The end to the 2018 Ole Miss baseball season left a sour taste in fans’ mouths after the Rebels won the SEC tournament but failed to advance past their own regional. Ole Miss’s offense went cold, and Tennessee Tech moved on. A new chapter is set to be written. Key faces return, and newcomers look to establish themselves as well-known players.
Reliable: Returning Offense
With all three weekend starting pitchers from last season’s SEC tournament champions in the minor league baseball system, the Rebels will rely heavily on offense to carry the team until the new arms on the mound can acclimate. Six returning hitters posted a batting average of .300 or better a season ago, led by senior Ryan Olenek who briefly flirted with a .400 average. Add in Michael Fitzsimmons’s .440 average over 25 at-bats, and the template for an elite lineup is present.
The power will be provided by Thomas Dillard, Cole Zabowski, Chase Cockrell and Tyler Keenan. All four had at least nine home runs last year. Keenan was a snub for All-American honors after his freshman season, though his development and continued growth establish him as one of the most feared hitters across the country. Zabowski and Dillard offer the power from the left side that every lineup needs.
With sights set on a deep postseason run, head coach Mike Bianco will expect his offense to bash their way to wins.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
The rotation to begin the season will be junior Will Ethridge, junior college transfer Zack Phillips and true freshman, first-round pick Gunnar Hoglund. If everything goes to plan, Ethridge will get the ball every Friday night this season. Bianco planned on Ethridge being the guy coming into the season, and Ethridge backed up the top billing with his performances in practice.
“When you look on paper, he’s the guy who has thrown the biggest innings of all the guys returning,” Bianco said. “He pitched better than anybody on our staff from the first intrasquad until last weekend.”
Junior Houston Roth is the fourth player available as a weekend starter, but Bianco decided to leave him in the bullpen to start the season. He said he sees Roth as the player most capable of coming out of the bullpen to rescue a bad outing from one of the inexperienced starters.
Reliable: Parker Caracci
The midseason revelation that was Parker Caracci saved the Rebels on numerous occasions a season ago. If Bianco needs one out or six outs late in a game, he can count on Caracci to put out fires. The redshirt junior has been tabbed by multiple publications as a preseason All-American. He will look to improve on his 10 saves as the closer.
Question Mark: Right Field
The one hole in the lineup for the Rebels is right field. Tim Elko has been selected as the right fielder to begin the season against Wright State. Another option for that slot is designated hitter Chase Cockrell. Other names to watch at the position are Carl Gindl and Anthony Servideo. Servideo and Jacob Adams are both capable second basemen, so Servideo can be switched to the outfield to cover right field without leaving a hole in the infield. With mainstays returning in almost every position, this is going to be the battle to pay attention to as the season progresses.