Opening day is quickly approaching, and the Ole Miss baseball outfield could see a wide-ranging cast of athletes in the 2020 season, especially early in the campaign.
Head coach Mike Bianco said on Tuesday that he expects the outfield to have the most moving parts early in the season.
“The outfield is probably the most fluid situation,” Bianco said. “I expect it to be that way for the first few weeks at least and maybe even into the month of March and close to conference play.”
Six or more players could see time in the outfield this weekend against the top-ranked Louisville Cardinals, but one of the pressing questions leading up to this season has been about roles that dual-sport stars Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee will play on this year’s baseball squad.
Ealy and Plumlee made their presence known on the gridiron last fall, but they are also expected to play a part in the Rebel outfield this spring, at least early in the season.
Let’s make our way through who could find themselves in the outfield grass this weekend and in the games to come.
Left field will likely be occupied by some combination of sophomore Kevin Graham and community college transfer-Hayden Leatherwood. Graham spent most of his time at first base or designated hitter last season but will be transitioning to the outfield for 2020 and occupying the occasional DH slot.
Leatherwood, a product of Northwest Mississippi Community College, hit .333 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs as a sophomore in Senatobia.
Center field will be Ealy’s ground against Louisville on Friday night, but fellow freshman Cade Sammons could see time there as well.
Ealy was a coveted prospect for the MLB draft before his draft stock fell during his senior season at Jackson Prep, but he has been successful in intrasquad games this spring, earning the starting nod from Bianco.
Right field could be a revolving door — perhaps more so than the other two outfield spots. Bianco first mentioned Plumlee when he came to right field, but the head coach also stated that freshman Peyton Chatagnier and sophomore Justin Bench could see time there when they are not playing second base. Still, it appears the football stars have carved roles for themselves on this team.
Only time will tell if those roles stick. It will take time for Bianco to find what combination of outfielders works best defensively and at the plate, but this is the way of college baseball.
These position battles sort themselves out naturally, and we should have a pretty good idea of who the predominant outfielders will be when LSU comes to town to open conference play down the road.