The Ole Miss baseball program held its annual preseason press conference Monday afternoon. The following are 6th-year head coach Mike Bianco's comments from the event, held in the South End Zone Club of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. We'll call this Part I. We will follow with Part II, which is the Q & A session from reporters and Bianco, on Tuesday.
Bianco's opening comments: Thanks for being here. We're excited, like a lot of people it seems, for the season to start. One thing I do want to mention is that last year we lost a lot of great players, and we also lost a really good sports information director (for baseball), as you guys know, in Rick Stupak (who moved back to his home state of Oregon). But we've added a great one, like many of our recruits, in Bill Bunting. Bill's done a heck of a job with this and we're excited for him to be here with us. We practiced outside yesterday (Sunday), and a lot of people joked over the weekend that it snowed and so it seems like baseball season. So it's here and we're excited – the players, the coaches, and the fans. As Bill mentioned a minute ago, we've sold over 3,300 season tickets so far, another school record, the 5th time in our six years here we have broken the season ticket record. We do want to mention that season tickets are still on sale – the family package and also the general admission seats. So by no means are we sold out. We're just sold out of the reserved grandstand (season) tickets. Jeff Roberson asked me a couple of weeks ago a question if this is the most talented team we've ever had or was last year's team. I remembering saying last year that there might come a day that we would not be able to say this is the most talented team we've ever had. So maybe this is the day. But let me clarify that a bit. Last year's team was so unique. We had so many players of high caliber, so many kids with experience, so many kids that people around the country knew and respected. It was a tremendous team that had been in post-season play before, a team that eventually won a school-record 48 games, won the SEC West, hosted and won a Regional and hosted a Super Regional and was not only one game away but maybe one hit away from the College World Series. A tremendous team, and a lot of those players were drafted by the major leagues – eight of them to be exact. We had five juniors drafted in the top seven rounds, the most of any team in the country, and eight overall, which is more than any team I've ever been associated with. So it is hard to say on Feb. 13 that this year's team is as talented as last year's team, to be truthful. But this is Feb. 13. We all know it's a long season. This team will have a chance to make its own name and write its own records. This team has some great players. I think people will be surprised that when we run out on the field Friday just how many players we do return and that were integral parts of last year's success. Add to that the No. 10 (nationally) ranked recruiting class. It is a team that will have to find its own identity and personality, but it is a team that we believe, like its predecessors, will compete for an SEC Championship and ultimately a National Championship. We think this club has all it takes to win and to get to Omaha.
With all that being said, I'd like to go around the field and go through some positions, let you know what we think so far, and then let you ask some questions. At third base Chris Coghlan returns. He's a two-year starter in his third year. He might be the best all-around third baseman in the country. A tremendous talent, a kid who continues to get better. He is on a lot of preseason watch lists and has received a lot of preseason accolades. He batted .360 last year here and he ended up leading the Cape Cod Summer League, which might be the most prestigious summer league of all, that wooden bat league, and he hit around .350. At shortstop is freshman All-American Zack Cozart, now a sophomore who we're looking forward to having another tremendous year. At second base is Justin Henry, who was selected this fall as the captain of the team by his peers. Last year he was the designated hitter who played a little outfield and a little first base for us. Second base is his natural position, and he'll do a great job this year at second. At first base is C.J. Ketchum. A lot of you will remember C.J. from last year. He was the first guy off the bench who hit around .400. He probably would have started for many teams in the Southeastern Conference. We just happened to have a pretty good first baseman (Stephen Head) already there. We look for C.J. to do a great job both defensively and offensively. Behind the plate is Justin Brashear, a high-profile recruit a couple of years ago from Lake Charles, La. He was drafted out of high school and has been here for two years playing behind team captain Barry Gunther. Justin is ready and anxious to play. This is his time to shine as a starter.
Moving to the outfield, starting in right field will be Mark Wright, a preseason All-American. You didn't hear as much about him last year and he didn't win as many postseason honors as some of the others because of the amount of players we had. But at times last year he was our most consistent hitter. Mark, although, won't be playing in the first three games. He will be suspended for the first three games. That will be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The reason for that is he broke some team rules this past summer, and his punishment will be that – a three-game suspension. After Sunday's game, I believe his punishment will be over. He will start Tuesday in right field against Samford. It's a good chance for our team early to put some other people in the lineup. How will it affect the team? I don't think it will affect the team one bit. It's something the team has known about for a few days now. It's something we're handling internally. In center field, Alex Presley will start. He was a freshman All-American two years ago and got off to a great start in his career here. Last year he just got beat out by Miles Franklin, a senior. But Alex still had a lot of at-bats and still played a lot and hit over .300. I know Alex is anxious to get back in center field in that starting role. In left field, right now it looks like Jon-Jon Hancock will start. But really, the corner outfield positions are still up for grabs. Of course, Mark (Wright) will start in right on Tuesday. Cody Overbeck will probably get the nod on Friday in right field. But some others like Logan Power, Brett Bukvich, and Alex Kliman all have a chance at the corners in the outfield, and also, along with Jon-Jon, have a chance to be the designated hitter as well.
On to the pitching staff. The Friday starter will be (senior LHP) Tommy Baumgardner. He is one of those guys who was an integral part of our success last year. He has been the most successful and dominant pitcher this fall and spring. He had a terrific fall and is off to a hot start this spring with 12 strikeouts and no walks in three outings. He's become a leader of this staff as one of the few seniors. He will do a great job on Fridays. (Junior RHP) Nick Hetland will be Saturday's starter. Nick is a junior college transfer out of Clarendon Junior College in Texas. He's been one of the most consistent pitchers we've had in the fall and spring. He's a right-hander who will throw the ball in the upper 80s with a good curve ball and a good changeup. The Sunday starter will be freshman (RHP) Cody Satterwhite. Like Tommy and Nick, he's had a great fall and early spring. Cody might be the most talented pitcher we've ever had this early in his career. He has an overpowering fastball in the low 90s, a slider in the low 80s, and a changeup. He's very athletic. He's a guy who could have easily been drafted in the first couple of rounds this past June, but he chose to come to school and made his choice known to all the professional scouts. Therefore his signability really dropped, and he ended up being drafted somewhere in the 32nd round by the Cleveland Indians. He will be one of the most talented freshmen to walk out on the field this spring.
Lance Lynn (RHP), another high-profile freshman from Indianapolis, might be the first guy in on Friday, along with Garrett White, a junior college transfer (junior LHP) from San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. Stoney Stone (senior RHP), a returner from last year, will give us stability on the staff and has taken on a great leadership role on this team. Other pitchers: Jesse Simpson (freshman RHP) who just got here after a semester in junior college; Brett Bukvich (freshman LHP); Jon-Jon Hancock (sophomore RHP); Craig Rodriguez (junior LHP), a big left-handed pitcher from Pearl River Community College; and Will Kline (sophomore RHP) is another pitcher with experience in our program. With all that being said, I'll open it up for some questions.
*** Part II of Media Day will appear Tuesday on the Ole Miss Spirit website.
Mike Bianco meets the press
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