Ethan Small's nationally-recognized junior season at Mississippi State has worked wonders for his potential career at the next level.
Small, the Southeastern Conference's 2019 Pitcher of the Year, was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers with the No. 28 overall pick in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Small was taken in the 26th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in last year's draft.
Small is the 15th Mississippi State Bulldog in program history to be picked in the first round of the draft. He's the first since Brent Rooker went to the Minnesota Twins with the 35th overall pick in 2017.
Small jumped forward by 25 rounds from one year to the next because of the way he's pitched since February. He has 160 strikeouts and counting for Mississippi State this season. His Bulldogs are still alive in the NCAA Tournament; Small will likely get another start this coming Friday.
Small had an ERA of 1.80 going into the tournament, which ranked 13th in the country. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of .80 was the second best in the nation going into the regional round.
Small pitched 6.0 innings against Central Michigan this past Saturday. He gave up five hits and allowed two runs but struck out 10 batters in his ninth win of the season. Small has reached double-digits in strikeouts in 11 of his 16 starts.
His fastball doesn't have overwhelming velocity. Small comes out hurling in the low 90s in the beginning of his outings and ends up staying in the high 80s toward the end. The placement of his heaters is impeccable, though. Time and time again, opposing batters can't touch his stuff when he keeps it up in the zone.
Small offsets his fastball with a conventional change-up and a breaking ball. His bread and butter is definitely the speed ball, but MSU pitching coach Scott Foxhall said Small has potential to be a true three-pitch player at the Major League level.
Since Small is strikeout-reliant pitcher, though, he can be less efficient than MLB managers would like their starters to be. Small has not pitched longer than seven innings all season because his pitch counts tend to creep toward 100 by the sixth and seventh innings.
That's still a huge improvement from where Small was as a red-shirt sophomore in 2018.
"Sometimes when we watched his film in games from last year, we feel like he wasted pitches at times," Foxhall said. "His pitch counts were really deep in the fourth and fifth innings, so much so that he had to come out of games."
Foxhall has helped Small focus on what works for him. Pitchers have various different ways of getting outs, but Small is and will always be a strikeout pitcher. In previous seasons, Foxhall saw Small trying to use offspeed pitches in two-strike counts. This year, the percentage of fastballs in those situations have been much higher, and so have the strikeout counts.
"Hopefully that's a mentally that myself and coach (Chris) Lemonis has given him and will help him this year and beyond," Foxhall said.
Contact Tyler Horka at email@example.com. Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler's work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!