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Ole Miss baseball 2020 preview: Here are the newcomers to know

The No. 4 recruiting class brings in plenty of impact dudes.

Josh McCoy-Ole Miss Athletics

One month.

31 days.

That is how much longer you have to wait before Dan McDonnell and the Louisville Cardinals travel to Oxford, Miss. for the season opener three-game set.

The 2016 recruiting class that finished No. 1 in the country per D1Baseball has come and gone. The 2019 recruiting wasn’t the top-ranked bunch in the country, but they were still top-five. Assistant and recruiting coordinator Carl Lafferty did an excellent job filling the holes left by the likes of Grae Kessinger, Thomas Dillard, Will Ethridge. Cooper Johnson, and others.

This year’s incoming crop has four freshmen who ranked in the top 50 of PBR’s Top 500 last spring. But, as D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt so eloquently puts it, “this class has serious star power, but also serious depth and versatility”.

Here are the eight dudes to know before the first weekend against the preseason No. 1 Cardinals from the ACC.

Connor Walsh

Overall rank: 27
Position: INF/OF
Hometown: Niceville, Fla.

The first name here is arguably one of the best athletes that Mike Bianco has ever signed. And that’s certainly saying something considering there’s a few other dudes in this class who can do some things. Walsh, who primarily played middle infield in high school could be asked to move to outfield to replace Ryan Olenek.

His elite level speed (laser-timed 6.28 60-yard dash) is the main reason there and returning infielder Anthony Servideo will most likely replace Grae Kessinger. I expect big things from Walsh this season. The 6’1, 195-pounder hit .435 as a senior and .438 as a junior at Niceville High School and if that bat translates, could be in the top of the order sooner rather than later.

Jerrion Ealy (Arizona Diamondbacks - 31st round)

Overall rank: 29
Position: OF
Hometown: Walnut Grove, Miss.

Speaking of elite athletes, the Freshman All-American for Lane Kiffin’s football Rebs is a wild card in this class. Ealy was always ranked incredibly high by scouts because of his potential ceiling, but his bat dipped slightly in high school, mostly because teams didn’t really want to throw to him. But, he has ample opportunities to solidify a spot in the outfield.

Fitt likes Ealy’s game, though, saying “his pedigree is well established and he’s an ultra-athletic speed merchant with good rhythm in his gap-to-gap stroke”. If the 5’9, 180-pound two-sport star can keep things between the proverbial mustard and the mayo at the plate and not try to do too much, I could easily see him carving out a role on Mike Bianco’s club in 2020.

Hayden Dunhurst (Colorado Rockies - 37th round)

Overall rank: 42
Position: C
Hometown: Carriere, Miss.

The latest in the line of succession at Catcher U is an in-state product that is one of the most talented in the entire 2019 class. His defense is just as impressive as his stick.

The 5’11, 215-pounder gives off some Dillard vibes with his plate discipline and power (147 walks and hit 31 home runs in high school career) but his arm strength behind the plate is top-notch. Ole Miss fans are truly spoiled with what they have had calling pitches and managing pitching staffs over the past decade. I expect Dunhurst to continue the tradition of elite catchers and then some this year and start as a true freshman.

Derek Diamond (Arizona Diamondbacks - 40th round)

Overall rank: 50
Position: P
Hometown: Ramona, Calif.

The former Stanford commit comes to Oxford with a TON of potential and upside as an already impressive specimen at 6’2, 200-pounds. Early on in fall ball, Diamond has shown feel for not one, not two, not three, but FOUR pitches and has shown some pitchability that could be maybe get him a midweek starting nod.

And he can swing it a little bit, too.

Drew McDaniel

Overall rank: 160
Position: P
Hometown: Lafayette, La.

Another pill slinger to know is the top-200 player from the Pelican State. At 6’2 and 185-pounds, he’s athletic and explosive, touching 95 at times in fall ball. McDaniel was a starter in high school, holding batters to a measly .163 average, finishing his senior year as the No. 1 pitcher in Louisiana.

With that kind of velocity, Bianco and Lafferty might want him on the back-end in a middle-to-late relief or closer role.

Trey LaFleur (Los Angeles Dodgers - 21st round)

Overall rank: 220
Position: IF/OF/P
Hometown: Pensacola, Fla.

The Sunshine State two-way player flirted with the bigs, but ultimately chose to attend school. In the infield, he is another long, rangy corner defender and in the outfield he can surprise you with his 6.5 speed. On the mound, he can sit low-90’s comfortably and from the left side that can be utilized from the starter role or setup spot late in match up scenarios. But the guy can poke it around the yard, too.

During his senior season at Tate High School, LaFleur raked at a .415 clip with seven home runs and dealt on the bump at another respectable clip of 1.91 earned run average. Despite not having the lofty ranking like the names listed above him, he’s got tons of upside and could be an every day player regardless of position.

John Rhys Plumlee

Overall rank: 325
Position: OF
Hometown: Hattiesburg, Miss.

Outside of Joe Burrow, Mr. Plumlee might’ve been the most exciting player in the SEC this year on the gridiron. The 1,000-yard rusher will be challenged with the task of learning Lane Kiffin’s offense while trying to earn a spot on Mike Bianco’s lineup card. His bat should play (could be earlier than Ealy’s) and his speed will give him looks for any spot in the outfield.

The all-state selection exploded on the scene as a junior, hitting .455, driving in 35, and finishing with 13 doubles. As a senior he hit .411, drove in 24, and had seven doubles and five triples.

Hayden Leatherwood (JUCO)

Overall rank: N/A
Position: OF
Hometown: Collierville, Tenn.

The former Vanderbilt signee and Northwest Mississippi Community College star comes to Ole Miss with a lot of hype. The 2018 First Team All-MACJC selection had the second-best slugging percentage in school history (.905) and hit .361 during his two years in Senatobia, slugging 22 home runs and driving in 71(!) for the Rangers.

The corner outfield spots are up for grabs and the 6’1, 205-pounder has just as good a chance as any to snag one of them. His athleticism and gap-to-gap power at the plate should set him apart.

Cael Baker (JUCO)

Overall rank: N/A
Position: INF/DH
Hometown: Gahanna, Oh.

The Junior College Triple Crown Winner gives off some big-time Sikes Orvis swagger. The flow is outstanding and the facial hair is already in mid season form. But, my god, his stats from his last season at Wabash Valley College are STUPID.

  • .506 batting average
  • 101 RBI
  • 25 HR
  • 80 runs scored
  • .596 on-base percentage
  • 1.051 slugging percentage

The big fella will have his say about the DH spot in my opinion and he’s already launching balls out of Swayze Field at 100+mph. The 2019 NJCAA Player of the Year originally signed with Cincinnati out of high school, but left after one year to find his way. He will easily be one of the most polarizing and exciting players in 2020 and will be fun to see if he meets or exceeds expectations.