Because it’s the summer and I don’t have shit else to do, I figured I’d get an early start at looking into next year’s Rebel baseball squad. With the MLB draft over and several key players having already made their decisions on where they’ll spend their spring playing ball, we’ve begun to get a more concrete idea of what this team will look like in 2013. We know our pitching will be solid, but several key departures have left big question marks in our lineup. My projected starting nine and analysis after the jump.
Though it’s not definitive yet, these projections assume that Alex Yarbrough and the three top recruits will move on to pro ball. They also do not take into consideration incoming freshmen.
1. Tanner Mathis – LF
2. Austin Bousfield – CF
3. Will Allen – 1B
4. Sikes Orvis – DH
5. Austin Knight – C
6. Andrew Mistone – 3B
7. Will Jamison/ Preston Overbey – RF
8. Austin Anderson – SS
9. Jake Overbey – 2B
The offensive losses we’ll sustain are staggering. The top half of our lineup is decimated with the departure of Yarbs, Matt Snyder, and Zach Kirksey. That’s 223 hits, 28 HR, and 153 RBI gone from an offense that was already struggling down the stretch. What’s left isn’t pretty. Of the ten players listed above, only Mathis (.359) and Allen (.305) hit above .300 for the season. In fact, this lineup hit a meager .260 as a group in ’12. We’ll really need some of the younger guys to step up big if we’re to even come close to replicating the offensive output of this past season.
I actually feel okay about the top of the lineup. Retaining Mathis for another year is HUGE. He gives us a spectacular leadoff hitter, veteran leadership, and a whole shit-ton of swagger. He finished ’12 on an absolute tear, going 8 for 14 with a .684 OBP during the regional. Bousfield really emerged during the second half of the season, batting .305 with 2 HR during conference play. He’s also by far our best defensive OF. I look for him to have a breakout sophomore campaign and become one of the elite center fielders in the conference.
Replacing the production at the 3 and 4-holes will be the biggest challenge for this squad in ’13. Despite a skid in the postseason, I like Allen batting third, as he was one of our more consistent hitters in the second half of the year. Defensively, he was an absolute liability behind the plate, but Snyder’s departure allows us to move Allen out to first base where his pre-pubescent girl arm won’t do any damage. The other option is to DH Allen and use Orvis at first. The development of Orvis is perhaps the single biggest factor in our offensive success next season. Clearly Bianco sees something in him, as Orvis saw a steady, yet seemingly unwarranted increase in playing time as the season progressed. He'll have to improve on his .321 slugging percentage (ten points below Snyder’s batting avg) and 1 HR if he is going to bat in the clean-up position, though.
Knight has shown an ability to gun down runners, a quality which will have a significant impact on our defense. Fewer bases stolen means fewer runners in scoring position. Just as significant, the threat of our catcher actually being able to throw someone out may allow Bianco to back off his patented "pickoff 15 straight times to keep the runner close" defense. Fewer pickoff moves means fewer chances for an error and less exertion from our pitchers' arms. Offensively, Knight is nothing special, but I would expect his .267 average to increase with more playing time.
Mistone won't be an offensive juggernaut, but that's not his job. He is one of the best defensive players in the league, as his .978 fielding percentage and 3 errors (2 of which came in the same game late in the season) can attest. Plus there's this:
The competition for the RF position will be wide open coming into next season, with Jamison and the elder Overbey being the primary combatants. Jamison is the superior fielder, and though he underwhelmed with his bat as a freshman, one would think he'll be able to improve on his .247 average after getting a season of SEC baseball under his belt. Despite being hyped as the next great Ole Miss slugger, Preston Overbey has shown very little production in his first two seasons in Oxford. He managed a meager 2 HR and 12 RBI last season, while racking up a team-leading 41 strikeouts in just 145 at-bats. The wild card here, of course, is Senquez Golson. After a blazing hot start to '12, lack of on-field production and rumored academic struggles led to his complete evaporation by season's end. If he can get his head on right, he'll have an opportunity to show why the Red Sox were willing to pay him a boatload of money.
Middle infield will likely be a soft spot on this team. At shortstop, Newalu is lost to graduation, and Anderson was unremarkable both at the plate (.239) and in the field (8 errors) last season. With our All-American second baseman gone, we'll most likely turn to the younger Overbey. Highly touted out of high school (sound familiar? More like Over-rated brothers, amirite?) Jake was absolutely atrocious when presented with significant playing time at the end of the season. Forced into action in the regional following injuries to Anderson and Newalu, he went a painful 1 for 12, and failed on multiple occasions to even get a bunt down. To be fair, he was a freshman being pushed abruptly into the most crucial point of the season, and certainly nerves played a factor. Let's hope that performance was an aberration, as opposed to a sign of things to come.
Thoughts? Ideas on a different lineup? Comment.