The lineup is officially set for Ole Miss’ season opener against East Carolina Friday, and there are some new faces in the outfield. Among the trio of starters this weekend playing in the outfield, not a single one of them has started at his current position for Ole Miss in the past.
Starting in left field, true freshman Thomas Dillard will shed his catcher’s gear and attempt to make a smooth transition across the diamond. Dillard, the No. 72 incoming freshman in the nation and Mississippi’s top catching prospect, according to Perfect Game, is making the move to outfield as a means of getting his powerful bat into the lineup. The 215-pound power-hitter has the perfect build for behind the plate, but head coach Mike Bianco and Dillard’s teammates all ensure the true freshman’s natural athleticism and adaptability will allow him to thrive at his new position.
“Thomas is a great athlete, as well,” Bianco said. “He runs a 6.7-6.8 60-yard dash, and he has a really good arm, and his bat is so good that we have to find a way to get him on the field. Fortunately for us, even though we have that catching depth, Thomas is such a good athlete that we can find another spot for him. It’s not that he’s not going to catch, but being able to do that like a Bryce Harper and some other guys being able to get that bat in the lineup quicker and not fill up that DH spot, where guys like that usually move to DH, you’re cutting yourself short at another position, so he really helps the team.”
Dillard, a switch-hitter who throws right, has proven his ability to hit with big-time power on either side of the plate. He also has good speed for his size, running a 6.7 60-yard dash, and possesses the ability to move around on the depth chart if needed.
In center field will be the only starter to have actually started more than once in the outfield, Ryan Olenek. He started 36 games in right field and seven in left field as a true freshman last year and will make the move to center, replacing J.B. Woodman. The transition from corner outfielder to center fielder has its fair share of difficulties, but Olenek has both the skills and experience to make the jump, one that should be much smaller compared to his fellow outfielders.
Olenek, who stands at 6 feet 5 inches, is considered one of the best athletes on the team and has a feel around the diamond and at the plate. His powerful arm and natural touch should make him a threat to opposing teams on both sides of the ball and allow him to improve on his already impressive freshman year numbers.
Making the transition to right field will be junior Will Golsan, who is now learning his third position in as many years. Golsan made 32 starts at second base as a true freshman and 60 as a sophomore last year at first base. The once-infielder admitted he had never played in the outfield before this fall but was more than ready for the chance to help his team.
“Whatever I need to do to contribute to the team, whatever I need to do, I’ll do it,” Golsan said. “It’s just whatever the coach needs you to do. You go out there and play hard and play well and just do whatever you can do to win the game.”
Golsan’s versatility and team-first attitude are both major reasons why Bianco believes the move will be a success.
“The greatest compliment I can give to Will is that he’s never complained. Every time I’ve approached him with the subject of going from short to second, from second to first and from first to the outfield, he’s never batted an eye,” Bianco said.
Golsan should be able to use his speed and innate feel for the ball to succeed at yet another position for Bianco and the Rebels. Golsan said he’s talked back-and-forth with Toronto Blue Jays second-round pick Woodman about learning to play the outfield.
The starting lineup for Friday’s match against East Carolina will see an almost entirely new outfield, but it will be one that is athletic and versatile, as well.