Preseason baseball polls are beginning to roll in with Mississippi State's Diamond Dawgs receiving plenty of praise.
Last month Collegiate Baseball ranked MSU 11th in the nation. Last week, D1Baseball.com ranked MSU 15th in its preseason poll.
"Some people may look at this preseason ranking of No. 15 and wonder why? They were 24-30 last year. But let me tell you, this is a completely different team," Aaron Fitt said on D1Baseball.com's podcast. "This team had a very strong fall. A number of players, it sounds like, have taken huge steps forward. ... There's a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction for the Bulldogs."
Fitt went on to point out the Bulldogs' summer successes as a driving force in the rankings.
MSU's 13 batters playing summer ball hit .316 with a whopping 241 RBIs, 86 doubles and 31 homers in 1,464 at-bats. The Bulldog's pitchers combined for a 2.13 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 251 strikeouts in 292 innings.
"You gotta love what happened to this program last summer," Fitt said. "They had nine players make all-star games in their various summer leagues. They sent eight guys to the Cape (Cod Baseball League) and most of them performed very well. That's a major indicator for a program."
MSU is expected to be led on the mound by preseason All-America selection Dakota Hudson. Last season, Hudson posted a 1-1 record and a 4.32 ERA in 17 relief appearances, striking out 26 against 11 in 16.2 innings. This summer, the 6-foot-5 right-handed junior posted a 1.69 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 42.2 innings.
Offensively, MSU will likely lean heavily on junior outfielder Jacob Robson, who led the team in 2015 in batting average (.324), hits (60) and stolen bases (21), and also posted a .436 on-base percentage.
In the Cape, Robson posted an impressive .318 batting average and ended up starting the CCBL All-Star game.
MSU has two Coastians on the roster in Biloxi outfielder Cody Brown and Poplarville right-hander Zac Houston. Brown hit .309 in 51 games last year with 16 RBIs, two triples and a home run. He also led the team with 14 doubles.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Houston is a reliever D1Baseball.com is high on. As a sophomore, Houston was third on MSU with a 3.66 ERA, striking out 41 against 24 walks in 32 relief innings.
"The big key for me would be the bullpen," Kendall Rogers said on the podcast. "When you look at Zac Houston, he clearly, clearly has the tools and stuff, but he needs to be a little bit better than he was last year."
Perhaps the biggest question mark moving forward this season is how will MSU's pitchers respond to the loss of long-time pitching coach Butch Thompson, who took over at Auburn. MSU hired Dallas Baptist's Wes Johnson in October to replace Thompson.
Filling in the rankings
Other SEC programs ranked by D1Baseball.com were Florida (1), Vanderbilt (3), Texas A&M (4), LSU (7), South Carolina (17) and Arkansas (25).