By JOEL COLEMAN
Way back in February when Mississippi State began its 2016 baseball season, freshman Jake Mangum made his Bulldog debut with a lackluster 0-for-4 performance on opening day. In fact, the Pearl native began his MSU career by going hitless in his first eight at-bats.
No one would’ve blinked if Mangum had continued to struggle. In the Southeastern Conference, he would’ve been far from the first freshman to experience a fair share of early lumps.
Instead, the young outfielder bounced back to put together one of the best seasons in MSU history.
That performance has made Mangum one of five finalists for the C Spire Ferriss Trophy, an award given annually to the best college baseball player in Mississippi. Mangum, along with teammates Dakota Hudson and Reid Humphreys as well as Ole Miss’ J.B. Woodman and Delta State’s Will Robertson, are all up for the honor that will be presented Monday during a luncheon at the Cleveland Country Club.
“I’m just happy to be there,” Mangum said. “There are so many players in this state that deserve that award. Dakota and Reid both had stellar seasons. They’ve both carried the team in a lot of different ways. Then you’ve got other guys that aren’t nominated that deserve to be there too. The list goes on and on of who deserves to be there. I’m just happy to be involved.”
Of the five candidates to carry home the Ferriss Trophy, Mangum is arguably the favorite to win. The outfielder led the entire SEC with a .427 batting average this season as he helped lead Mississippi State to its first regular season conference championship since 1989.
Mangum was second on MSU’s team with 73 total hits. The former Jackson Prep star had 19 multi-hit games.
“What Mangum does is pretty remarkable,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “His whole thing is that he doesn’t hit average fly balls and he doesn’t swing and miss. When you do those two things, and you can really run and you’re always pressuring the defense, good things are going to happen for you.”
Mangum’s prowess at the plate has served to stir up memories of a former Bulldog who, like Mangum, thrived in the leadoff hole. It was just three years ago when MSU great and current Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Adam Frazier set a school record with 107 hits in a single season from his spot at the top of the batting order. Like Frazier, Mangum has made a habit of getting on base seemingly every time he steps to the dish.
“(Frazier) was a guy who was a little more patient, but (Frazier and Mangum) are both guys that don’t hit a lot of fly balls and every time they walk to the plate give themselves a chance to get a hit,” Cohen said of the similarities between the two young men. “They are very similar types of players and (Frazier) is actually one of Jake’s idols.”
Mangum doesn’t shy away from his admiration for Frazier and said he tries to pattern his approach after the former MSU star.
“He was one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen,” Mangum said of Frazier. “The way he could take an outside pitch and take it the other way or take an inside pitch and pull it, it just shows his bat control. That’s the way I try to play my game and Frazier is just the best at it. I’d love to be like Adam Frazier. That’s for sure.”
If Mangum has another year or two like the one he’s put together so far this season, future MSU players will be trying to imitate him. Still, as good as things have been for Mangum in his first year on campus, the youngster said he hasn’t taken any time to reflect on his success yet. With the Bulldogs beginning play in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, Mangum says there is too much left to do to be giving himself any pats on the back.
Whether or not he wins the Ferriss Trophy on Monday, Mangum says his ultimate goal remains unchanged.
“I’m just thinking about the next game,” Mangum said. “i’ll worry about all the rest when the season is over. What I’ve done already doesn’t matter. In our opinion, our season is just starting. We’ve got to get going now and just stay hot and keep playing ball.”