Ole Miss baseball is less than a month away. The Rebels will open up the 2016 season on Feb. 19 at Swayze Field in a three-game series against Florida International. As opening day quickly approaches, let’s take a look at what the Rebels’ infield could look like in 2016.
Colby Bortles will be the Rebels’ third baseman this season. Bortles, who started 53 of 56 games least year, was thought by many to be the frontrunner to replace Sikes Orvis at first base, but head coach Mike Bianco has said throughout the offseason that he intends to keep Bortles at third, at least to begin the year. Bortles is coming off of a sophomore campaign in which he was second on the team in slugging percentage (.442), as well as RBI (47) and home runs (7).
No real surprise here. Junior Errol Robinson will start at shortstop for the third consecutive year to anchor the Ole Miss infield just as he did in a year ago with a .953 fielding percentage. Robinson has started in all but three games in his Ole Miss career, including all 58 in 2015. The Rebel shortstop recorded 15 multi-hit games last year, and led the team in hits with 62. Robinson also tallied 30 RBIs and 11 doubles a season ago.
The right side of the Rebels’ infield is where most of the questions lie for this team, and it starts at second base. Sophomore Tate Blackman will likely get the nod to begin the year, and, like last year, it will be his job to lose. Blackman appeared in 39 games during his freshman campaign, starting in 36 of them (25 at second base and 11 as a designated hitter). Blackman started to begin the year but struggled, as a lot of true freshmen do, especially from the plate. He was eventually replaced by fellow freshman Will Golsan. Blackman was a huge talent and a big part of the 2013 recruiting class for Ole Miss, and will be looking to learn from his freshman year and improve into a viable offensive and defensive threat in 2016.
Perhaps the biggest hole the team will have to fill this year comes at first base. Sikes Orvis’ departure leaves Mike Bianco looking to replace the 16 home runs and 53 RBIs that Orvis provided in 2015 which led the team.
Orvis’ replacement could be a number of different people. The favorite is sophomore Will Golsan. Golsan is coming off a freshman season in which he started in 32 games at second base, nine at third base, and two at designated hitter. Golsan, along with Connor Cloyd, provided a badly-needed spark offensively for the Rebels last year through the middle part of the year as he led the team with 16 multi-hit games and 54 hits in total on the year with 26 RBIs.
Colby Bortles is the likely backup option at first base, but freshman Michael Fitzsimmons and sophomore Kyle Watson could get looks at first. Watson played in 55 games last year and started in 38, 37 of which came in left field. Watson has some versatility, as he can play both infield and outfield, and was really kind of the odd man out a season ago due to the late season offensive production of Connor Cloyd. That’s not to say that Watson didn’t hit as he had 34 hits and 14 RBIs a season ago, and one could make the argument that he was the Rebels’ most consistent hitter through the first month of the season. First base will be an intriguing gap for Bianco to try to fill in 2016.
Rounding out the infield at catcher will be junior Henri Lartigue. Lartigue made 15 starts behind the plate a year ago, playing behind senior Austin Knight, and hit .225 with 14 runs and 12 RBI. Lartigue is also an option at designated hitter when he isn’t catching. Sophomore Nic Perkins and junior Holt Perdzock are both options to back up Lartigue at catcher, and Perkins also has experience at designated hitter.
The Rebel infield has two major holes to fill on the right side, but is complemented with a great deal of experience on the left side in Bortles and Robinson. The Rebels will have a little more depth and experience in general than they had a year ago, and that will help in filling out the infield. First pitch on Feb. 19 against Florida International is slated for 4 p.m.