The Ole Miss baseball team is set to kick off its national title defense on February 17th as the Rebels host Delaware in a three game set.
Coach Bianco and the boys lost a lot from the title team, but there is still an important core returning to the program for the 2023 season. There is no replacing the legend that is Tim Elko and finding production lost by Justin Bench, Kevin Graham, Hayden Dunhurst and Dylan DeLucia will be difficult. Despite those departures, the Rebs are primed to make another run to Omaha in hopes of going back to back.
It all starts with Junior shortstop Jacob Gonzalez. Likely his final season in Oxford because of his prime draft prospects, the do it all middle infielder will have to lead defensively as well as at the plate.
Senior Peyton Chatagnier will also be relied upon for his veteran leadership and gritty play on the field. Having a middle infield with this much experience is a huge positive for coach Bianco. The second baseman will need to hit for better than his 2022 mark of .248.
The corners are gone are there is no clear answer on the roster for the replacement of Bench and Elko. One option could see TJ McCants return to the infield where he was a natural in high school, sliding Gonzalez or Chatagnier to third. Garrett Wood is still here, as well as Tywone Malone but are either of them enough defensively?
The outfield is where it gets a little dicey. Kemp Alderman is listed as an OF but we all know he’s gotta be the DH... right? Obviously McCants is likely to start there rather than the infield and folk hero Calvin Harris, well we will cover him here in a second.
John Kramer and Banks Tolley are returnees that could play their way into a role in what seems to be a wide open outfield race.
Pitching & Catching
Pitching is where games are won and lost. Dylan DeLucia cashed in his ace season for a shot at the MLB, as he should, but the Rebels return Hunter Elliott who broke out in a huge way last year as a freshman.
Jack Dougherty and Josh Mallitz will need to step up and have big seasons behind Elliott as well as Mason Nichols and Mitch Murrell. Murrell had 9 appearances last year and allowed 15 baserunners in 7.2 innings. He did have 11 strikeouts, but he will need to find his control if he wants to contribute his senior year.
If you visit the Ole Miss Athletics website and check out the roster, you will see that Calvin Harris has “Catcher” listed as his first position. Kemp Alderman is the only returning Rebel that has a catcher designation on his position description. Unless freshman Will Plattner earns the job outright, your opening day catcher was an outfielder last year.
In Part 2 of this series we will cover the new comers as Coach Mike Bianco has some important freshman and transfers coming in ready to contribute right away.