November 17, 2017 10:25:01 AM
STARKVILLE -- Dividing up the roster for the Mississippi State baseball team's six public intrasquad scrimmages had an obvious starting point: shortstop. MSU coach Andy Cannizaro is likely to use either Hunter Stovall or Luke Alexander there come spring, so the first thing to do is put them on opposite teams to give both as much time as possible.
The battle continues this weekend -- the final showing before a hiatus.
MSU's Maroon & White World Series take place this weekend at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson: 7 p.m. Friday, 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday. It will be yet another opportunity for both to state their case for the position both admit they want, but it won't be their last.
"I don't think anything's going to happen this weekend that could seal the deal for one of them," Cannizaro said. "We're still going to be doing this when we come back from the break -- both of them will be lining up at shortstop in January."
As Cannizaro peeks beyond this weekend and to the preseason, he feels comfortable with either option.
"I have a ton of confidence in putting both of those guys out there at shortstop and feeling like we're going to defend it really well at that position," Cannizaro said.
"(Alexander) has been a gigantic surprise this fall in terms of how well he's moved laterally: he's lost some weight, he's moving better, there's more foot speed. He is an extremely sure-handed defender that's an extremely accurate thrower of the baseball. Stovall is a guy that has plus-plus range at shortstop. He showed me he can play shortstop when we put him in there in a midweek game."
Alexander is hoping an improved hit tool can help him win the job, too.
Alexander ended the season on a sour note, collecting just one hit in his final 18 at-bats and didn't play at all in the Baton Rouge Super Regional that ended MSU's season. He ended his sophomore season with a .222 batting average; then he went to the Cape Cod Baseball League, playing for the Cotuit Kettleers, and hit .272 in the nation's premier summer league.
Alexander didn't get the opportunity to get many reps at shortstop, splitting the summer between second and third base, but said hitting was, "pretty much the reason I went up there."
"I think he came back a more confident hitter," Cannizaro said. "Last year was his first year strictly hitting right-handed, so that was the first time he was seeing right-handed breaking balls from the right side. That was a really big adjustment for him."
Stovall doesn't have as much to prove from a production standpoint, having been MSU's starting second baseman when healthy with a .288 batting average.
All he wants to prove is that he can do it.
"I think it would be awesome to play shortstop in the SEC," he said. "I grew up playing shortstop and I've always been told I was too little to play shortstop, so that whole factor of proving everybody wrong that I've always had eats at me every day."
Both want the job, but both also know their playing time doesn't necessarily depend on winning it. Cannizaro said he believes Stovall is the best second baseman in the Southeastern Conference and that he believes Alexander is the best third baseman on the same scale, so whoever doesn't get the shortstop position is likely to slide over to those respective spots.
If it ends up being Alexander at shortstop and Stovall at second, both parties know what to expect: the two played some summer ball together growing up in that exact double play combination.
In the other scenario, Cannizaro thinks the young crop of second base prospects could produce a worthy candidate.
"The way that I look at it is, if I don't play shortstop, then I'll probably be at second base and we'll have one of the dirtiest middle infields in the country," Stovall said. "It's a win-win situation. Of course I'm busting my butt to get that spot.
"It comes down to, in the long run, if it's going to help the team more, me being at second base, that's where I'll be. I'm all about us winning as a whole."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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