Ole Miss Baseball: Looking To The Start Of Ole Miss Baseball

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

There is reason to be excited about Ole Miss baseball and with basketball season on the way out we have something to look forward to.

While the basketball season is just halfway through it is hard to resist being excited about the start of the Ole Miss Baseball season. With just over 3 weeks until the start of baseball season there is certainly reason for optimism. Of course, the enthusiasm is tempered as the result last season’s disappointment.

The heralded recruiting class probably led to unrealistic expectations. The first weekend with a sweep over a then top 10 program only contributed to those high expectations. Many of the heralded recruits struggled to make the move to SEC play. While the pitching was solid, the hitting was a struggle for most of the incoming players. The pitching is mostly back with a season and an active off-season for some under their belt.

Pitching Foundation

Ole Miss Rebels Basketball
Ole Miss Rebels Basketball /

Ole Miss Rebels Basketball

It seems likely that pitching will be the foundation for this team. Ryan Rolison, Brady Feigl, James McArthur, Will Ethridge and Greer Holston combined for a total of 40 starts in 2017.  Ryan Rolison is a Perfect Game preseason All American.

The starting rotation is likely one of the best in SEC if not the nation. In the bullpen Dallas Woolfolk, Will Stokes and Houston Roth all return with 3 of the 4 best ERA’s from the 2017 team.  Woolfolk is a Collegiate Baseball preseason All American. The starting rotation should be among the best and the bullpen should be solid.

A little help from the new comers is also likely. Freshman Jordan Fowler and junior college transfer Pierce Smith could offer left-handed relief pitching which is one area that otherwise is lacking.  Junior college transfer Austin Miller is another solid newcomer who should be able to give more depth to the staff.

Parker Caracci and Connor Green worked hard in the off-season and are also available.  Colin Coates, Emanuel Fernandez, Max Cioffi, and Matt Myers are other members of the highly ranked recruiting class that could also be  available. Pitching should be strong and very deep on this team.

Solid Defense

With the loss of only two regular every day players in the field, defense should be solid on this team. Replacing Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles at 3rd base and 1st base will be issues. However, there are a number of possibilities available.

Returning sophomore Grae Kessinger is solid at shortstop and has the glove to be All-SEC. Sophomore Cooper Johnson is another solid player at catcher. Together they provide an experienced and solid basis at two of the most important positions in the field.

Hitting Challenges

Finding consistent hitting throughout the Ole Miss baseball lineup remains a question. Let’s face it even with great pitching, to make it to Omaha the team will have to have a solid offense. And then Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles, who lead the team in home runs are both gone. They also lead the team in runs scored (Blackman) and RBIs (Bortles).

And if that isn’t enough, these two also had 2 of the top 5 batting averages on the team as well as being the near the top in on base percentage and slugging percentage.  Offense was the biggest challenge for last years team and these two top contributors are both gone. Finding offense might seem like a daunting task especially for returning sophomores who struggled at the plate in 2017.

Reason For Cautious Optimism

However, there is real reason for optimism on this front. To start with right fielder Will Golson, center fielder Ryan Olenek, and first baseman/catcher Nick Fortes return 3 of the top 4 batting averages. These 3 players will have to be the starting point. Tim Rowe also returns as one of the top hitters. In addition Thomas Dillard has had a solid fall and seems likely to be a contributor.

Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger may be positioned to become bigger contributors to the offense going forward as well. Cole Zabowski, Brian Seamster, Chase Cockrell and Michael Fitzsimmons will all complete for playing time and could even end up as starters.

And then there are a number of newcomers who could offer offense to Ole Miss baseball and even chip in as starters. In particular, Anthony Servideo and Carl Gindl seem to be set to contribute. Both hit from the left side and could contribute as starters or even in a platoon situation. Tyler Keenan, Tim Elko and Michael Spears are other newcomers who could contribute.

Next: Looking A Little Further Ahead

While the offense and defense don’t start out as the strength of this team, there are so many options available that it seems likely this team will be solid in both respects. Of course, that could mean there is a real chance the Ole Miss baseball Rebels could well be playing for a trip to Omaha.