Depending on which media outlet you ask, Ole Miss is a top-10 or top-five ball club heading into the 2021 season after 2020 was cut short due to COVID-19.
The Rebels return almost everybody who made an impact a season ago save for Anthony Servideo and Tyler Keenan, and we’ve taken a look at the projected weekend rotation already, which you can see here. Now, let’s take a look at the guys who will be at the plate for the Rebs when the season gets underway.
Of course, we don’t know what order these guys will appear in Five’s opening day lineup, but this is a pretty good idea of what the defensive alignment will look like when Ole Miss opens its season in Arlington this coming weekend.
NOTE: One Rebel will not be traveling to Arlington due to testing positive for COVID-19.
1B — Cael Baker
2020 line: .220 BA/.355 OBP/.577 Slug
We like big fellas who hit dingers, don’t we, kids?
Cael Baker became, for lack of a better term, a cult idol in Oxford last season after his dinger-filled performance in opening Saturday’s win over No. 1 Louisville, but consistency at the plate was something that Baker struggled to find early on in the season. The pop is certainly there, but can he hit consistently enough to make an impact outside of that? That’s the question that’s looming for his 2021 campaign.
2B — Peyton Chatagnier
2020 line: .311 BA/.449 OBP/.574 Slug
The Rebs’ second baseman takes home the award for coolest last name (it’s French, right?) on the roster, but his bat and presence in the middle infield will be key to Ole Miss’ success this season.
As a true freshman last season, Chatagnier was the emotional catalyst for the Ole Miss team, spiking the ball in the dirt after picking up the opening series win over Louisville. His energy and leadership (even as an underclassman) will be vital for the Rebs this season.
3B — Tim Elko
2020 line: .354 BA/.373 OBP/.667 Slug
Elko had some struggles early in his career that kept him out of the everyday lineup, but now, he carries the title of captain and is expected to take over the hot corner in replacement of Tyler Keenan.
Elko is one of the few exceptions in this lineup in that he has plenty of experience facing SEC pitching, so having him in the top-to-middle portion of the order will be important in anchoring an otherwise-young Rebel group.
SS — Jacob Gonzalez
2020 line: DNP
Gonzalez is the sure enough “baby” of this group in that he Is a true freshman. According to research done by Chase Parham, Gonzalez is slated to be the third true freshman shortstop to make Bianco’s opening day lineup since 2014, with the other two being Errol Robinson and Grae Kessinger.
Gonzalez has shown plenty of promise at the plate so far this semester, and if he can keep that momentum rolling, he will just be the latest young addition to the Rebel lineup to make an impact at a young age. Gonzalez is a native of Glendora High School in Glendora, Cali.
C — Hayden Dunhurst
2020 line: .269 BA/.355 OBP/.577 Slug
It’s rare for a true freshman to start behind the plate for Five, but Dunhurst did that last year, and he is expected to be a key cog for the Rebs this season, both behind and at the plate.
Dunhurst hit .269 last season with five home runs, so the offensive potential is certainly there. He’s one of the players I’m highest on coming into this season, and I expect him to be pretty special in 2021.
LF — Kevin Graham
2020 line: .237 BA/.326 OBP/.579 Slug
One of the other experienced bats in the lineup comes in the form of Kevin Graham.
Graham has plenty of pop, but even as a right hander, he has struggled against LHP throughout his career. Even so, it helps that he’s seen SEC arms in action before, and his presence in the lineup will be vital in that category. Any time Graham enters the batter’s box, he’s a home run threat. That’s always enjoyable.
CF — Justin Bench
2020 line: .295 BA/.458 OBP/.386 Slug
Injuries have been an issue for the versatile Bench, but he’s one that will be likely tabbed to hold down center field duties with the injury sustained by Jerrion Ealy.
Bench is certainly a talented defender, and as his 2020 line shows, he can hit, too. He tabbed 11 RBIs a season ago, and although he just had one home run, he has some good potential at the plate coming into his junior season.
RF — Hayden Leatherwood
2020 line: .361 BA/.477 OBP/.639 Slug
Leatherwood is the other Rebel bat that I’m extremely excited for this season.
He had three home runs in last year’s shortened season, but he showed an ability to be an all-around hitter in 2020, and I expect that to be the case again in 2021. Stay healthy, please.
DH — Ben Van Cleve
2020 line: .385 BA/.529 OBP/.500 Slug
NORTHWEST COMMUNITY COLLEGE STAND UP.
We love JUCO transfers who pan out, and Van Cleve was well on his way to that last season. He didn’t tab a home run last season, but he’s a #big fella at 6-3, 230, and he’s gone be good, folks. Analysis.