17 Feb

prime position

College baseball aficionados, please direct your attention to the patch of dirt behind home plate, more specifically to the masked man squatting in front of the ump. This promises to be the year of the catcher on the Mississippi major college scene. Mississippi State’s Logan Tanner and Ole Miss’ Hayden Dunhurst, highly skilled backstops who can also hit a little, are among the top-rated MLB draft prospects in the state. Both are on the Golden Spikes Award watch list. And for the record, Southern Miss has a fine catcher, too, in Blake Johnson, and Jackson State features a pair of returnees from its dominant 2021 team: Marshal Luiz and Jefrey Rodriguez. Tanner, a junior out of George County High, drew raves from scouts and analysts for his arm strength last season while helping the Bulldogs charge to the national championship. MLB Pipeline rates Tanner the 19th-best prospect in the 2022 draft, a solid first-rounder. He batted .287 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs last year. Dunhurst, a junior from Pearl River Central, won a college Gold Glove in 2021 and is rated No. 41 among ’22 draft prospects. He hit .280 with seven bombs and 43 RBIs for an Ole Miss team that reached a Super Regional. The Bulldogs and Rebels, both highly ranked in various polls, are rebuilding their pitching staffs for 2022 and are fortunate to have experienced players behind the dish. At USM, Johnson, from Gulfport via Jones College, had a strong debut season and showed out in the Oxford Regional, going 5-for-14 with two homers and a double as the Golden Eagles reached the final. He was a .300 hitter in two seasons at Jones and hit .246 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 47 games for USM in 2021. At JSU, Luiz, from Canada, and Rodriguez, from Miami, shared catching duties last year, with each batting .259. They’ll be counted on again as the Tigers shoot for the SWAC title that so cruelly eluded them in 2021. P.S. NCAA Division I schools open Friday. State hosts Long Beach State, Ole Miss welcomes Charleston Southern, USM brings in North Alabama and JSU takes on Grambling State in the Andre Dawson Classic in New Orleans.

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