trivial matter, nor will replacing Jordan's consistency as a table-setter or Dubrule's experience.
But the final verdict is there's no reason Mississippi State shouldn't be a preseason top 10 team in 2022. One or two pitchers and one or two hitters are going to need to take steps forward, and a couple of newcomers are going to need to produce immediately.
Still, this team has as much returning talent as any recent champion and there chance to contend for a repeat title will be right in front of Mississippi State's face.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.