Who is the best baseball player on the Coast?
The last couple of years, the answer seemed pretty obvious. This year, maybe not so much.
The graduation of elite talent in recent years such as Walker Robbins, Konnor Pilkington, Bobby Bradley and Justin Steele, to name a few, has paved the way for a new leader in 2017.
So, who are the preseason favorites?
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The Sun Herald’s All–South Mississippi Baseball Team is a good place to start. Returners from the 2016 All-Coast team include West Harrison junior Kasey Donaldson, Harrison Central senior Jordan Harris, Pascagoula senior Matt Inlow, Hancock junior Landon Jordan and Biloxi senior Trey Shaffer. Each of those guys is on college radars. Jordan committed to Mississippi State last year and may be a frontrunner for the Sun Herald’s Player of the Year honor as a junior. Shaffer also deserves his fair amount of credit as a Southeastern Louisiana signee. Should they stay healthy, they’ll likely lead the pack.
Jordan could have the sweetest swing of any of the Coast’s bats this year. Perfect Game rates him as the second-best 2018 infielder in Mississippi and a top 500 draft prospect. Playing up the middle at Hancock, Jordan was among the state’s top hitters in 2016 with a .486 batting average, .591 on-base percentage and .728 slugging percentage. He also recorded 11 extra-base hits with 14 stolen bases as a sophomore. He’s about as close to a five-tool player as they come at the high school level.
“He has all the tools,” Hancock coach Anthony DeWitt said. “They’re all there. He can swing for average and swing for pop. He has the speed and arm strength. He’s maturing. His work ethic will put him there.”
In addition to playing shortstop, where he uses his 6.5-second 60-yard-dash speed, he also will pitch for the Hawks. Although he’s still learning to pitch, he competes with a fastball in the mid-80s that he mixes with a changeup and curveball.
“The great thing about him,” DeWitt said, “is he’s a great kid and works his tail off.”
Shaffer is another versatile player on the Coast. When he’s not whipping pitches past batters as a southpaw, he’s tracking the ball down in center field.
As a junior, Shaffer hit .358 with a .488 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage, 10 doubles and eight stolen bases. He was also 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA. In 42 1/3 innings, he struck out 70 batters against 24 walks.
“When you have a left-hander who is mid-to-upper 80s, that’s very projectable for DI,” BHS coach Eddie Lofton said when Shaffer committed in July. “(SELA) looks at him as having a good body and loose arm. They can see him easily getting up and touching 90-plus.”
But wait, there’s more
Inlow is another college-bound player who’s terrifying to opposing pitchers. The East Mississippi signee is one of the top catchers in a backstop-heavy group on the Coast that includes Gulfport’s Blake Johnson, Biloxi’s Tucker Thomas, Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst and George County’s Logan Tanner, among others.
Don’t be surprised if the Coast’s homerun crown comes down to Inlow and Dunhurst.
Other players to watch this year include Ocean Springs’ duo of Cooper Brune and Garrett Crochet and West Harrison’s Brandon Parker. Brune and Crochet have both signed with Jones County Junior College. Parker is headed to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
By the numbers
Here’s some of the aforementioned standouts with their 2016 production:
▪ Cooper Brune: 3-1; 0.88 ERA; 41 K in 40 IP; .239 BA; 13 RBI; 5 XBH
▪ Garrett Crochet: 3-0; 0.51 ERA; 25K in 27 2/3 IP
▪ Kasey Donaldson: .396 BA; 13 2B; 24 RBIs; 20 R; 5-1; 1.93 ERA; 81 K in 69 IP
▪ Hayden Dunhurst: .286 BA; .438 OBP; .476 SLG; 12 XBH; 4 HR; 31 R; 27 RBI;
▪ Jordan Harris: 5-2; 1.67 ERA; 35K and 5 BB in 54 1/3 innings
▪ Matt Inlow: .406 BA; .438 OBP; 568 SLG; 41 H; 26 RBI; 12 XBH; 3.50 ERA; 20 K and 4 BB in 22 IP
▪ Blake Johnson: .309 BA; .394 OBP; .395 SLG; 25 H; 15 RBI; 7 2B
▪ Landon Jordan: .486 BA; .591 OBP; .728 SLG; 34 H; 22 R; 11 XBH; 14 SB
▪ Brandon Parker: .333 BA; .395 OBP; .600 SLG; 21 RBIs; 4 HR; 11 XBH; 26 R; 7 SB
▪ Trey Shaffer: .358 BA; .488 OBP; .537 SLG; 10 2B; 8 SB; 5-0; 1.32 ERA; 70 K in 42 1/3 innings
▪ Logan Tanner: .278 BA; .329 OBP; 23H
▪ Tucker Thomas: .297 BA; .464 OBP; .459 SLG; 19 RBI; 22 H; 9 XBH
Check back next week for South Mississippi’s softball watch list.