As we all know, Jake Mangum wasn't selected in last week's Major League Draft until the 32nd round – a fact that became all the more puzzling after Mangum spurred Mississippi State to a memorable NCAA Super Regional victory over Vanderbilt last weekend.
It was – as Mangum will tell you – a team victory. But Mangum is the spokes to Mississippi State's Diamond Dog wheel. He is the guy who makes them go. He's the energy, the engine. He makes all those around him better.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin probably said it best in the wee hours of Monday morning when asked about Mangum. “What more can you say? Mangum's Mangum.”
He's a winner. That's all he is. Mangum finds ways to win baseball games. As a leadoff hitter, he sprays hits all over the field, seemingly channeling the words of 19th century baseball great “Wee Willie” Keeler who famously said, “I just keep my eye on the ball and hit 'em where they ain't.”
Mangum hits them where fielders aren't, but he does a whole lot more than that. He then runs the bases aggressively, always keeping pressure on the foe. Defensively, he constantly amazes, whether he is running down line drives in the gaps and turning doubles and triples into outs or using his left arm to throw out base runners at third base or home plate.
Run on Mangum? Go ahead — make his day.
He plays the game with an edge, with a fire. He is at his best when it matters most.
That he wasn't drafted early says more about what Major League baseball has become than it does about Mangum. That is, MLB has become a nine-inning home run derby. It's all about jacking the ball out of the ballpark. It's more about the guys who clean the table than the guys who set it.
Mangum is more a place-setter than table cleaner. He has hit all of four home runs in three seasons at State. That's not his game. He scores his runs sprinting and often sliding – not trotting. Just the same, he scores.
Mangum contributed five hits – and was robbed of two others – in the Bulldogs' memorable three games with Vandy. He scored three runs. He drove home four. He chased down doubles and triples and made them into outs. He threw out runners, who foolishly tried to take an extra base on balls hit to him.
To this writer, it seems Mangum often wills himself to do things he shouldn't be able to do. Everyone remembers the magical freshman season he had in 2016 when he hit .408 and won the C Spire Ferriss Trophy as the most outstanding college baseball player in Mississippi. He will take a team-leading .353 average into the College World Series. Yes, but more impressive – at least to me – was what he did as a sophomore when he hit .324 despite playing most of the season with a broken left hand. He couldn't even take batting practice. It hurt too much.
Can't tell you how many times someone has asked: “But, come on, the 32nd round. Are there really that many players better than Jake Mangum?”
No, and even the pros will tell you that. Teams started calling him in the sixth round last week. Both the Phillies and Devil Rays called before it was their turn to pick and asked him what it would take – dollars wise – to sign him.
Mangum told them. They decided to pass.
There is a certain arrogance about Jake Mangum, as there is with most great athletes. He believes in himself and his worth. There is also a certain loyalty about him. He loves Mississippi State and has come to bleed maroon. If the pros won't pay him, he'll stay in school, play his senior season and get his degree.
And then, he believes, he will hit and field his way through the minor league levels and eventually reach The Show.
Do you doubt him? Go ahead — make his day.
Email Rick Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.