Media Day ushers in new season for Mike Bianco and Ole Miss Baseball
When media day rolls around for college baseball, that means only one thing: the season is about to get started, and Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco certainly has plenty of reasons to smile.
Following last season’s 30-28 record and early exit out of the NCAA Regional at the hands of CSU Bakersfield, Bianco quickly pointed out “last year’s weaknesses are this year’s strengths.”
What did he mean, specifically?
Increased depth at pitcher: Rebels sign 11
Bianco was referring to the lack of depth the Rebels had last season at the pitching position. And to fix that, he and his staff signed 11 pitchers to this season’s class. It was a must for Ole Miss to have a dugout full of pitchers, especially with the losses of right-handed pitchers Scott Weathersby and Jacob Waguespack and left-handed pitcher Christian Trent.
Those three pitchers combined for an 11-5 record as starters last season.
But the Rebels return right-handed pitcher and redshirt junior Brady Bramlett – the starting pitcher for Friday’s game against Florida International University – and sophomore left-hander Wyatt Short, who had 10 saves last season and was named the closer against the Panthers. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Stokes will also be in the bullpen.
Chad Smith, a junior college transfer out of Wallace State Community College, will start on Saturday, followed by redshirt junior Sean Johnson on Sunday. Johnson went down with an elbow injury last season, forcing him to have surgery and miss the entire year.
Other names that could be weekday starters or throw before Stokes and Short on the mound are: Andrew Lowe, David Parkinson, James McArthur, Dallas Woolfolk, Connor Green, Andy Pagnozzi and Brady Feigl.
“One of the things that we really like about this team, and it’s evident because of some of the things I have already said, is that we are so athletic,” Bianco said. “I think we are really going to run. We are going to be able to steal some bases. And not only does that come with athleticism, but we are older.”
A look at the 2016 lineup
With the strengthening of the pitching position in the books, Bianco gave a quick rundown of the most important components of the 2016 Rebels.
• Junior Colby Bortles will get the nod as the starting third baseman, after coming off a sophomore season where Bianco mentioned: “he played as defensively as I can remember anyone playing defense here at third base.” Bortles had seven homeruns last season with a .281 batting average.
• Junior Errol Robinson will start at shortstop after coming off a sophomore season where he batted batting .290 and recorded 26 runs batted in. Robinson is a preseason All-American and was voted by the scouting directors of professional baseball as the number one college shortstop in the country. Bianco says: “You have to feel good when you return players on the left side of the infield.”
• Sophomore Tate Blackman will start at second base. Bianco recalled Blackman having a rough outing as a freshman, but commended him for having a solid mindset to come back and have a better season. “It was a tough year for Tate, but he swung it as well as anyone in the fall and early spring.” Last season, Blackman batted .197 and had nine runs batted in.
• Sophomore Will Golsan will start at first base. Golsan batted .290 as a freshman and had 26 runs batted in. Bianco feels Golsan is a little different than last year’s first baseman Sikes Orvis, who had 16 homeruns. “The way he can play defense and move around, I think, will add to how well we can defend and how athletic we are,” Bianco said. “Will had a great season for us offensively last year. He batted in the three-hole a lot as a true freshman.”
• Behind the plate will be junior catcher Henri Lartigue. Bianco calls Lartigue “very intelligent and easy to communicate with the signals.”
Against FIU, Mississippi is expected to have a slew of different lineups. Senior outfielder Connor Cloyd is expected to return to left field. In centerfield, J.B. Woodman will get the nod. Senior Cameron Dishon will give the Rebels much-needed experience in the right field, coming off 20 stolen bases last season.
Freshman D.J. Miller stood out to Bianco last fall and spring and could be in the starting lineup as a designated hitter before the weekend is out. Senior Holt Perdzock could possibly return as a designated hitter or could play in the outfield.
Stephen Head, one of the former coaches for Mississippi, left two months ago to take a job as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marc MacMillian moved from director of operations to volunteer assistant coach, along with Mike Clement, who’s in his second year with the program. Assistant coach Carl Lafferty will the Rebels’ recruiting coordinator and pitching coach.
Upgrades to Swayze Field
There’s a new videoboard inside Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field, which Bianco thinks “is the top three or four biggest screens in college baseball.” And to help the fans keep up with the player’s statistics, ribbon boards will be available at the concession stands.
The $13 million project, part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign, will include a new baseball performance center, a field level club, additional box seating, a rooftop plaza down the first base line and an expansion/realignment of the left field terrace.
“We are sitting in a stadium that I consider the best in college baseball,” Bianco said.