Rebels’ left fielder Kevin Graham excited to start against nation’s best
OXFORD, Miss. — Some Southeastern Conference schools choose to open their baseball seasons with such powerhouses as Northeastern, Presbyterian and Evansville on the schedule.
Ole Miss is having none of that.
The Rebels open 2021 play in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas. The first three opponents are No. 10 Texas Christian, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 9 Texas.
Starting with the best is nothing new for Ole Miss baseball. Last season, head coach Mike Bianco and his team opened the year by taking 2-of-3 from top-ranked Louisville.
That kind of beginning of a schedule is fine with the Rebels.
“I think I speak for everybody when I say we want to start off with great competition,” junior Kevin Graham told The Rebel Walk recently.
“I think when you open with better competition, there is more excitement. When you know you are going against a great arm and a top-notch team, we get a little more amped up.”
Ole Miss LF Kevin Graham
Graham enters 2021 as the starting leftfielder for Ole Miss, and that is a spot Coach Bianco knows is being manned well.
“Kevin was a freshman All-American and is another guy who had a really impressive fall for us offensively,” Bianco said.
Kevin Graham has worked on becoming a tougher out and driving the ball more middle-away, as he did successfully in two ABs last Sunday, including a line-drive RBI single to left off. @kevgraham11 hit 10 HRs as a freshman in 2019.[📹 @OleMissBSB]
— D1Baseball (@d1baseball) October 27, 2020
“I thought Kevin made some great strides, and even though he had a great freshman year, some areas for improvement for Kevin were to handle left-handed pitching. He did that mostly against right-handed pitching. Being able to handle the breaking ball a little bit better, be able to hit the ball the other way, to cut down on the strikeouts—and man, did he do that. Some great adjustments by him,” Bianco added.
Graham said he worked on facing left-handed pitching in the offseason and had a facility to improve on that aspect of his game. Of course, during the COVID-19 break he did have a little down time to enjoy other things.
“My dad has a hitting place, so I got to go work out there,” Graham told us. “Other than that, I played a lot of disc golf and then got to play golf because that is what I grew up doing. It was a pretty fun summer, at least as much as it could be.”
All his work impressed the Rebel skipper.
“I think he really matured as a hitter this fall. Again, (he) had one of the best falls of anybody just a few months ago, so he’ll get the nod to start in left field.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco
As a junior, one would think Graham would be forced into a leadership role, although he is relatively new to playing left field. Graham says he would be glad to step up, but he does not foresee the need because of the talent roaming the Swayze Field outfield.
“We don’t need a whole lot more (leadership) out there,” Graham tells us. “It’s a little weird since I didn’t start playing left until last spring and we’ve got (Hayden) Leatherwood out there. We just have a good group of guys.”
Graham and Leatherwood, who plays right field, will flank Justin Bench in center to start the season. But the bench is deep with players who will also see time in the Ole Miss outfield. Expect junior Cade Sammons, sophomore John Rhys Plumlee and freshman Hudson Sapp to all spend some time in the outfield this season.
On the first day of the College Baseball Showdown, Graham and the Rebels will take the field against TCU Feb. 19 at 3:00 p.m. at Globe Life Field in Arlington. On Day 2, Ole Miss will face Texas Tech at 3:00 p.m., and on Day 3, the Rebels conclude with the University of Texas at 3:00 p.m.