After signing his best class of all-time, Mike Bianco’s loaded 2016 class was awarded with another distinction. Perfect Game released its top 400 incoming freshman for 2017 and the Rebs had 10 make the cut. Five in the top 30. Yeah, that’s real good. Then, another accolade rolled in after Collegiate Baseball ranked the signing class as its No. 2 class in the country. Also good.
After being ousted from the Oxford Regional in embarrassing fashion, the Rebels will be out for blood in 2017 and the cupboard is loaded with young talent. Mike Bianco went out and got a nice mixture of everything in this class: eight pitchers and nine position players (including Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown). Despite closing out the 2016 campaign with a 43-19 record (18-12 in the SEC), the Rebel faithful can’t help but think the season ended on quite the sour note. Bianco and Co. are hoping that this influx of blue-chip talent can remove that awful taste and help turn the page for a banner year in 2017.
Ole Miss opens the season against former hitting coach Cliff Godwin and his East Carolina Pirates.
No. 9 - Cooper Johnson, Catcher
The Mundelein, Ill. native was thought to be the best defensive catcher in the MLB Draft but wasn’t taken until the 28th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Despite the drop, Perfect Game has the 6’0, 205-pound backstop in the top 10. He has star potential because of his glove and his bat will continue to get better with time. Mike Bianco loves his catchers to be able to manage a pitching staff and Johnson will be able to do just that.
No. 14 - Will Ethridge, Pitcher
The former top 50 prospect turned down the Seattle Mariners after being drafted in the 35th round. The big fella from Liburn, Ga. stands 6’4 and brings two plus pitches to Oxford, Miss. His fastball will sit comfortably in the low 90’s and his slider has some real action on it. Ethridge is a composed figure on the mound and showed great control in high school. I expect for the young man to compete for a starting role in the midweek.
No. 15 - Ryan Rolison, Pitcher
Lefties who throw in the mid 90’s are hard to come by. And Ole Miss has nabbed one in Rolison. The Jackson, Tenn. native was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 37th round but ultimately chose to sign with the Rebs. Rolison has star power to go along with his 94 MPH fastball and he could challenge for a starting spot on the weekends. He stands 6’2 and tips the scales right at 200-pounds. Pitching coach Carl Lafferty has to be very excited to see what Ryan can do this spring.
No. 28 - Grae Kessinger, Infielder
The grandson of legendary Rebel and Chicago Cub Don Kessinger flirted with taking the money and running but he will be in the red and blue this spring. Grae is one of the Fab Four from Oxford High School who chose to attend Ole Miss but what he does remains to be seen. His glove is college ready. He is about as smooth as it gets in the field. But, like most freshmen, how he transitions at the plate will decide how far he goes. The Padres liked him enough to take a flyer on him in the 26th round.
No. 30 - Thomas Dillard - Utility
One of the more intriguing and exciting signees in this class is another one of the Fab Four from Oxford. Dillard, who led the nation in home runs, has a bat to go along with a cannon for an arm and the athleticism to play all over the field. He is a switch-hitting catcher/infielder/outfielder AND runs a 6.7 60-yard dash. If you are not aware, that combination is extremely hard to find. At 5’10 and 225-pounds, he’s built like a damn coke machine. Rebel fans could be looking at another Stuart Turner behind the dish or a Brian Pettway in a corner outfield spot. High praise but Thomas has the talent to back it up.
No. 110 - Greer Holston, Pitcher
The big arm from the coast was never really in danger of signing but nevertheless he is a big-time signee for Bianco. After starting his career at St. Stanislaus, he transferred to IMG Academy in Florida. He had an ERA that hovered around 1.00 and utilized a low 80’s slider and change up to keep hitters off-balance. Holston is a guy who projects as a very good college player with his size and pitching arsenal. He is another midweek candidate who could also find a home in the bullpen for middle relief.
No. 198 - Jackson Tavel, Pitcher
The big lefty from Birmingham, Ala. was impressive in high school (10-4 record as a senior) and was named the 5A Pitcher of The Year twice. AT 6’3, 205, Lafferty could use Tavel as a match up guy in set up duty or work him in the rotation in the midweek. This is just another example of Ole Miss hitting the jackpot in this class with the skill set Jackson brings to the table. Perfect Game rated him the No. 2 left-handed pitcher in this class (behind Rolison) and oh by the way Tavel hums it in there in the low 90’s as well.
No. 211 - Cole Zabowski, Infielder
Cole is another big dude from Georgia (6’4, 225) who will look to replace Colby Bortles as Ole Miss’ resident large corner infielder. The first team all-state selection hit .374 with nine home runs during his high school career and should benefit from sitting behind Bortles and Michael Fitzsimmons.
No. 281 - Bryce Blaum, Infielder
The 5’10, 185-pound Texan chose the Rebels over elite programs like LSU and TCU. You can thank him later. He comes in almost as highly-regarded as Tate Blackman but he reminds me more of Alex Yarbrough. The Sugar Land, Tex. native was a career .410 hitter in high school and is a fantastic athlete to boot. With Tate Blackman returning for another season, Blaum will have to wait his turn but I still expect Blaum to show out.
No. 313 - Korey Bell, Pitcher
Same song. Different verse. Bell is another big body pitcher who reminds me of Josh Laxer. But jumbo-sized. The right-handed pitcher from Brentwood, Tenn. jumped onto the scene after touching 97 MPH (!) on a radar gun. At 6’5 and 230-pounds, he is an imposing figure on the mound which helped him strike out 56 batters in 41 innings as a senior. Lafferty could use him in a late setup role or as a closer depending on if his velocity translates to the college level.