Gilbert transitions from catcher to third base, crushes the ball at the plate during senior season

 

Marshall Gilbert makes a throw from third base to record an out on Saturday against South Carolina.  The senior transitioned to third base from catcher this season.

Marshall Gilbert makes a throw from third base to record an out on Saturday against South Carolina. The senior transitioned to third base from catcher this season. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

As Mississippi State took the field for warm-ups Saturday, senior Marshall Gilbert paused. 

 

Before taking his spot at third base he walked to the edge of the dirt behind the bag. Once there, he reached down and scribbled in the dirt the word "daWgs" -- placing special emphasis on the W -- before quickly wiping it away. 

 

The process is brisk, yet it's one that further exudes the selflessness Gilbert has demonstrated all year. 

 

"I like doing that because at the end of the day, that's what it is. We're a team and we're trying to do one thing and that's get the 'W' and that's really all it's about," Gilbert said. 

 

The inscription is new to this season -- one that has thrown as many inconsistencies as pitches at Gilbert. Since losing out on the starting catching role, he has shifted to third base. 

 

The move occurred by happenstance. With four other catchers on the roster and junior Dustin Skelton holding down the No. 1 spot, Gilbert decided to take a few ground balls at third during batting practice. The MSU coaching staff took notice. 

 

From there, Gilbert began picking sophomore infielder Justin Foscue's brain about the position before ultimately being thrown into a rotation with junior Gunner Halter and Landon Jordan at the corner infield spot. 

 

"I was happy to do it because I love this place and whatever it takes to play with a team like this is what I really wanted to do," Gilbert said. 

 

The differences between catching and third base are many. A player's defensive angles and throw timing vary. That said, Gilbert has made the transition with relative ease, totaling just four errors to 30 assists on the year. 

 

Most notably, it was a May 11 victory over No. 15 Ole Miss when onlookers saw Gilbert's true potential in the field. Ranging to his left and right, forward and backward, he recorded six assists in the 8-5 win. 

 

"One play just gives you confidence to make the next one and the next one, and then it snowballs because you get in the habit of knowing what it feels like to make a ground ball, make a play on a certain play," Gilbert said. 

 

Beyond the defense, Gilbert's hitting has been a welcome addition to the bottom of the lineup. Gilbert enters this week's SEC tournament hitting .330 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 94 at-bats. He also has multi-hit games in six of his past nine contests. 

 

"He's a little bit of everything in that spot," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said of Gilbert batting in the No. 9 hole. "His ability to hit the long ball, which he's done a couple times, he's gotten some clutch hits and also grinds out a pitcher in that spot. So he's done a great job of getting it back to the front (of the lineup)." 

 

Dating back to May 3 against No. 16 Texas A&M, Gilbert has now started 11 straight games at third base after starting just 13 total in the months prior.  

 

"It's honestly a great feeling because I love being out there with the team we have this year and I just love being able to contribute in any way they ask me to," he said. 

 

With his position changed secured, Gilbert is taking the final few weeks of his Bulldog career in stride while also setting an example for the rest of the roster. 

 

"There's people that have been watching me go from not being able to play to being able to play and I think that that's something the younger kids need to notice," Gilbert said. "And say maybe they're not playing right now, getting the reps they want, but you've got to keep going and be ready for when it happens."

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.

 

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