Ole Miss Baseball Media Day: Coach Bianco, players look ahead to 2023 season as first day of practice begins
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss baseball held its 2023 Media Day Friday afternoon as head coach Mike Bianco and select players visited with beat writers about the first official day of practice and the upcoming season.
While one might think it would be hard to turn the page on a season where the Rebels won the national championship, that’s not the case for Coach Bianco.
“That hasn’t been that difficult,” Bianco said.
”It’s pretty easy when you walk into the team meeting of 40 players and 20 of them weren’t here last year. It’s a quick reminder of how college athletics work.”
Coach Mike Bianco
With big expectations placed on the shoulders of Ole Miss baseball, the Rebel skipper reflected on what he told his staff before fall workouts began.
“How do we use this (championship) to better the program now that it’s happened, and how do we guard against being one of those things that you look back on and make things difficult?” Bianco said. “It’s a juggle. Baseball is pretty normal if you’ve watched fall intrasquads. It seems to us pretty normal. Maybe more fans in intrasquads. Probably the difference was outside. When you got off the field. We’ve done a good job of giving this championship its right due… It was a busier fall off the field. But it was a good busy.”
Coach Bianco also talked Friday about the composition of this year’s roster — a good mixture of returnees, new recruits and transfers — and he reminded folks that although the team lost some very strong and experienced players from last year, they are not without a solid core this season.
“When I think about this 2023 version of Ole Miss baseball, I think that it’s a great mix,” Bianco said.
“Last year, we were an older team. This year’s team, contrary to popular belief, we’re not a young team. We lost some good players, but we return some good players… we return five of the starting nine, but what does that look like statistically? That’s exactly 50 percent of the College World Series innings that were thrown, guys return. We return 53 percent of the at-bats of last year’s College World Series. It’s not a super old team, but it’s certainly not a team that the postseason is foreign to them.”
Coach Bianco on the makeup of the 2023 team
The Position Players
Coach Bianco did not offer a lineup at media day, but he did mention some new names we will see in the coming weeks.
Freshmen Will Furniss and Judd Utermark were among the young guys Bianco mentioned Friday, along with three transfers in Ethan Lege, Anthony Calarco and Ethan Groff.
Bianco talked about Groff, an outfielder who is a Tulane transfer. “Ethan…a kid that kinda is what the portal is all about. A kid that was having a great year, got injured, probably would have gotten drafted pretty high…a top of the lineup bat and he brings speed to the bases that is needed.”
TJ McCants, Calvin Harris, Peyton Chatagnier, Kemp Alderman, and Jacob Gonzalez are obviously the key returning lineup pieces from that championship squad.
However, it is unsung CWS hero Garrett Wood who has been named the newest captain of the Rebs.
Second baseman Peyton Chatagnier talked about the Rebels’ new leader.
“There is reason everyone voted for him…he is that leader and we talked about how he was a vital role to our success last year. Just being the teammate and leader that he is.”
Peyton Chatagnier on team captain Garrett Wood
A lot of new faces are welcomed on this year’s Ole Miss pitching staff. Coach Bianco spoke on the leadership of older guys. Though he mentioned the standouts like Hunter Elliott, Jack Dougherty, and Mason Nichols, he has not settled on any starting rotation yet.
“We start intrasquads (Friday) and continue over the next three weeks. This is where we try to find the starting lineup and figure out the rotation,” Bianco said. “We are going to figure out the rotation, and the rotation may change, like it always has,” he added.
Coach Bianco also mentioned transfers Tommy Henninger and Xavier Rivas as potential starters and bullpen pieces. He spoke on the dominance of left-hander Xavier Rivas in fall ball, while Henniger was described as a different look for the hitters, coming from a different arm slot than most right-handers.
The No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the country brought in a number of pitchers. Names to look for this season include: JT Quinn, 2-way player Mason Morris, Cole Ketchum, and the highly-touted Grayson Saunier.
Coach Bianco raved about the freshmen, finishing with an interesting comment about Saunier, a top-50 pitcher nationally for the class of 2022 and the top right-hander in the state of Tennessee.
“Grayson Saunier probably had as good a fall as any freshmen that I can remember that stepped on the field, but not just statistically in the fall, but just stuff wise. Sometimes in the fall in the intersquad you kind of gotta weigh that in sometimes, you know, the stats don’t necessarily match up with the ability or just the raw talent that you see. It certainly did with him. We have a terrific fall and a guy that we think is put himself in position to be a possible weekend starter as a true freshman.”
Coach Bianco on Grayson Saunier
The season begins
The Rebs will kick off their title defense at Swayze Field on February 17th at 4:00 pm against the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens.
Come out and join the ‘Swayze Crazies,’ where the forecast is always for occasional showers in right field.
(Feature image credit: Petre Thomas, Ole Miss)
Kam is an undergraduate at Ole Miss, currently pursuing a degree in Journalism. Even though he’s from Delhi, Louisiana, that didn’t stop Kam from growing up a diehard Ole Miss fan. He’s a sports guru who watches and follows all sports at all times. He lettered four years in football and baseball in high school and is an avid Saints, Pelicans, and Astros fan. In his free time, he likes to binge watch Netflix, hit the gym, travel, and drive himself crazy over his fantasy football.