Baseball is in the air in Mississippi.
Of course the spring-like temperatures don’t always last for long stretches in the middle of winter, but the season, nevertheless, is here.
Teams in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools open their season Monday, while public schools begin play the last week of February.
The 2015 Dandy Dozen is loaded with the state’s top talent. Here are a few things to consider about this year’s list.
DeSoto Central and Jackson Prep dominate
We saw this coming last year with the amount of then-junior talent at both DeSoto Central and Jackson Prep. The 2015 Dandy Dozen features seven players from both schools combined, and the Jaguars and Patriots are each ranked No. 1 in their respective classes in our preseason rankings.
As a whole, the group is dominated by powerful pitching coupled with strong bats. DeSoto Central’s Austin Riley, the top-ranked player in Mississippi according to Perfect Game, has the ability to be a deadly threat on the mound with a 94 mph fastball. His power also allowed him to drive in nine home runs and 34 RBIs as a junior.
On top of its strength in pitching, highlighted by reigning Metro Player of the Year Noah Hughes, Jackson Prep’s power is led by Gene Wood’s .606 batting average and nation-best 68 runs in 2014.
Mark your calendars for the state’s marquee matchup when the Jaguars host the Patriots on April 18, a game that will feature an insane amount of Division I talent.
“When me and coach (Chuck) Box scheduled that game, we knew it was a unique opportunity and special time to have two teams of that high caliber go at it,” DeSoto Central coach Mark Monaghan said. “There will be nine SEC guys on that field.”
This year’s crop of talent is deep. Really deep.
In fact, the SEC could have had its own baseball Dandy Dozen comprised of all Mississippi players, given the 12 prospects from the Magnolia State who plan to continue their playing careers at one of three conference schools.
Mississippi State dominates the state with eight signees, three of which attend DeSoto Central, two at Jackson Prep and one each from Belmont, East Central and Pontotoc.
Ole Miss landed three in-state prospects, led by crafty right-hander Dallas Woolfork, whose 93 mph fastball makes him a deadly threat on the mound. While DeSoto Central is highlighted by its pitching, don’t overlook Carson Klepzig, who will join his Jaguar teammate in Oxford. The catcher is one of the state’s top defenders behind the plate. Prep’s Parker Caracci, who just missed the list, is another good get for the Rebels, whose improved consistency on the mound will give Ole Miss a good right hand option.
Rounding out the group of SEC signees is Alabama commit Wood, who broke Jackson Prep’s record for batting average and runs in 2014.
An easy word to sum up this year’s talent-heavy group?
Several members of the 2015 Dandy Dozen project as high draft picks in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft. Here are a few we’re keeping our eye on.
DeMarcus Evans, Petal, RHP: The only unsigned member of the Dandy Dozen has an electric fastball that tops out at 94 mph. His athleticism and size at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds, helps him keep his mechanics consistent on the mound. Evans recorded a 2.38 ERA as a junior and earned Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American honors.
J’Mar Smith, Meridian, RHP/3B: Smith’s high ceiling makes him a potential draft prospect or immediate impact player at Louisiana Tech. He signed with the Bulldogs in both football and baseball and his bat speed and power combination (a .436 batting average, including four home runs and 12 doubles as a junior) make him one of the hardest hitters in the state.
Austin Riley, DeSoto Central, RHP/3B: The Mississippi State signee received numerous All-American awards after his junior season, and his ability to dominate teams with his pitching power and bat speed make him a deadly threat. “A lot of people look at him and say they see a man amongst boys when he puts his baseball uniform on,” Monaghan said. “He has an unbelievable ability to slow the game down and his mental make up is draft ready if that’s the route he decides to go.”
If we thought we had a hard time picking the football and basketball Dandy Dozen, choosing the top 12 baseball players in Mississippi proved to be a difficult task in 2015. Here are a few that just missed the cut.
Parker Caracci, Jackson Prep, RHP: As part of the Patriot’s deep state championship rotation, the Ole Miss signee compiled a 7-1 record with a 1.72 ERA as a junior.
Carson Klepzig, DeSoto Central, C: Another Ole Miss signee, Klepzig was a consistent defender behind the plate and as his head coach puts it, allowed the Jaguars’ pitching staff to be as successful as it was.
Matt Guidry, Oak Grove, INF: The Southern Miss signee was extremely effective with a .911 OPS combined with .322 batting average and 19 hits as a junior.
Next in line
While the baseball Dandy Dozen is only eligible to the state’s top seniors, several underclassmen are already catching our eyes as potential candidates for next year’s list.
Oxford teammates Grae Kessinger and Jason Barber, a pair of Ole Miss commits, pack quite a punch — Kessigner with his bat speed and defensive skills as a shortstop and Barber with a fastball nearing 90 mph.
Jacob Wilcher has continually improved in each season and is considered one of the strongest prospects in the 2016 class. He’s well on his way to becoming a five-tool player, having batted .473 with 32 RBIs, 12 doubles and eight home runs last year, helping lead Kossuth to the 3A title series.
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or email@example.com. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.