The Ole Miss baseball team took the field to officially start preparing for the 2020 season on Friday afternoon.
Ranked No. 18 in the Perfect Game preseason rankings, the Rebels will enter the season with postseason aspirations after falling to Arkansas in the Fayetteville Super Regional last summer.
Making it to the tournament will not be an easy task with one of the toughest schedules in the country and having to replace the firepower from the top-rated recruiting class of 2016. The Rebels lost established starters Thomas Dillard, Cooper Johnson, Grae Kessinger, Cole Zabowski, Will Ethridge, Ryan Olenek and Parker Caracci.
The loss of that much production in the lineup, as well as a Friday starter and a shutdown closer, will surely be felt this season, but head coach Mike Bianco is confident he has plenty of talent to work with.
“There is a lot of new faces, but I think one of the things we forget is there’s fourteen returners,” Bianco said on Friday. “Fourteen guys that played a lot. Fourteen guys that played really well for us either last year or the last couple of years.”
The Rebels return preseason All-American third baseman Tyler Keenan and Anthony Servideo, who will move back to shortstop this season. Kevin Graham is back in the outfield after an impressive performance at the end of last season.
On the mound, they’ll start fan-favorite Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund, who filled the Sunday starting role.
“It means a lot,” Servideo said. “It’s my turn, you know. My first two years, I’ve been looking up to the other guys: Grae (Kessinger), (Olenek), (Dillard). So now it’s my turn to do my job — to be successful for the guys in the future (and) to be able to fill in that role when they need to.”
The rest will depend on the many new faces, including the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation.
“Fall was good for a handful of those new guys. I don’t think it’s a secret that we’ll need some of those new guys to contribute this year, and I think certainly they will,” Bianco said.
Freshman pitcher Derek Diamond has impressed so far as he is expected to contribute to innings immediately. Nikhazy raved about his teammate before Friday’s practice.
“(Diamond)’s a stud in his own regard. He comes to the field to work. He’s just a great guy to be around (and) brings so much energy, and I think wherever he ends up, he’s going to be so good in whatever he does. e really is a good guy on the field and off the field and really brings it when he gets on the mound, too.”
A few freshmen field players have also performed well in the two intrasquad scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday. Jerrion Ealy went 2-3 on Saturday, and Trey LaFleur hit two 400-foot homers on Sunday. Peyton Chatagnier also made a few impressive plays in the infield.
The Rebels will open the season with a series against Louisville at Swayze Field on Feb. 14, but the Rebels are already working to prepare for the No. 1 team in the preseason polls.
“I love looking ahead and just trying to be prepared always. I’ve already started looking at film trying to make sure I know how everything’s going to be,” Nikhazy said. “I played with a couple of guys on the team this past summer, so we’re always jawing off to each other whenever we can. I’m certainly excited for it.”