Ole Miss baseball head coach Mike Bianco met gathered media earlier today for media day and spoke about the upcoming 2017 season. The Rebels are a young group consisting of only eight juniors and seniors, while 28 freshmen and sophomores make up the roster.
The Rebels may lack experience but certainly aren’t lacking talent, as they brought in the top-ranked recruiting class for the 2017 season. Bianco discussed how the young players have been able to learn from the older players ahead of the season-opening series against East Carolina this weekend.
“They haven’t disappointed; they’ve been tremendous. The transition has been really smooth on and off the field, and I’m really proud of those guys,” Bianco said. “I’m just as proud of our upperclassmen and how they’ve handled themselves. Part of the transition for the younger guys is the leadership that the older guys have shown.”
Bianco spoke of the importance of the upperclassmen in the upcoming season, specifically that they have the experience necessary to show the incoming players how it’s done.
“All of the eight upperclassmen have already impacted the program,” Bianco said. “They’re all guys that have played significant roles, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had that, and I think that’s part of the reason they’ve shown that great leadership. There’s no doubt that they’ll play big roles as well in our success this season.”
Junior second basemen Tate Blackmon has embraced his role as one of the leaders of the team throughout the offseason.
“When they need someone to talk to, someone to pick them up, we’re there for them because we’ve all done it. We’ve all been a freshman. We’re definitely going to be the guys they can approach and ask questions to make sure they have the most success,” Blackman said.
Bianco announced his starting lineup for this weekend, which can be seen below. Bianco also noted that this lineup isn’t set in stone moving forward, as they will change things depending on East Carolina’s rotation.
3B – Colby Bortles – Sr.
SS – Grae Kissinger – Fr.
2B – Tate Blackman – Jr.
1B – Cole Zabowski – Fr.
C – Cooper Johnson – Fr.
LF – Thomas Dillard – Fr.
CF – Ryan Olenek – So.
RF – Will Golsan – Jr.
“I have no doubt that there will be three different lineups the first weekend. One of the things we have to figure out is not only the nine positions but the best 9. Who’s best against a RHP, LHP and In what order,” Bianco said.
As far as Ole Miss’ rotations, Bianco announced junior LHP David Parkinson as the opening day starter. Sophomore RHP James McArthur gets the nod on Saturday. Brady Feigl, a sophomore RHP, will take the mound on Sunday.
“It’s been difficult to figure out because of the competition. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a year where so many guys could do it. We chose these guys because they give up the best shot to succeed after looking at everything,” Bianco said. “Ryan Rolison and Greer and Will Ethridge will start in the bullpen with what I consider another outstanding bullpen. As many of you know much of our success last year was due to a very strong bullpen.”
Also in the bullpen is returning freshman All-American Andy Pagnozzi, Connor Green, and the team leader in ERA Dallas Woolfolk. With the departure of closer Wyatt Short, junior Will Stokes will take over closing duties for the Rebels. Bianco is confident in Stokes taking over for Short, who finished fourth in Ole Miss history with 24 saves. Stokes played the closer role for portions of last season when Short was moved to a Sunday starter role.
“My confidence level is at an all-time high. You’re talking about a guy who may not be the returning closer but is about as close as you can get to being that guy. He’s got a big-time fastball, a hard slider and excellent command,” Bianco said. “He’s started games in this league as a freshman, so I don’t think anyone is more weather or used to the heat of the SEC than Will Stokes.”
The Rebels will open the season against the top 10 ranked East Carolina Pirates on Friday. The Pirates are coached by Cliff Godwin, a former Ole Miss assistant coach. Bianco talked about opening against a top-ranked opponent, and how the younger guys are embracing it.
“Three years ago it sounded like a good idea to open up with each other..Now there ranked in the top 10 and I didn’t know we’d have two seniors and six juniors, but it’s good. One of the things this young team had to learn is the completion and playing in important games will prepare them to play in the SEC,” Bianco said. “I think the young guys are excited; it’s why you come to Ole Miss. You want to play in great atmospheres against very good competition, and we’ll get that right off the bat on Friday.”
First pitch from Swayze Field is set for 4 p.m. this Friday. As of right now, the high is 70, and there’s a zero percent chance of rain, so keep your fingers crossed and get ready for Ole Miss baseball!
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at Steven.email@example.com.