Mike Bianco signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country during the offseason and he isn’t waiting around to turn them loose. Ole Miss will feature at least three true freshmen in the lineup during this weekend’s season-opening home stand against No. 9 ECU and he mentioned that Cole Zabowski could get the start at first base.. Cooper Johnson will get the nod at catcher, Grae Kessinger will start at short and utility weapon Thomas Dillard will start in left field, Bianco announced during a press conference on Monday afternoon.
The youth trotting out on Friday should tell you two things about this year’s squad: there is an incredibly bright future at Swayze Field and there will be some growing pains as well. Despite being nationally-ranked ‘croots by Perfect Game, Johnson, Kessinger, Dillard and Zabowski will still be bright-eyed, 18-year olds who are playing their first college games. One only has to look back to Tate Blackman’s freshman year to be reminded that highly-touted recruits don’t always hit the ground running.
Nevertheless, Bianco has plenty of confidence in his talented freshmen. “If we didn’t think they could handle it we wouldn’t put them there,” he told the Daily Journal’s Parrish Alford last week. “There’s enough depth and talent on the field. They’ve earned that right.”
The youngsters will be tasked with filling some big shoes. Kessinger will replace Errol Robinson, a three-year starter at shortstop who was taken in the sixth round of the MLB Draft. Johnson steps in for Henri Lartigue, who carried one of the most clutch bats on the team last season.
“There are some holes to fill from some guys that were stars here who are now playing professional baseball,” Bianco told the Ole Miss sports website. “There are definitely opportunities for the young, talented recruiting class to step on the field immediately and play.”
If the freshman-heavy team struggles against a veteran ECU club that was inches away from to Omaha last season, don’t stress too much. This team is likely to get a lot better as the season goes on.
Here is the full list of starters that Bianco announced on Monday (we probably won’t know the actual batting order until Friday):
C - Cooper Johnson
1B - Cole Zabowski/Chase Cockrell
2B - Tate Blackman (.322, 3 HR, 38 RBI, .435 slugging)
3B - Colby Bortles (.269, 8 HR, 50 RBI, .475 slugging)
SS - Grae Kessinger
LF - Thomas Dillard
CF - Ryan Olenek (.265, 2 HR, 28 RBI, .324 on-base)
RF - Will Golsan (.273. 3 HR, 31 RBI, .377 slugging)
DH - TBA
Friday - David Parkinson (5-3, 2.78 ERA, 68 IP, 50 K)
Saturday - James McArthur (6-1, 4.26 ERA, 61.1 IP, 61 K)
Sunday - Brady Feigl (4-0, 3.76 ERA, 40.2 IP, 39 K)