Konnor Pilkington had hoped he’d get “the news,” but he wasn’t exactly counting on it.
Pilkington has not only pitched well at every level, he has been a standout.
At East Central, the left-hander was the Hornets’ ace and eventually earned the Sun Herald’s Player of the Year honor.
As a freshman at Mississippi State last season, Pilkington eased into his role on the mound and later cemented himself as a rotation mainstay. He spent the summer competing in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League and only continued to get better against the nation’s best college baseball players. Against future first-round draft picks, Pilkington did more than merely stand his own — he dominated.
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So when Pilkington got the news last week that he was going to be Mississippi State’s Friday night starter and new coach Andy Cannizaro’s first staff ace, he was humbled but not completely surprised.
“Being able to pitch on a Friday night means the world to me,” the Hurley native said after Tuesday’s practice. “Being able to pitch on a Friday in the SEC or on a Friday to open up the dang season, it’s an honor. I know all the guys behind me trust me like I trust them. I’m just going to go out and do my thing.”
Mississippi State made it official Thursday, announcing Pilkington as Friday’s starter against Texas Tech at 4 p.m.
Praise for Pilkington
Cannizaro heaped praise on Pilkington on Saturday when he made his staff decision public for the first time.
“He’s a 6-foot-3, 230-pound, physical left-handed pitcher who’s going to run his fastball up to 93 or 94 mph with a plus breaking ball and a swing-and-miss changeup,” Cannizaro said. “He’s an innings eater, workhorse type of guy. He pounds the strike zone.
“He’s a guy, in my opinion and the opinion of the coaching staff, that will be the next great Mississippi State pitcher. He’s only a sophomore so we’re going to have him for the next two years and I think he’s going to have a chance to leave here next year as a high first-round draft pick guy.”
Talent evaluators seem to agree with Cannizaro. Pilkington was Perfect Game’s No. 6-ranked sophomore and No. 3 SEC prospect in the 2018 draft. D1Baseball has Pilkington as the second-best 2018 draft prospect from the SEC.
As Pilkington has shown throughout his young career, there’s no pressure he can’t handle.
In 2016, Pilkington made 11 starts and 14 appearances. He posted a 3-1 record with a 2.08 ERA, striking out 42 batters against 15 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He also limited opponents to a .229 batting average. He still boasted strong numbers against SEC competition, posting a 2.73 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 26 1/3 innings.
His summer on the Cape was just as impressive, landing Pilkington on the CCBL’s postseason team.
In 39 1/3 innings against college baseball’s best, Pilkington led the Brewster Whitecaps’ regulars with a 1.37 ERA. He struck out 33 in 39 1/3 innings, walked 12 and had a 1.07 WHIP.
“Being able to go up there and pitch against the best competition in the nation with wooden bats, I feel like it was really eye opening about myself and my abilities,” Pilkington said. “I learned how to get batters out the second and third time instead of trying to getting them out the same way two times in a row. That doesn’t work with good hitters. Even with bad hitters, you have to approach everybody like they’re Alex Rodriguez.”
When he steps on the mound, Pilkington has a simplistic approach to pitching.
“I’m excited and everything, but I’m keeping it under control. Just going to go out there, play baseball and compete like I always do,” he said. “It’s just a mindset, honestly, I feel like. I just tell myself to stay calm and play baseball. It’s tunnel vision with me and the catcher. You just can’t let anything rattle you. You’re just pitching a baseball.”
Pilkington credits new MSU pitching coach Gary Henderson for some of his mental strength.
“He has talked a lot about the clarity of the body and how to control your body on the mound,” he said. “His way of teaching stuff is more of a mentality and finding strength and rhythm in your delivery. He has really brought a bunch to the table.”
Rest of the weekend
Peyton Plumlee will be MSU’s starting pitcher at 4 p.m. Saturday against Western Illinois and Ryan Cyr will take the mound at 3 p.m. Sunday against Texas Tech.
MSU’s noon starter against Western Illinois on Sunday is to be determined.
Plumlee is a junior college transfer and Cyr was 1-1 with a 1.04 ERA in 17 1/3 innings last season.
MSU’s opening weekend
TV: SEC Network+
Radio: 1490-AM, 1640-AM
Texas Tech, 4 p.m.
Western Illinois, 4 p.m.
Western Illinois, noon
Texas Tech, 3 p.m.