We have seen the last of many of the 2016 No. 1 recruiting class in Rebel uniforms. That class never found their way to Omaha, but had an immense impact on the Ole Miss Baseball program and left some big shoes to fill.
Last season, Ole Miss had to replace their entire weekend rotation, which sounded impossible at the time. Having to replace aces like Ryan Rolison and Brady Feigl was not going to be easy.
Will Ethridge stepped up and took over the ace slot and the addition of two freshman starters filled in the other roles well. This season, a lineup consisting of mainly juniors and seniors left the team with lots of holes to fill.
The Rebels have to replace six of their nine everyday starters in the batting order. Ryan Olenek and Jacob Adams have used up their eligibility. The Rebels will greatly hurt from the exit of Olenek, who could play every position from center fielder to closer and was a consistent spot in the batting order.
Four of the stars of that 2016 recruiting class will be leaving to join a professional baseball organization. Shortstop Grae Kessinger, left fielder/catcher Thomas Dillard, first baseman Cole Zabowski and catcher Cooper Johnson will all need to be replaced in the starting lineup.
The Rebels will be returning their dominant power hitter Tyler Keenan. The Rebels will benefit from keeping one slugger in the lineup in Keenan, who led the team in home runs and RBIs, with 15 and 66 respectively.
Anthony Servideo will also be returning and will likely fill in for Grae Kessinger at shortstop. Servideo is a born infielder even after playing most of the season in the outfield. We can also expect to see Kevin Graham at first base. Graham ended the season hitting ten home runs switching between designated hitter and first base as a freshman.
Some other faces we saw in the field last season that will be returning are Josh Hall, Tim Elko, Justin Bench and Knox Loposer. Hall has elite speed and will be valuable for base running and in the outfield. He could make more of an everyday appearance next season in Olenek’s spot in centerfield.
Elko showed strong improvement offensively during regionals, with five hits in three games. He could replace some of the power hitters Ole Miss is losing and find his way in the outfield every day.
Bench and Loposer both had limiting injuries this season that prevented them from playing more, but we could see more of Bench at second base and Loposer behind the plate at catcher next season. Outside of that, the new faces arriving on campus will be looked upon to make an immediate impact.
On the mound, the Rebels will be losing two starters, their Friday night guy, Ethridge, as well as Zach Phillips. Phillips came in this season as a JUCO transfer and started the season in the Saturday night slot before being moved to the midweek starter. His presence will be missed on the mound and especially in the dugout. Parker Caracci has decided to join the pros as well. Caracci struggled later in the season, but the Rebels will miss his heater late in the ninth next season.
After losing all three weekend starters last season, Ole Miss will only have to replace Ethridge in the weekend rotation this year. We could see Doug Nikhazy fill in that Friday night ace role.
Nikhazy has shown he will be a force in the SEC next season. Gunnar Hoglund is expected to keep his position in the starting rotation as well. Dependent on Houston Roth’s return, we could see Roth slip into the weekend rotation too. Beyond that, pitchers like Tyler Myers or Jordan Fowler could fill in that last spot. Fowler started several games in 2018, but was only used early in the season with nine appearances this past year.
Austin Miller out of the bullpen is returning for his senior season. The Rebel’s bullpen ace could come in as a reliever again or be used in more of a closer role. Other bullpen options that we saw this year could include Myers, Fowler, Taylor Broadway and Max Cioffi. Freshman lefty Kaleb Hill announced his was transferring to Crowder College over the weekend.
Another highlight going into next season is that all of the top members of the 2019 recruiting class will be coming to Oxford in the fall even after the MLB Draft.
Derek Diamond could fight his way to a starting pitching spot or be used as a reliever. Diamond was injured last winter and only saw five games this past spring, but should be good to go for next season.
Ealy, who is also a five star running back, announced he will not join professional baseball and could be used often in the outfield for the Rebels.
Hayden Dunhurst, Connor Walsh and Andre McDaniel could see the field as well, to name a few more. Dunhurst could be a crucial replacement for Johnson behind the plate. Walsh may be one of the best recruits Ole Miss got and could be a good replacement for Jacob Adams at second base.
McDaniel has shown great promise with the potential to dramatically improve his game during his time at Ole Miss as well. He is already throwing a fastball in the low 90s with the chance to speed that up even more during the offseason.
There are a lot of positions to fill and a lot of possibilities for the 2020 season, but there is also a lot of hope. The Rebels definitely have some talent to replace, but things could be looking good for the 2020 season and beyond. It’s a young roster, but still a lot to be optimistic about.