After perusing Twitter and seeing the Oxford Eagle’s Davis Potter ponder the same thing, we here at The Cup figured we would take a whack at it. Mike Bianco’s weekend pitching rotation took hit after hit after hit during the 2018 MLB Draft. Ryan Rolison, as expected, was drafted in the 1st round by the Colorado Rockies and has signed. Brady Feigl was taken in the 5th round by the Oakland Athletics and has signed. And finally, James McArthur was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 12th round and has decided to move on with his career as well.
As much as it sucks to have to completely revamp your rotation and replace 255 innings, a 4.07 combined earned run average, 271 strikeouts, and 24 wins, it was expected. Rolison came into 2018 as a draft-eligible sophomore and was projected by most to go in the first round, no doubt. Feigl showed an ability to touch 90-94 mph consistently and showed a real feel for his slider and change-up all-year long so he really shot up draft boards after a few big-time performances. And despite the lackluster numbers and ERA, McArthur is a large-framed pitcher who the Phillies clearly believe can turn into something with some fine-tuning.
So, here we are.
As promised, we now look at who we each believe deserves a shot and/or has proven they are ready for the weekend and mentally capable of stepping in and replacing three MLB draft picks.
Friday - Will Ethridge
Saturday - Parker Caracci
Sunday - Jordan Fowler
The Friday night role, to me, is a no-brainer. Ethridge has been a weekday starter before and has shown the ability to really work deep into games while keeping his stuff consistent despite the pitch count mounting. Even though he has been a reliable reliever, the statistic of him being much better out of the pen the first time on the weekend versus the second time sort of makes me lean towards just starting him and avoiding this conundrum altogether. Take advantage of the first appearance by trotting him out there to start against the other team’s ace, right? His fastball has real life to it, his slider is virtually untouchable when it is on, and his other secondary stuff should improve in year three enough to make him a formidable force under the lights on Friday.
Alright, let’s get weird, shall we? For Saturday, I think you give the Karate Kid a shot. The All-American burst onto the scene in 2018 after not even being on the roster for two years and ran away with the closer role. His 2.25 ERA was good enough for second on the team and he notched 10 saves while striking out 73(!) in 48 innings. He has been a regular on the radar gun tour, effortlessly touching anywhere from 95-98 last season, but his ability to consistently sit at 92-95 mph comfortably could go a long way in the starter role. Now, if someone else (Greer Holston, Houston Roth, Max Cioffi) doesn’t step up in the now vacant closer role, Caracci might stay put. Nevertheless, Saturday night on the bump just seems fitting for Parker after he was so lights out for the Rebels this year.
Finally, Sunday comes down to Jowler a.k.a Young Giraffe. His midweek outings were spectacular but he really came into his own in Hoover at the SEC Tournament where he essentially dominated a deep and talented offensive lineup from College Station. His six scoreless innings against the Aggies propelled the Rebs into a legitimate top 5 national seed and was a catalyst to Ole Miss winning it all against LSU. Then, he gave you all you could ask for in the Oxford Regional against Tennessee Tech, arguably the best offense in the country. His 7-0 record was great in 2018, but he will certainly need to develop a third pitch and to cut down on the walks if he wants to shore up this slot on the weekend.
Friday - Will Ethridge
Saturday - Jordan Fowler
Sunday - Greer Holston
Ethridge is cut from the same mold as Will Kline, Chris Ellis, and every other 6’3 or bigger pitcher Ole Miss has started on Friday nights in the SEC during Bianco’s tenure. Like Kline and Ellis, he took on a bullpen role early in his career before turning into an electric top of the rotation guy. Also like Kline and Ellis, I expect Ethridge to go in the top 3-5 rounds of next years MLB draft. Much was made about Will’s inability to thow multiple times in a weekend and be effective on the second outing. Problem solved.
Mike Bianco likes breaking things up with a lefty on Saturday. I do, too. Fowler progressed immensely in his first season on the mound in Oxford, going from middling non-conference reliever to inarguably amongst the teams top 3 starters by years end. Look for him to add more weight back on his 6’3 frame which might help his fastball. He sat low 90s in Hoover less than two years off of a significant vehicle crash. With another year to improve and get healthy, scouts will be salivating over a hard throwing left-hander by the time the 2019 draft rolls around.
With Fowler mixing things up on Saturday, going back to a hard throwing righty on Sunday makes sense. And it’s so perfectly Bianco any other option seems strange. Sunday’s are normally reserved for guys with get me over stuff, or teams will try to make it a bullpen day. Not with the depth Ole Miss has on the mound in 2019 though. Holston has performed mainly out of the bullpen during his career but has shown flashes of being stretched out. With Holston on the mound, there may not be a Sunday all season where the Rebels don’t have the pitching advantage from the jump.
Friday - Will Ethridge
Saturday - Jordan Fowler
Sunday - Houston Roth
Will Ethridge is the obvious choice for me. The big, 6’5, 220-pound right hander pitches effortlessly in the low to mid-90’s, something that projects well for 6 or 7 inning starts. In his first two seasons, Ethridge struck out 103 batters in 91.2 innings pitched. While we would like for opponents to hit slightly worse than their .266 average against Ethridge, that number is not far off from Rolison’s .251 average against in 2018. Ethridge can be a dominant right hander, with a high strikeout rate and the frame to provide for longevity throughout the SEC conference schedule grind.
Fowler might not be the popular choice, but the way he closed his 2018 season, and his dominant performance in the postseason makes him my leader in the clubhouse. In 2018, he was extremely solid. The only questionable performance came against USM (a game that Ole Miss came back to win). Fowler held a 7-0 record, with a 3.20 ERA and opponents hit .248 against him. While his strikeout numbers aren’t what we are used to seeing out of weekend guys in Oxford, he has decent control and regularly coerces soft contact. If Fowler can keep the ball down and work ahead in counts, he will be every bit as good as Brady Feigl was in this role in 2018.
Houston Roth is my guy. He is aggressive on the mound, pounds the zone with a low-90’s fastball, and matches that with decent breaking stuff. I think Roth is just as good as Fowler, but his attitude on the mound is perfect for me in a Sunday must-win scenario. There is a reason Bianco went to Roth in game 2 of the Oxford Regional. He needed the big out and Roth provided it. The Oxford native went 5-1 in 2018 with 68(!) strikeouts in only 52.2 innings pitched. He would challenge for the Friday role if he could get his walks down. Roth walks almost one batter every two innings. Regardless, Roth is another dominant Sunday arm for Bianco, and will be vital for another run at a national seed.
Now that we have given our fresh, hot taeks on what we think Bianco should do next season, what say you, commentariat?
Let us know below what you think the rotation should be.