January 9, 2018 9:41:50 AM
STARKVILLE -- Andy Cannizaro knows better than to ask someone to do what Brent Rooker did last season.
Mississippi State's baseball coach knows he saw a once-in-a-generation season out of Rooker, who won the triple crown in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in 30 years. He wouldn't even ask one player to replicate Rooker's 23 home runs.
He might ask three to do it.
Cannizaro spoke to the Starkville Rotary Club Monday afternoon and in doing so identified three candidates to be the team's primary power bats for the 2018 season. Cannizaro hopes that more home runs out of outfielders Hunter Vansau and Elijah MacNamee, plus a boost from incoming catcher Marshall Gilbert, can give MSU similar power numbers even without Rooker.
MacNamee and Vansau had two home runs between them, both of them MacNamee's. Cannizaro's hope is that somewhere between six and 12 home runs from each of the previously mentioned three can replicate Rooker's home run production and do so in a more balanced way.
Gilbert will be battling with sophomore Dustin Skelton for the starting catcher spot.
MSU might see more power for an unexpected source: center fielder Jake Mangum. Cannizaro said Mangum gained 10 to 15 pounds over the offseason.
"He's primed to have one of those monster junior seasons where I really believe he has a chance to win another SEC batting title and lead our team into the postseason," Cannizaro said.
He also identified two freshmen that could make an immediate impact with their bats, Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan. Jordan's primary roadblock is a position, since his natural position of second base could be occupied by returning starter Hunter Stovall.
The MSU pitching staff is infused with newcomers of a different kind.
"We're going to have seven or eight guys that were out with injury last year back on our team this year that have real bullets, that are going to be able to get real hitters out when it really matters at the most important time of the season," Cannizaro said.
Cannizaro said two of those pitchers coming back from elbow injuries, Ethan Small and Blake Smith, will be able to pitch when the regular season begins, with Smith in the bullpen and Small a contender for a starting role. He added Keegan James will be able to help MSU at some point, but that may not come until the second half of the regular season.
Around Smith in the bullpen, Cannizaro hopes Spencer Price can resume his role of closer after doing so to the tune of 14 saves and third-team All-American honors last season. Cannizaro said one of Price's best weapons is, "one of the best sliders in the SEC."
MSU opens it season against Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg on Feb. 16. It will host a Bulldog Opening Night Banquet 6 p.m. Saturday at The Mill Conference Center in Starkville, where the guest speaker will be former MSU pitcher Jeff Brantley. Tickets to the dinner are $65 or $100 for the dinner and the VIP hour.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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