Ole Miss enters the 2020 season having replaced many of its key figures to past success. But that is not to say this season's replacements will be any less talented, which is why the Rebels have earned the 25th spot in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25. Last season, they reached the super regional round before being eliminated by Arkansas.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Ole Miss club:
2019 record: 41-27 (16-14 SEC).
Coach (record at school): Mike Bianco (851–510–1 in 20 seasons)
Ballpark: Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field (11,000)
Postseason history: 23 regionals (active streak: 2), 5 CWS appearances (last in 2014)
OLE MISS FALL REPORT: How the Rebels are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of Ole Miss' 2020 season, we've graded the Rebels in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Ole Miss in 2020.
Ole Miss' projected lineup
|C||Hayden Dunhurst, Fr.||Fr.--Carriere, Miss. (Pearl River Central)|
|1B||Tim Elko, Jr.||.212/.316/.364||2||9||1|
|2B||Justin Bench, So.||.200/.368/.200||0||4||0|
|3B||Tyler Keenan, Jr.||.285/.420/.506||15||66||2|
|SS||Anthony Servideo, Jr.||.287/.429/.388||3||26||24|
|LF||Peyton Chatagnier, Fr.||FR--Cypress, Texas (Cy Fair)|
|CF||Cade Sammons, Fr.||FR--Jackson, Tenn. (University School)|
|RF||Hayden Leatherwood, Jr.||Transfer--Northwest Mississippi CC|
|DH||Kevin Graham, So.||.250/.324/.507||10||34||0|
Ole Miss' projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Doug Nikhazy, So.||9-3||3.31||89.2||86||33||1|
|SP #2||Gunnar Hoglund, So.||3-3||5.29||68||53||14||0|
|SP #3||Derek Diamond, Fr.||Fr.--Ramona, Calif. (HS)|
|Closer||Austin Miller, Sr.||5-3||3.15||54.1||62||25||2|
Grading the Rebels: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
There’s definitely plenty of potential with this unit, but the fact also remains that Ole Miss has no returning hitters who hit over .300 last season. It must replace its top four hitters in Grae Kessinger, Ryan Olenek, Cole Zabowski and Thomas Dillard. That won’t be easy to do in 2020.
Kevin Graham (.250) and Tyler Keenan (.285) are both guys I expect to have huge years. Graham already showed impressive power for the Rebels last season but should evolve into a more wholesome hitter this spring. Meanwhile, Keenan is already a premier hitter, but he can be better, too. He smacked 15 home runs and knocked in 66 runs last season. He also is expected to hit for a higher average this spring.
Anthony Servideo (.287) had a strong fall and is ready to put together a strong junior campaign, while hard-hitting Tim Elko (.212) is another guy to watch. Elko has a big body and big-time power but struggled with the bat last season. Ole Miss skipper Mike Bianco feels like he’s one of those guys ready to elevate his game. Justin Bench is another under the radar guy Bianco feels could have a strong offensive campaign in 2020.
From a newcomer standpoint, Hayden Dunhurst has above average power at the plate and should help this team offensively, Peyton Chatagnier is an athletic freshman with some juice at the plate, Cade Sammons is a strong defender (but he’s also athletic and can make things happen at the plate) and Hayden Leatherwood has above average power and should help the Rebels.
Also keep an eye on two-sport stars Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee. Bianco isn’t really sure what the spring holds for those two just yet, but they’re dynamic athletes who could end up making a huge instant impact, too.
If everything goes as planned this spring, the Rebels definitely have some solid power potential. Keenan is the top returning power hitter after slugging 15 of them last season, while Graham is coming off a 10 home run campaign. And Servideo has more than enough pop in his bat to best the three home runs he hit last season.
Elko should hit for more power this season, Dunhurst has above average power, Bench has gap power with feel for the barrel and Sammons and Leatherwood each have above-average power to watch.
Also keep an eye on Cael Baker, who has a chance to make an impact in a designated hitter type of role. Baker kind of reminds the Rebels of former hard-hitting slugger Sikes Orvis. He has big-time power and an advanced feel for hitting.
Though the Rebels might be a little young at some spots in the lineup, they should have more speed and athleticism than last season.
Servideo is the top returning base stealer, swiping 24 of them last season. He’s an elite runner who can make things happen with his legs, while Bench is an above average runner. Chatagnier can also run, and Sammons is an elite runner the Rebels are excited about this spring.
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Connor Walsh ran the fastest 60-yard-dash in program history during the Scout Day in the fall and should be followed this spring from a speed standpoint, while footballers Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee are athletic guys with premier speed. Both showed off that speed throughout the college football season. Josh Hall is another speedster to watch.
Ole Miss has a lot of base-stealing options on this club and having that option couldn’t have come at a better time.
While the Rebels might have some question marks in some areas, the defensive side of things looks to be in strong shape.
Behind the plate, the Rebels replaced a great defensive catcher and will look to freshman Dunhurst to carry the torch. Dunhurst is an above average catch and throw guy with huge upside.
Going across the infield, third baseman Keenan has good hands and an accurate arm to first, shortstop Servideo is a terrific defender with excellent instincts, second baseman Bench is an athletic guy and above average defender and Elko is a very good defensive first baseman.
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Ole Miss should have a solid outfield, too. The two freshmen — Chatagnier and Sammons — are both solid athletes, with Sammons being an elite runner. Meanwhile, Leatherwood is an above average runner and defender as well.
I feel pretty good about where the Rebels stand from a defensive standpoint.
Starting pitching: 60
Though the Rebels will rely on a young arm in Derek Diamond in the No. 3 spot in the weekend rotation, the first two slots are filled by a pair of extremely talented sophomores in left-hander Doug Nikhazy and right-hander Gunnar Hoglund.
Nikhazy in particular did some terrific things last season. He was strong down the stretch and tallied a 3.31 ERA in 89.2 innings, along with 86 strikeouts and 33 walks. Nikhazy is mature beyond his years and isn’t afraid to go after hitters. This past fall, he was 88-91 and up to 92 mph with his fastball, along with a hammer curveball and a changeup. In addition to a hard-nosed competitor, Nikhazy showed excellent command of the zone during fall workouts.
Hoglund is the potential X-factor on this staff. He tallied a 5.29 ERA in 68 innings last season but showed plenty of glimpses of why he was a first-round pick. He had a strong fall, sitting 90-92 mph with his fastball, along with a spin rate up to 2500, which was a significant jump from his freshman season. He also showed a sharp and tight 74-76 mph curveball with spin rates in the 2600-2700 range, while the 83 mph slider was a quality pitch as well. Hoglund continues to work on a changeup and is expected to have a fruitful 2020 campaign.
Two young arms — Diamond and Drew McDaniel — are slated to be the Sunday and midweek starters, respectively, to begin the season. Diamond showed feel for a quality four-pitch mix in the fall, sitting 89-91 mph with his fastball, along with a promising 82 mph changeup and a 78-80 mph slider. He also has a slow curveball in the 71-72 mph range.
Meanwhile, McDaniel is an athletic righty who sat 92-93 mph in short stints during the fall. McDaniel has been up to 95 mph at times, while also showing a 11-to-5 curveball at 74-78 mph with spin rates up to 2600-2700.
The Rebels will have plenty of experience in the bullpen, that’s for sure.
The two headliners in the bullpen will be a pair of seniors in Austin Miller and Taylor Broadway. Miller tallied 62 strikeouts in 54.1 innings of work last season and sat 87-88 mph with a sinking and cutting fastball during the fall. He also has a 75-79 mph breaking ball that had a spin rate around 2500 in the fall. Broadway has a heavy 90-93 mph sinking fastball and an 80-83 mph breaking ball and that is a swing and miss offering. He’ll attack hitters with a slider and curveball and will pump in strikes.
Meanwhile, Tyler Myers is another seasoned arm to watch. Myers showed a four-pitch mix during the fall with a fastball at 90-92 mph and a good breaking ball at 75-78 mph with a spin rate around 2800. He’ll also attack hitters with an 80-81 mph slider and an 84 mph changeup.
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Greer Holston and Max Cioffi are two more experienced arms to watch out of the bullpen, while there are several more arms to watch.
Wes Burton is a 6-foot-8, right hander from Southern California, who sits in the low 90s with his fastball, and Braden Forsyth sits in the low 90s and will bump the mid-90s at times with a quality breaking ball.
Meanwhile, LaFleur is a premium athlete who is up to the low 90s with his fastball, Zack Smith is a strike-throwing machine who can get into the low 90s with his fastball and Gilbert gets into the low 90s from the left side.
As you can see, the Rebels have a good problem on their hands. They’ve got a lot of talented arms with only so many roles.
The Rebels lost a load of experience from last year’s team. They do welcome back some experienced pieces at the plate, while two starting pitchers from last year’s club returns in Nikhazy and Hoglund.
Where things get interesting from an experience standpoint is the presence of three true freshmen in the everyday lineup, a freshman in the No. 3 starting role on the mound and a true freshman in the midweek starting role to begin the season.
In essence, the upside with this Ole Miss team is enormous. There’s more than enough talent to do some huge things in 2020. But there’s that whole experience factor. Can the freshmen the Rebels are thrusting into action sooner rather than later make a quick transition and be instant and high impact players? If they can, the sky is the limit for this Rebels club. If not, they’ll really need some of the upperclassmen to go a step above and beyond what they were expected to do.
The exciting thing about Ole Miss this season is that you’re not truly sure what to expect. That can be bad, but also very, very good. Stay tuned.