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Ole Miss baseball’s young pitchers could be the key to the 2017 season

Mike Bianco’s young stable of arms will need to grow up in a hurry. The good news? This group is loaded with talent.

Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

One of the biggest question marks for the 2017 Ole Miss baseball team (which starts play next Friday against ECU) is starting pitching. Gone is Friday night ace Brady Bramlett, who turned down a pro contract to return to school as a student and focus on a career outside of baseball. Gone is Chad Smith, the big righty who showed flashes but never really reached his full potential. And of course there’s the Sunday role, which was yet again a game of musical chairs last season.

Still, this pitching staff is stocked with talent. James McArthur, a midweek starter as a freshman, could be in line for the Friday night role and Brady Feigl, who was named a Freshman All-American as a middle and late reliever, might be in line for a weekend starting spot. Speaking of the bullpen, Dallas Woolfolk, Connor Green, Andy Pagnozzi and David Parkinson will be key cogs in the relief area this season for Mike Bianco. The real wild card is going to be Sean Johnson, who couldn’t keep a starting spot last season and is currently nursing a broken hand.

So how will the starting rotation shake out this year? Let’s start by taking a look at who’s gone from last year.

We'll miss ya

Brady Bramlett: The Brain was a rock on Friday nights, going 8-3 and repping a respectable 3.17 ERA in 16 starts. Opponents continued to struggle against his heavy fastball (.247 average) and he was usually good for at least six or seven innings to start off a weekend. His leadership and fire on the bump will be missed.

Wyatt Short: Too Short wasn’t as dominant as he was in 2015, but he was still “that dude” at the end of the night. He was an extremely fiery competitor and was instrumental in some late season heroics on the road against Texas A&M and in the SEC Tournament. His ability to spot up against lefties and make the big pitch will be tough to replace.

Chad Smith: Smith showed flashes against the eventual national champs, Coastal Carolina, and in the first series of the year against perennial heavyweight Louisville, but posted a 4.22 ERA and got the Rebs in trouble at times with his inconsistent velocity and struggles with location.

Welcome back

James McArthur: Big Tex established himself as a solid midweek starter but struggled when pushed into the Sunday spot toward the end of the season. He has the size and stuff to be an elite SEC pitcher and I look for him to take a big step up from his freshman year. He’s expected to be the Friday night starter and I expect him to be dominant force on the mound.

Brady Feigl: The Human Torch’s 2016 ERA of 3.76 isn’t anything to write home about, but he always seemed to make the big pitch at the right time. The Freshman All-American displayed a nice combination of savvy mound presence and a sneaky good fastball that seemed to handcuff righties with some late action. I expect him to lock down a weekend starting role this season.

Dallas Woolfolk: The Wolf led the Rebels with a 2.55 ERA last season but displayed some inconsistency. There’s no questioning the stuff and potential, however. The heir apparent to Josh “throw it hard as hell in the last two innings” Laxer, has a fastball that gets into the mid-90s, which makes his secondary stuff that much more effective. Wolf could be in line for a breakout campaign in 2017.

Andy Pagnozzi: Nozzi was thrust into several roles as a freshman, spending time as both a starter and middle relief guy. He finished 2016 with a 8-2 record and held opponents to a .232 average at the dish, earning a Freshman All-American nod for his efforts. His versatility gives Bianco and pitching coach Carl Lafferty plenty of flexibility.

Connor Green: The Green Man showed flashes of brilliance despite some rocky appearances., holding opponents to a .213 average and striking out 37 batters in 33 innings. He’s a big fella (6’4, 220) and can chew up innings in middle relief or as a midweek starter.

David Parkinson: Parky tossed 68 innings, kept the third lowest ERA on the squad (2.78) and won five games in nine starts as a freshman. As a southpaw, he has an explosive fastball with better than average secondary stuff. Parkinson could end up working out of the bullpen or cracking the weekend rotation early in the year as Ole Miss faces a tough schedule in the first few weeks.

Damn glad to meet ya

Ryan Rolison: Rated the No. 51 player in the country by Perfect Game, the savvy left-hander from Jackson, Tenn. turned down money from the San Diego Padres to come to Oxford. He’s a polished southpaw with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a devastatingly sharp curve ball. I fully expect Rolison to compete for a weekend spot immediately.

Will Ethridge: The No. 14 right-handed pitcher in the country could be a midweek starter or a relief arm out of the pen. The 6’4, 210-pounder throws a mid-90s heater which, thanks to his 34 arm slot, has late sink that can make righties look silly. Word at Swayze is the coaches are ecstatic about his potential.

Greer Holston: The No. 55 right-handed pitcher in the country was a Perfect Game All-American while at IMG Academy and is another big-bodied pitcher with a low-90s fastball. His fastball compliments his tough slider very well and he is someone who could really surprise people this year.

Jason Barber: The Man with No ERA was a terror on the mound for Oxford High as a junior (12-0, 0.00 ERA) then won the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year Award as a senior. He could see time in the midweek as he gets acclimated to the college game but his fastball is sneaky good (high-80s with some life) and he’s a legit three-pitch guy already.

Houston Roth: The other standout pitcher from Oxford is the 6’3 Roth, who won 34 career games in high school and sported an insane 0.44 ERA as a senior. The Louisville Slugger All-American will, like Barber and the rest of this class, have a chance for significant innings as a freshman.

So what will the starting rotation be?

There are several ways Bianco could go about ironing out the rotation early in the year. He could go with experience, starting veterans for the Rebels’ opening series against No. 10 East Carolina and to Houston to face Texas Tech and TCU at Minute Maid Park. Or he could roll out some of the talented youngsters on the bump right off the bat. Given the mix of experience and young talent, Bianco has the luxury of doing either.

Personally, I think Bianco might roll the dice and mix in one of the fresh faces. Here’s how I see the rotation shaking out:

  • Friday: James McArthur
  • Saturday: Ryan Rolison
  • Sun: Brady Feigl
  • Midweek: Will Ethridge and Greer Holston
  • Closer: Will Stokes