STARKVILLE • The NCAA granted all college baseball players an extra year of eligibility due to this season being cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But what Mississippi State’s roster looks like in 2021 remains very much a mystery to coach Chris Lemonis.
His Diamond Dogs are in a wait-and-see mode for what will be an abbreviated MLB Draft that will not only affect the current players but the incoming signing class as well.
“The ruling was great for a lot of sports – in fact most every sport – but it didn’t totally fix baseball,” Lemonis said. “We’re hoping there’s something down the road that we can do for roster limits and scholarship relief. It puts us in a tough situation, especially with a draft that doesn’t look like it’s going to be as big as it normally is. We have to look at some things differently to help out our students.”
Shortstop Jordan Westburg and signees Austin Hendrick and Blaze Jordan are all projected first round draft picks according to Perfect Game. Second baseman Justin Foscue and pitcher JT Ginn are also expected to be selected early on.
Others may have decisions to make on whether or not to turn pro or play for MSU in 2021.
“Everybody else is in a wait-and-see,” Lemonis said. “A lot has changed because of the circumstances. What hasn’t changed is they want to play at the next level. But when you play at Mississippi State, it’s hard to leave for not a great situation, because this is such a great situation.”
The Bulldogs’ roster this spring featured five veteran pitchers that were in their final year of eligibility. Carlisle Koestler, David Dunlavey, Spencer Price, Riley Self and Jack Eagan now must decide if they want to return to college for another season if they are not drafted.
For Koestler, it would mean a seventh year of eligibility.
“We’ve had those meetings,” Lemonis said. “We’ve talked to all our guys. They’re all Mississippi State guys. They love it here. Their biggest thing is they are waiting on the pro ball draft. I feel really good about those guys right now.”
Although returning seniors will not count against a team’s 11.7 scholarship limit or 35-man roster cap, coaches will still have some hard choices to make as to which players receive aid (capped at 27) and ultimately who makes the roster cut in 2021.
“We’re hoping the NCAA will give us some relief here, help us out in this situation,” Lemonis said. “It’s ‘what do you do?’ because the numbers don’t match. They can’t match in college baseball. We’re hoping. We had a great meeting with the vote last Monday, but it fixes all the other spring sports but baseball. Hopefully, we can figure that out. Might some kids who end up in juco baseball? Yes. You’re going to see professional baseball packed, college baseball packed and juco baseball packed. It’s going to cause a logjam across the board.”
There has been talk of a one-time transfer rule that would allow a player to switch schools once and be automatically eligible without having to sit out a year. Lemonis is very much in favor of that proposal passing.
“The nice thing about getting the extra year, a guy could go somewhere and not waste his time here in terms of losing a year,” Lemonis said. “I hope we get that transfer rule. They’re voting on that here soon. Maybe that’s a possibility that you don’t have to sit out a year. That would be a nice piece for a college baseball player.”
No matter what ends up happening with the numbers, Lemonis expects college baseball across the board to be as talented as ever in 2021.
“You’re going to see college baseball at its highest level this coming year, maybe two years, because of the influx of players in the game,” Lemonis said. “There will be more high school seniors going to school, so it will be pretty interesting. It will be very competitive. It will be a lot of fun.”