How the NCAA transfer portal helped shape the SEC road to Omaha
Mississippi State is working the NCAA transfer portal for some solid reinforcements. The Bulldogs did not participate in the post season this year. Finishing dead last in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference has bruised some Bulldog egos this spring. The unexpected trip to the basement a year removed from the program’s first ever national title has led to some roster management from Coach Chris Lemonis and his staff.
Eleven members of the Bulldog roster for 2022 have entered the portal. Fans of the Diamond Dawgs may be surprised to learn that a dozen players did the same last year. One only has a short time to play sports in life. If a player is not expected to see the field at his current school, then he has a decision to make. Many see the writing on the wall and enter their names into the pool of available transfer prospects.
Other players decide to bet on themselves and improve their chances of going to Omaha as well as boosting their stock in the eyes of pro baseball scouts. Such was the case for Sonny DiChiara. During the Starkville regional in 2021, Samford and DiChiara were the #4 seed. After a loss to Mississippi State, the SoCon Bulldogs faced Campbell in an elimination game.
The game proved to be a wild one with tons of offense. DiChiara dug in with one down and Samford trailing by three in the 9th. A walk loaded the bases and put DiChiara on as the tying run. A pinch runner entered the game in place of DiChiara as Tyler McManus stepped up to the plate. McManus struck out. Two pitches later, a double play ended the game and the season for Samford. It also brought down the curtain on the Samford playing careers of DiChiara and McManus. Both entered the NCAA transfer portal in the days that followed. DiChiara signed with Auburn and McManus inked with LSU. Both played into the post season this year.
DiChiara and Auburn are still playing. Auburn is one of four SEC West teams advancing to the College World Series. The Tigers are joined by Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. All four programs benefited from transfers. Perhaps no one more than Auburn and DiChiara.
The jumbo first baseman leads the Tigers with a .392 batting average, 22 home runs and 59 home runs. DiChiara is the main cog in the Auburn offensive attack. The Tigers finished sixth in the SEC West a year ago and were the last team to qualify for the SEC tournament in Hoover. Their post season run lasted just one game as they lost to Ole Miss.
A season later, Auburn is headed to Omaha. As fate would have it, their first opponent in the College World Series will be Ole Miss. One wonders where in the world Auburn would be without the contributions of Sonny DiChiara. By the same token, DiChiara has proven that he can do big things against the best competition the college game has to offer. Auburn afforded him that opportunity.
Arkansas missed out on Omaha in 2021 despite being the best team in college baseball during the regular season. The Razorbacks lost some key pieces, but hung on to a few more. Coach Dave Horn and his staff hit the portal to find some players who could fill in some gaps left by outgoing players.
A quick look at the Razorback stat leaders and it is evident that Van Horn and company struck gold. The top two hitters on the squad are first year Razorbacks who came to Fayetteville through the NCAA transfer portal. Chris Lanzilli, a grad transfer from Wake Forest, leads the squad with a .322 batting average. Former Kent State catcher, Michael Turner, is second on the team with a .311 mark. Turner is also second on the team in hits (73) and third on the team in RBI (48). Not too shabby for a “replacement player”.
The Razorbacks are back in Omaha for the third time in four post seasons. Most would likely admit that they are probably headed to the beach without Lanzilli and Turner. Both have proven to be clutch and capable of sparking the offense.
Perhaps the greatest turnaround in college baseball took place in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork was able to poach head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle away from TCU. Schloss went to work looking to flip the Aggie baseball roster. A&M finished dead last in the west a season ago. An influx of talent was needed.
The Aggies landed former Arizona State Sun Devil Jack Moss. In just his second season as a collegian, Moss led A&M with a .391 batting average. Heading into the College World Series, Moss needs just three hits to top the century mark.
Dylan Rock hit 18 home runs and drove in 59 runs. Both were team highs. As you may expect, Rock was also a transfer. The talented outfielder made the move from Texas-San Antonio to A&M as a grad transfer. Rock has hit more home runs in one season in an Aggie uniform than he did his entire career at UTSA.
Another graduate transfer who has proven to be an outstanding addition is former Oregon State catcher Troy Claunch. Prior to 2021, Claunch was a part-time starter for the Beavers. He earned Pac-12 honors as a full time starter a season ago. He elected to leave Corvallis to pursue a master’s degree in commercial real estate. A&M offers that program. Oregon State does not.
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All told, three of the Aggie’s top five hitters entered the program this year after entering the transfer portal. The Aggie success stories are not just limited to offense though. Former Texas Tech All-American hurler Micah Dallas was considered one of the top acquisitions of the transfer season. Expected to be a big part of the weekend rotation, Dallas leads the team with six wins this season. Add in former Stanford grad transfer Jacob Palisch and you see a pitching staff getting better quickly. Palisch earned six wins of his own and saved four other games. It was Palisch on the hill in the 9th as the Aggies closed out Louisville to win the College Station super regional.
Ole Miss picked up some pitching help in the offseason too. The Rebel offense essentially returned intact. Coach Mike Bianco and his staff needed some arms. That found a couple in the portal with former Texas A&M-Corpus Christi ace John Gaddis and Oregon State transfer Jack Washburn. Injuries have limited both throughout the season, but they have combined to record an 8-3 mark.
While the four-year transfers made the headlines in the off season, junior college signee Dylan DeLucia has proven to be the workhorse. The former Northwest Florida State product has brought some competitiveness to Friday nights and in many ways turned Ole Miss’ season around.
It is interesting to note that many of the transfer stars in the conference came from mid-major programs. An example closer to home is RJ Yeager who transferred to State from Mercer. In his one season in Starkville, he earned All-SEC honors and led all players in homeruns during SEC play. Mid-major stars and Power Five grad transfers appear to be part of the magic formula.
Mississippi State has added three transfers from four-year schools so far. RHP Nate Dohm (Ball State), RHP Landon Gartman (Memphis) and OF Colton Ledbetter (Samford). All three are expected to play major roles for the Bulldog program next year. Perhaps the Bulldogs can see Ledbetter have the same level of success as the last Samford slugger to find his way to the SEC. That guy is headed to Omaha.