Jake Mangum didn’t have to wait an extra year or two to turn pro. The New York Mets liked what they saw in the Mississippi State junior in 2018 and selected him in the 32nd round of the MLB draft, while the New York Yankees took him in the 30th round the year prior.
Though a professional career would entice most players to sign after their junior year, Mangum chose to bet on himself and complete his final season of college eligibility. The gamble was the correct move for Mangum, who boosted his draft stock and was a fourth-round pick by the Mets, who redrafted him with more significant promise.
“My ultimate dream is to make it to The Show,” Mangum said. “That is anybody’s dream in the minor leagues, but my four years at Mississippi State were the best years of my life. I was able to finish up school and the two online classes I have left for my degree, and that’s a lifetime of earning power.”
“I was ready to handle the rigors of professional baseball after my junior year, but the opportunity was there to remain in school, and I knew pro ball wasn’t going anywhere. Even though I returned for my senior year, the Mets picked me again, and I’m thankful for the chance.”
According to most experts, a player faces a risky proposition if he stays in school for his senior year. For starters, if a player suffers a debilitating injury, teams will shy away and choose a more certain prospect.
Additionally, the senior lacks financial leverage in a signing bonus because there is no recourse other than accepting an offer from a pro team. But the opportunity to further his education and his athletic development took precedence, a decision that Mangum doesn’t regret.
“Mississippi State was so good to me,” he said. “It would have taken a lot for me not to finish what I started there. Whenever you decide to play college baseball, you do it at a four-year school. It’s what my family thought was best for me and my baseball career. Mississippi State will change your life in the way you view college baseball.”
The decision for Mangum to remain in school was justified by the fact that he was one of the most productive players in the history of the Southeastern Conference. During his four-year tenure at Mississippi State, Mangum became the SEC’s all-time leader in hits with 353 to pass 1998 Dick Howser Trophy winner Eddy Furniss.
He also led Mississippi State to consecutive appearances in the College World Series and reached the NCAA Tournament in all four seasons. His college career culminated with the C Spire Ferris Trophy, given to the top college player in the state of Mississippi.
“Our radio broadcaster Jim Ellis said it best. ‘It might not have been the hardest hit. It might not have been the prettiest hit, but it might be one of my favorite hits.’ It was a bloop hit down the first base line. A slider that I got the bat on and it fell,” said Mangum on his record-breaking hit. “The ball got put in play, and I thought it was actually going to go foul.
“You could hear a pin drop in the stadium when I broke the hits record. There were 15,000 people in the stadium, and it got so quiet.”
Unlike many players participating at the college level for the first time, Mangum didn’t experience much of a learning curve from the onset. During his freshman year, he batted .408/.458/.510 with a .968 OPS, earning four awards, including first-team All-American honors.
Mangum earned All-SEC honors each of his four years and played a crucial role in Mississippi State qualifying for the conference tournament all four years.
“I always have confidence,” he said. “That’s a really important piece to baseball. If you are not confident, you are already beaten. Freshman year, I came in there, and I thank my coaching staff for having me ready.”
Although a baseball player by trade, Mangum comes from a long line of football lineage. His uncle Kris Mangum was a tight end for the Carolina Panthers for ten seasons, while his grandfather John Mangum Sr. was a defensive tackle for the Boston Patriots during their days in the AFL.
Mangum’s most significant influence was his father John, who was a defensive back for the Chicago Bears under Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt. John instilled the worked ethic from his days on the gridiron into his son. Mangum continues following his example on the diamond.
“The biggest thing my dad taught me was to play baseball with a football mindset,” Mangum explains. “What that means is to play each pitch like it is your last, play hard, and to play with intensity. If you do those things, then good things will come to you if you play hard.”
The projection for Mangum is a prototypical leadoff hitter that favors making contact over hitting for power. His high contact rate suppresses strikeouts and produces a high batting average with balls in play. He grades as an average defender in center field with plus speed and a better than average throwing arm.
In many respects, he is a throwback to an era when leadoff hitters sought to reach base, play strong defense and occasionally swipe a base. While the qualifications to bat at the top half of the order continues to evolve, Mangum could be productive because of his secondary skills.
“There are tons of players in professional baseball that aren’t necessarily power hitters,” Mangum said. “Jeff McNeil for the Mets is a great example. He is so much fun to watch. I model my game after Adam Frazier with the Pirates, who played at Mississippi State. You can go on about guys who base hits were their forte, and that’s what I plan to bring to the Mets organization.”
At the start of his professional career with the Brooklyn Cyclones, Mangum will pair at the top of the order with former LSU outfielder Antoine Duplantis and use his skills to reach base for manager Edgardo Alfonzo.
“Mangum is having tremendous at-bats, and I think it’s a good sign for him,” Alfonzo said. “He’s a guy who you feel like there isn’t anything he hasn’t done. He has a plan every time he comes to the plate. We talk, and he asks a lot of questions, and hopefully, he’s getting there. We need him to step up in the leadoff spot and get on base.”
Having hitters that can utilize their speed and put force on the pitcher to throw from the stretch can fundamentally alter the context of an inning. He will spend the majority of games playing center field and should mesh well with a roster featuring several senior products after the Mets invested heavily in upperclassmen.
“Brooklyn is very different from what I’m used to,” Mangum said. “I’m getting in the swing of things. In my first week here, I was trying to get acclimated and learn the ropes here. The coaching staff here has been awesome. They really tried to slow things down for me, and let me soak things in and be ready to play every day.”
Read a MLB draft profile on Jake Mangum from 2017 here.