Mike Bianco/Petre Thomas

Opening Day is just around the corner for Ole Miss baseball

Mike Bianco has a few days more before the start of his 17th season at Ole Miss. His baseball team has one more weekend of intrasquads prior to hosting East Carolina Feb. 17-19.

The Rebels are ranked anywhere from No. 8 nationally in one poll to not being ranked in some. Baseball polls can be that way and are every year for some teams. Maybe given their youth, with three-fourths of the current roster freshmen or sophomores, even the pollsters are unsure how they’ll fare the next four-plus months.

This year’s Ole Miss ballclub will depend on some of that youth in several positions and on the pitching staff. There are a handful of veteran position players – Colby Bortles, Tate Blackman, Will Golsan, Kyle Watson, Ryan Olenek among them. And pitchers, like closer Will Stokes and vets Andy Pagnozzi, Dallas Woolfolk, and Andrew Lowe. Also likely starters David Parkinson, James McArthur, and Brady Feigl are experienced.

It will be the newcomers that most have their eyes on when the season starts. The consensus No. 1 ranked recruiting class that arrived last summer will figure heavily into whatever success this year’s squad ultimately has.

Two seasons ago Ole Miss traveled to a NCAA Regional at UCLA and didn’t emerge. The Rebels hosted last season and didn’t move on either. This year’s team has 2014 on its mind. That’s when Ole Miss made its most recent trip to the College World Series in Omaha.

Only Bortles remains on the roster from that season.

QUOTES FROM COACH

On true freshman Greer Holston, 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-handed pitcher who played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at IMG Academy in Florida and before that at Saint Stanislaus in Bay Saint Louis: “In all honesty he is one of those names that probably gets lost because it’s such a deep class. He had as good a fall as anybody here and has pitched well (in the preseason). Obviously we’re excited about him.”

On the weekend and midweek pitching rotation: “We’re two weeks away and I’ve said it several times, we’d  like to have the rotation cleared up (already). The good news is we’ve got lots of options. (RHP) McArthur, (LHP) Parkinson, (RHP) Feigl, and new guys like (RHP) Holston, (LHP Ryan) Rolison, (RHP Will) Ethridge. Probably between those six we’ll find four (starters, including a midweek starter). They’ve all pitched well.”

On sophomore RHP James McArthur: “For James (the next step) is consistency. His fast ball command is what really makes him go. He’s worked really hard on his slider. His stuff’s pretty dominant. He’s a big, strong right-handed pitcher.”

On junior LHP David Parkinson: “He’s a left-hander with four different pitches and mixes them well. This fall I thought he struggled a little bit at times. It wasn’t like he pitched in the previous spring. (In the preseason) he’s pitched lights out. We know from last spring he’s gotten it done against good competition.”

On choosing from those six pitchers for the weekend or midweek starts and how soon he might settle on the first three: “Because we do have several options, I think you’ll probably see some movement (in the weekend rotation), maybe more movement than we’re used to.”

On experienced junior right-hander Will Stokes: “He didn’t pitch in the fall. He got hit around a little bit (the first weekend of intrasquads this preseason). But that’s going to happen. The stuff’s great and the command’s great, and I’m looking for him to have a big year.”

On true freshmen Cooper Johnson (catcher) and Grae Kessinger (shortstop) starting on opening day: “If we didn’t think they could handle it, we wouldn’t put them out there. They’ve earned that right. I have no doubt they’ll be able to step out there and contribute immediately. But there also is a learning curve. They’re always going to get better, it doesn’t matter how good you are, doesn’t matter if you’re going to be a first-rounder in three years. The goal for everybody is to continue to get better, and I think they will.” 


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