Last year was a struggle offensively for Ole Miss baseball. Mike Bianco shuffled a bit here and there but still, the lumps were everywhere. From February to July, the bats were silent after the first few weekends. As a team, the Rebels hit just .253 and slugged at a .387 clip.
SPOILER, that’s not good.
This year, most of the offense returns sans Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman. Both of them were in the top five on the team in average, slugging, and hit a combined 19 home runs. But, one of the main concerns going into 2018 is who will set the table for this year’s team. Because one has to think bats have to get better, right? Because they can’t get much worse.
Last season, Will Golsan batted in that one spot for most of the year, but with some new pieces this year and his bat having some added pop, he might be bumped down a bit. Ryan Olenek also had his time in the sun batting lead-off, but his walk numbers weren’t great. Although, he is one of the best on the team at working a count, seeing a lot of pitches, and making a pitcher work.
So where will Mike Bianco turn this year? He is a traditional guy so my money is on either Willy or Oly picking up a stick first. But, there are some capable new guys who could do it as well and give him some flexibility.
Will he do it? Let’s take a look at both scenarios.
“Stick with experience at lead-off.” - Nicholas
With so much inexperience, and not a whole lot of sure things in the offense, putting someone in the lead-off spot you can trust is key. Will Golsan isn’t going to put pressure on opposing pitching by stealing 25 bases, but that’s okay. He was 7-for-10 last year on the base paths. That’s serviceable. He only hit .312 last year but was third on the team in walks and finished just behind Nick Fortes in on-base percentage at a .372 clip.
Braxton Lee from the curse-breaking 2014 team is known as one of the best lead-off hitters in the Bianco era, but his on-base percentage that season was just .375. Golsan won’t steal bags like Lee, but if he can reach base with the same frequency, he’s as good of a candidate as any.
The other candidate is one who was originally tabbed last year to lead-off. Ryan Olenek split time with Will Golsan leading off, but at 10-for-13 on stolen bases, he showed a greater ability on the base paths when given an opportunity to run. He also had a knack for sticking an arm or a knee out to draw a hit-by-pitch. He led the team with eight of these. He struck out fewer times than Golsan, but his impatience at the plate hurt him as he only walked eight times.
Entering his third year in the program, now is the time for Olenek to make a significant jump at the plate and it will start with his patience and ability to lay off pitches. His strikeout numbers are modest, so swinging and missing isn’t the problem. In the lead-off spot, putting the ball in play is huge. These are college players, hit it hard at somebody and they’re going to make some mistakes.
Ryan was 2-for-2 in stolen base attempts as a freshman, so a natural progression says 15 isn’t far-fetched. If you can get these numbers on the base paths and some more free passes at the plate, you do it and never look back.
“Let the newbies have a crack at it.” - Zach
There are two candidates in my mind that would be perfect for the lead-off spot. Junior college transfer Jacob Adams and true freshman Anthony Servideo. Both have the skill set, although very different, to handle the duties up top and could be a nice change of pace for Bianco to give him the opportunity to bat Golsan in the meat of the order and have Olenek either in the meat or in a five or six spot.
Adams, a native of Conway, Ark., arrives in Oxford via Crowder College, where he hit a combined .336 in his two years there. His sophomore year he hit .356, drove in 44 runs, smacked 25 extra-base hits, drew 52 walks and scored 92(!) runs. The Roughriders finished the year in the NJCAA World Series and had a final record of 54-14. Granted it’s not SEC-caliber play, but he’s been in the shit before and can handle the bat.
A few of our on the ground correspondents in Oxford have relayed to us that despite a foot injury in the fall, Adams should be ready to come back and be ready to play infield and hit lead-off, if he called upon. He seems like a guy who knows how to work a count (81 walks in two years) and can add some pop at the top (slugged .476 as a freshman).
The other viable candidate is freshman Anthony Servideo. “Be Kind Rewind” played for the Orlando Scorpions, the Sunshine State pipeline summer team that produced the likes of Auston Bousfield, Sikes Orvis, J.B. Woodman, Tate Blackman, and current Reb Nick Fortes. And he is worth the price of admission just like the above names.
In three years at Jupiter High School, Servideo hit .356 with a .450 on base percentage and slugged at a .462 clip. He is the heir apparent to the Tater at second base and he should not be taken lightly to hit No. 1 because of his crafty style from the left side. He’s not in the same realm speed-wise, but his contact-first style will remind Rebel fans of Jordan Henry. If he doesn’t press early on and stays within himself at the dish, he could be a nice table setter. The aforementioned Henry is the latest Reb to begin the year at that No. 1 spot and to see some success (.376, 60 runs scored, All-SEC).
Could Anthony be on deck?
The lineup is bound to change. No way it’ll be the same in July as it is in February. But, hey, this is why the preseason is fun, we get to argue. Experience can carry you in dire times but an influx of new talent and production could do the same thing. What Bianco does with the lead-off spot remains to be seen, but if I had to guess he will go with experience and let Adams and Servideo ease into college baseball.
But, hey, no better time to test a theory than against Winthrop in February, right?
Who do YOU think should bat lead-off?
This poll is closed