Mississippi State junior second baseman Hunter Stovall has a 10-game hitting streak. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
April 20, 2018 1:45:12 AM
STARKVILLE -- What has become the new normal for the Mississippi State baseball team's corner outfield positions could change at any given moment. Frankly, most involved hope it does.
Through the first half of Southeastern Conference play, MSU's use of left field and right field can only be described as an unplanned rotation, as four players have started in left, three have started in right and a couple have been inserted into the lineup as designated hitters. MSU (19-19, 5-10 SEC) is still looking for the results at the positions and will keep doing it until they come; the next opportunity starts with Super Bulldog Weekend and the series with No. 4 Arkansas (28-10, 10-5 SEC) beginning 6:30 p.m. Friday (SEC Network+).
"I think it's led from there not being much production from any of us, really. There hasn't been any consistency," said junior outfielder Hunter Vansau said, who has started at all three spots. "I think we have to figure out who's going to play the best and that's who plays. At this point in time, I feel like we're going to see who gets hot and we're going to stay with that guy."
MSU has tried a lot to find that guy. Freshman Rowdey Jordan has started seven times in left field in MSU's 15 SEC games, going 5-for-24 (.208); however, three of those hits did come in his two most recent starts, the final two games of the Auburn series. Vansau has started three times in left field and failed to tally a hit in 10 at-bats; when adding in his five starts in right field and one at designated hitter, he has hit .171 (6-for-35) in SEC play.
Senior Tanner Poole has been the most consistent starter of them all, taking on nine starts, all in right field. He enters the weekend with a .194 league play batting average (7-for-36) with just one walk.
Freshman Tanner Allen taking over at first base freed up Josh Hatcher to take outfield and designated hitter spots, which he has, starting once in left field and five times at designated hitter against SEC competition. In this six starts, Hatcher has hit .227 (5-for-22), but four walks in those starts does help his on-base percentage in all of SEC play rise to .306.
The one outlier from a batting average standpoint is junior Elijah MacNamee, who is hitting .273 against SEC competition with a .448 on-base percentage, but the catch is he's done it in just five starts and 22 at-bats. For context, Poole has hit .194 over 36 at-bats, Jordan .192 over 26 at-bats and Vansau .171 over 35 at-bats.
"He's one of those guys we're playing," Henderson said of MacNamee. "Played last night (in the loss to Memphis) and had some good at-bats, so he'll get another opportunity this weekend."
Henderson also said freshman Jordan Anderson could get some looks at playing time against SEC teams. Anderson has played in seven games and gotten 12 at-bats, but only one of those at-bats came against a conference foe.
The rotation has been constant ever since SEC play started: only twice has one Bulldog gotten three or more starts at the same corner outfield position in SEC play. Both times it was Poole, starting the final game of the Vanderbilt series and the first two of the Missouri series before starting in each of MSU's last four SEC games. Vansau admitted it's something he has never done in his college baseball career, but it's well known each of them has the power to end it.
"I think we're managing it well. You run guys out there, play the guy that's hot, let him go for a little bit," Henderson said. "We'd certainly be really interested in somebody getting really hot and forcing us to play him, but we've played a bunch of guys out there. I think some of them are doing a good job of getting better, but we'll continue to rotate them a little bit and if somebody wants to force us to play him, we'd be interested in that happening."
Starting an individual takeover against the No. 4 team in the nation against an elevated Super Bulldog Weekend attendance number may not be the easiest of tasks, but Vansau has an idea of how to do it.
"Good, quality at-bats going from game to game. That's how you can establish playing time."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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