Considering the larger-than-life role Sikes Orvis played in both the Rebels offense and the heart of the fan base, it's easy to for the casual observer to presume that his departure leaves the Ole Miss lineup in a bit of a rebuilding phase. After all, #WHISKEY&MEAT contributed 16 dingers and 53 RBI to last season's output.
However, he and catcher Austin Knight are the only two guys with 100-plus at-bats in 2015 that aren't back this season. Replacing Sikes won't be easy, but there is a lot of returning talent. With every member of this year's starting nine having valuable experience and quality at-bats in an Ole Miss uniform, we could even see an improvement in an offense that hit in the bottom half of the SEC last year.
Let's take a look at what we expect the opening-day lineup to be.
The table setters
Personally, I fully expect senior Connor Cloyd to remain in the leadoff spot. He was Ole Miss' top hitter last year (.369) and has good enough speed that he can cause problems when putting the ball in play. Another year of seeing SEC pitching will only make the Tacoma, Washington native better.
Following Cloyd will be new first baseman Will Golsan, who moves to first base after starting 45 games, 32 at second, as a true freshman. Golsan was impressive in spurts, hitting .290 with nine doubles and 26 RBI.
Rounding out the top is junior short stop Errol Robinson who comes in as a D1 Baseball Preaseason All-American after hitting .312 during the wood bat Cape Cod League over the summer.
The obvious choice to replace #WHISKEYANDMEAT is third baseman Colby Bortles, who should bat in the four hole. He's the returning leader in all major offensive categories and still hit .281 despite struggling with strikeouts (63 last season).
Following Bortles is probably center fielder J.B. Woodman, who just might have the highest ceiling on the Ole Miss roster. At times last season, it looked like J.B. felt pressured to live up to his potential and tried to do too much, though he still hit .274 and was second on the team with 58 hits.
Closing up the power alley of the lineup is Tate "Tater Salad" Blackman. If a baseball factory wanted to build a middle infielder, they build Blackman (6'0, 190-pounds). Highly-touted as a recruit and picked by a lot of folks as the preseason SEC Freshman of the Year, Tate hit a measly .197 and started just 36 games. Ole Miss' offensive potential may well rest on his ability to take the expected step forward.
The second leadoff crew
Heading into the back third of the lineup, catcher Henri Lartigue should provide a bit of pop. Another youngster who seemed to square everything up last season, he hit six doubles, one triple, and one home run in 33 games.
At DH, I expect Holt Perdzock to get the start this weekend. The Memphian is known for his clutch hits and for good reason, but keep an eye on true freshman D.J. Miller who is swinging an impressive bat and is athletic as they come. Speaking of athletes, don't forget about sophomore Kyle Watson. The Southaven product could factor in at DH as well with his impressive speed (34 runs scored) and pop at the plate (14 RBI's).
Rounding out the nine is senior outfielder Cameron Dishon. The Texan swiped 17 bases last season but will need to be a little more consistent at the plate to keep Miller off the field, who is vying for a spot in the outfield as well. Dishon is your prototypical nine-hole hitter: tough to strike out, handy with the bat for sacrifice bunts and he puts the ball in play to utilize his speed.
As mentioned above, there's a ton of experience in this group, so the Rebs really need an impressive season at the plate f they really wanna make some noise in June. And because Bianco addressed the needs with arms in this past year's signing class, these bats will be the ones counted on to make that noise.