Ole Miss baseball recruiting has always been among the nation’s elite as opposed to football and basketball. Hugh Freeze signed two top 10 classes during his time and Andy Kennedy signed a few top 100 players here and there during his tenure, but Mike Bianco has been the bell cow for Rebel recruiting with his career on the recruiting trail for Ole Miss.
Per our friend, @ladodgerreb, Bianco’s classes have been pretty amazing over his 18-year career in the Velvet Ditch. The head man’s classes have been dominant nationwide. Only six teams in college baseball have a better average recruiting rank than the Ole Miss Rebels. But, contrary to that success, more times than not the top players in each class never make it to campus. Which leads to our next stat: again, only six teams have had more players drafted than Ole Miss.
This one seems like a lost cause.
So we look at the 2019 class and Jackson Prep standout Jerrion Ealy leads the way. As you know, Ealy, a native of Flowood, Miss., committed to the Rebels back in December in both football and baseball. The four-star running back/outfielder is a coveted addition to Matt Luke and Mike Bianco’s classes, but Ealy is also rated the No. 8 overall high school baseball prospect by Perfect Game. Yes, overall, not by position. So, if all goes well, one would expect Ealy to be taken in the first round.
If that happens, I would guess he’s not making it to campus because if you’re drafted that high, a professional baseball organization is not going to let you play football in the fall and then come play baseball in the spring and summer i.e. A.J. Brown with the Padres.
This season at Jackson Prep, Jerrion has missed seven games but is still hitting at a .369 clip as a junior. In 65 at-bats, he has scored 37 runs, walked 20 times, driven in 19 more, and is getting on-base at a .533 clip. Jerrion is also slugging .723 and sporting an OPS of 1.256, which is very good. The average isn’t “elite” but one could imagine that he is not seeing many fastballs and folks are pitching around him. The Patriots are 22-8 right now and looking to close strong and win their 18th state title.
As of now, Ealy has said all the right things and has been adamant about recruiting for football as if he will be on the field for Luke next season, but if he goes in the 1st round of the MLB Draft next season, I find it hard to believe that he makes it to Oxford.
Can Ole Miss land their next elite outfielder?
Speaking of saying all the right things, fellow Ole Miss commit Joe Gray of Hattiesburg is doing that and more. After committing to Ole Miss back in January of 2017, most speculated it would have a big asterisk next to his name due to his status as one of the top prospects in the country. But after Joe Gray, Jr. joined Rebel Grove’s Chase Parham on the Oxford Exxon Podcast last year, he may have some reservations about college that could make things interesting.
The conversation between Gray and Parham centered around his trip to Oxford for the Vanderbilt game, who he thinks his game is mostly like, and how he deals with the expectations of being the No. 1 player in the state. But, the 4,000-pound elephant in the room is the 2018 MLB Draft and whether or not he will make it to campus or not.
When the talk shifted from high school and college to pro baseball, Joe wasn’t bashful at all when he stated his current stance on where he stands in regards to his commitment to the Rebels and Mike Bianco:
This is as simple as I can make it. They have to make me not go to college. I want to attend Ole Miss. It’s a phenomenal school. It’s an amazing atmosphere. I want to be able to play under the lights on a SEC field and really want to play at Swayze Field. I want to be dead smack in centerfield. College is the first thing on my mind. Money is money. At the end of the day, it’s what you want to do and I really want to be at Ole Miss. The numbers have to be great, in all honesty.
Although that quote sounds like some incredible news for Bianco and Rebel fans, the draft and that pay day that is life-changing still lingers, set for June 4-6. It’s a quote that you’re supposed to say if you’re wanting “the numbers to be great”. The 6’3, 195-pounder, who says his game most resembles Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones, is the No. 4 overall player in the country and a two-time Under Armour All-American who could very well be gone on day one or two if all goes well.
Another thing that could be a precursor for more bad news, Gray told Parham that he will be represented by the Boras Corporation throughout the process and Scott Boras’ agency usually does very well by their clients.
Gray is an attractive prospect to just about everyone. He is an extremely athletic talent who plays everywhere in high school but projects as an outfielder. He has above average speed (6.75 60-yard dash), but an absolute cannon from the grass (94 mph). His long arms pay dividends in the field when tracking down balls in the gap as an outfielder, as well as when he is getting extension at the plate and driving the ball with gap-to-gap power.
Through 26 games at Hattiesburg High School this season, Gray is hitting .493with 29 RBI’s, 11 doubles and five home runs. Gray is slugging .920, getting on base at a .604 clip, and has an OPS of 1.524, .500 points higher than everyone else on his team. The crazy thing about Gray’s offensive stats is that they would probably be even better if he played on an actual high school field. The Tigers have been playing at Smokie Harrington Park which is an enormous park that is normally unkind to hitters (340’ down the lines, 380’ in the gaps, and 445 dead center).
Nevertheless, he still rakes.
Here's HR No. 4 for 2018 Miss. OF Joe Gray this spring. Very excited to see him and his Hattiesburg team in a few weeks at #NHSI18: pic.twitter.com/KkvDthlubb— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) March 12, 2018
He’s also stolen 15 bases and is 4-0 on the mound, throwing 22.2 innings, and striking out 37 for the Tigers. And he’s been to Chicago twice to compete in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field, playing with and against the nation’s elite.
This one seems to be in the cards for Ole Miss and Bianco, for now. The frame is there (6’3, 200-pounds), but the lack of true, elite speed may scare away scouts in the first 8-10 rounds. But, his bat speaks for itself and in baseball, more times than not, if you can hit, they will find a place for you. But, man, Bianco and Carl Lafferty could sure use a win, especially in the outfield.
Despite this 2018 team being so dominant, winning 32 games in 41 chances, and being ranked among the top six teams in April, the outfield is makeshift to be honest. All three outfielders are converted infielders and a catcher. It would be quite refreshing for Ole Miss to have some actual outfielders roaming the grass at Swayze, not just for tracking balls off the bat, taking good angles, and having a legit assist threat, but it keeps me sane when balls get up in the air.
Prior the past two seasons, we have been rather spoiled in the outfield. Guys like Logan Power, Alex Presley, Jordan Henry, Braxton Lee, Auston Bousfield, and J.B. Woodman have been out there doing their thing and it has become an expected thing for the Ole Miss outfield to not let anything touch the ground but the rain. These past two years, and I mean this with all due respect, it’s been a bit different.
Thomas Dillard, Will Golsan, and Ryan Olenek have all been much better than expected at their “new” positions and are getting better by the week, but possibly adding an elite prospect like Joe Gray in the fold would be amazing.
And if Jerrion Ealy wants to come, too, that would be neat.