Landon Sims stood on the mound and recorded the final nine outs for Mississippi State against Vanderbilt in the decisive game of the 2021 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
It was a surreal moment for Sims, who was used as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen last season. Sims stepped onto campus as a starting pitcher his freshman year in 2019. But due to MSU’s starting pitching depth, Sims carved out a unique and critical role in his first two years.
Sims will receive a chance to start this season. The junior right-handed pitcher is a well-regarded prospect and potential first-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft. It will mark Sims’ second time going through the draft process, as he received plenty of interest out of the Georgia high school ranks in 2019.
“I have been through it, so I know how to go about it in a good way,” Sims said. “I’m not sure how many 17 or 18-year-old kids go through the process in a good way, and I would say that I went through it in a pretty poor way. Being around guys who are also draft prospects is helpful. I know now that when I’m on the mound, there won’t really be any thought of it.”
Sims threw 13 innings, posting a 3.46 ERA with 23 strikeouts and seven walks allowed in an abbreviated 2020 season. After getting a taste of college baseball his freshman year, Sims returned and overpowered opposing hitters last season. He tallied a 1.44 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 15 walks allowed in 56 1/3 innings.
In his first two years, Sims has relied heavily on his fastball, slider combination. Sims is a 6-foot-2, 227-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot and repeatable delivery.
Sims’ best pitch is his four-seam fastball, which sits in the high-90s. Out of high school, Sims also threw a two-seamer. He scrapped that pitch in college and has focused on refining his four-seamer. He cut down on the cutting action on his four-seam fastball, which has led to increases in its vertical break and velocity.
His second-best pitch is his slider. Sims has improved the feel for his slider, which has allowed it to develop into an overpowering strikeout pitch with plenty of movement.
“My mental side is the strongest part of my game right now,” Sims said. “I just feel like building off the success I have had and having confidence in myself and my stuff has been really big for me.”
As he transitions into a starting role, Sims wants to develop a reliable changeup. He “just kind of threw the changeup away last year” since he typically only faced a batter once in an outing, he said. Now that he will have to face hitters at least twice in a start, he wants another option in his repertoire.
Sims has a feel for his changeup, as he regularly throws it off flat ground. But he needs to develop the in-game confidence for the pitch this season.
“Just the more I throw it, the more I will be comfortable with it,” Sims said. “The confidence in it is very big. I just need to have complete confidence in it.”
Like last season, Sims will play a key role in Mississippi State’s success, even if he is in a different role in 2022.
South Carolina is the last program to repeat as College World Series champions, accomplishing the feat in 2010-11. The Bulldogs hope to win back-to-back titles, but they aren’t looking at it in that perspective, Sims said.
“We don’t really talk about repeating,” Sims said. “This team wants to win a national championship. Last year’s team won one. But we aren’t necessarily going about it by saying how we want to repeat. No one is going to forget about what we did last year. But I think this is a new team, and we aren’t going to rely on last year in terms of wanting to win another one.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.