Ole Miss baseball hosts Media Day

The Rebels host Winthrop on Friday.

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 11:04 PM
Updated: Feb 14, 2018 12:01 AM

OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco addressed the media Tuesday afternoon as part of the Rebels’ official Media Day. The Rebels open the 2018 campaign Friday at 4 p.m. against Winthrop at O-U Stadium/Swayze Field.

Opening Statement…
“I always think that when you have this Opening Day press conference, it’s always the week of the season, and in baseball, because you start so late, unlike football and basketball in the fall, and of course it’s baseball here in February, there’s all these unofficial start dates. The Road to Omaha starts in August when we start our first practice and maybe when we come back in January, but certainly when you get to this point, I always think this is game week. This is the official start of the season. As you can tell, the stadium’s just about complete and ready to go for Friday. The new club level behind home plate looks terrific, and the guys are cleaning up the new performance center. As you may know, the completion date is supposed to be in April, but the cages and pitching indoor we’ve already used and been using for a few weeks, and thankfully because of the rain and the temperatures that’s been very important. As we start today, it’s a lot different than last year. Last year, we welcomed a lot of new faces, but this year, it seems like the new faces are administrative faces, a lot of new faces that are out of uniform that help us compete every day. Last year, there were new faces in the uniform, and this year it’s a bit different. Last year, we talked about the number one recruiting class at the time, and a lot of these young guys stepped on the field for the first time last year. We had 29 of the 35 were either freshmen or sophomore, we only had six upperclassmen last year. Sunday night we had the Junior/Senior dinner at my house, and we had 14, and so we’ve doubled the upperclassmen already, and a lot of those sophomores played last year. Some of them played very well, the freshmen that stepped onto the field for the first time had great first years, guys like Will Ethridge, Ryan Rolison, and Houston Roth who garnered Freshmen All-American Honors and had great freshmen campaigns. Some of those freshmen didn’t play as well, but the good news for us was that they were out there a lot, and they gained a lot of experience at times. I look back and I’ve said this to the team, I blame myself, and at times I think we leaned on them too much, we left them out there and probably not the best move by me. But the result of that this year if you look at the guys who may not have had the freshman year they wanted, had great sophomore falls and are ready to compete this year, in a league that is very unforgiving. When you don’t play well, it kind of gets exaggerated quickly and your batting average and your ERA, and I think those guys are chomping at the bit for another chance in the Southeastern conference. Last year, we didn’t return a lot. This year, after losing just Bortles and Blackman as far as position players that played every day, we return seven of the starting nine, which is almost the direct opposite of last year. And when you look at the pitching staff, they really did pitch it pretty well last year, I think we were ranked fourth in the SEC in ERA, and we return seven of the nine best earned run averages from last year. An experienced staff, and experienced position players usually makes for a pretty good team.”

“We released the starting rotation last night. Friday, we’ll start off with Ryan Rolison on the mound for us. Saturday, Brady Feigl, and on Sunday, James McArthur. It’s one of the things that wasn’t supposed to be so suspenseful, but this year, it was a tough decision. A lot of times it’s not as difficult, you return maybe an ace or some other guys, but when I look at our rotation, as I mentioned the three Freshmen All-Americans, people forget last year we had three Freshmen All-Americans, Brady Feigl and James McArthur were a couple of them from two years ago. We have a lot of depth, and a lot of talent, and along with the guys that I’ve mentioned, guys like Houston Roth, Greer Holston, and Will Ethridge are looking for one of those spots as weekend starter, but as we start the first weekend, those guys will be find themselves in the bullpen, which just adds some depth to an already deep bullpen. A question that’s asked a lot is the closer, and I think this year there’s no secret that we return Dallas Woolfolk who’s on many preseason teams as a closer, and a guy at the end of the game who pitched for Team USA in the role. To wear that USA across your chest and represent the best that our country has to offer for amateur baseball players, Dallas I think is tested not only in our league, but internationally, and I’m excited to have him back there. And of course Will Stokes, who’s entering his fourth year and has pitched so many important games.”

“As we look around the infield and outfield, on Friday, starting in left field will be Thomas Dillard. Thomas was one of those highly-touted freshmen that started last year, mostly in left field. Another switch for Will Golsan, as those that follow us know, Will’s a senior captain, was elected captain by his teammates in the fall, and he’s moving to his fourth position in four years where he will start in center field, with Ryan (Olenek) in right field. Those guys almost flip-flopped and the reason they did that is because Ryan is going to play some infield this year, and I just didn’t want to move the center field spot around a lot this year. I thought it was better and made a lot more sense to put Ryan in right field. I think they’re pretty much interchangeable in their skill sets, both are great athletes that can really run, throw, and defend, so Will in center and Ryan in right.”

“Around the infield, at third base, it could be a couple freshmen. One in Tim Elko, and another in Tyler Keenan, both physical hitters, both solid defenders, both will add some power to the lineup, one’s right handed in Tim, and Tyler’s left handed. At shortstop, Grae Kessinger returns and will start at short on opening day. At second base, the other position open from last year’s departure of Tate Blackman, you should look at Jacob Adams, a junior college transfer, or Anthony Servideo on opening day. At first base, you have Cole Zabowski that returns, but we also return Nick Fortes. Nick is a tremendous catcher, but likely on opening day we’ll put him at first and start Cooper Johnson behind the plate. Cooper worked really hard with Coach Clement offensively and probably made as much strides as anybody offensively, so we’re really proud of him, but I also think Nick will catch for us, and I also think he’ll catch this weekend for us. When you say these names, there’s not many new names in there, there’s a lot of familiar names with tons of experience. A team that last year was good, just not good enough often enough to compete in the Southeastern Conference, and I think one of the big things this year is the offense, but we talk to the staff a lot about the pitchers. Last year, as good as we were on the mound, we weren’t good enough to compete on Friday night in the SEC, and if you want to compete in our league, you have to compete on Friday night and I think Ryan (Rolison) gives us the best shot to do that right away.”

On the DH…
“Tim Rowe and Chase Cockrell, a good, solid, right-handed, left-handed look. Both of them have tremendous power, Chase had a great fall, and Tim showed us what he could do last year, and look for him to add to that senior campaign.”

On Will Golsan filling leadership role…
“No doubt, didn’t mention it but Brady Feigl was elected captain as well. Will’s one of those guys that doesn’t say a lot, he’s a quiet leader, but no one doubts his competitiveness. When you look at Will, watch him play the game, I think that adds a lot. We challenged not just Will and Brady, but all the older guys. We use the phrase a lot you lead by example, but I’m not a big fan of that phrase. I think leadership is more than that, I think it’s more than just showing up for practice at the right time, and those guys do that. The other big thing about leadership is how much better do you make the players around you. Just watching them this fall and watching them reach out to younger guys are some of those great qualities you need.”

On candidates to replace power from Bortles and Blackman…
“Certainly Tim Rowe, Thomas Dillard, whoever good start at the corners, Keenan, Elko, Zabowski, and I think Nick Fortes is going to have a tremendous year. Really about midseason last year when he started to become an everyday player to now, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s the best hitter every single day it shows up for us. Even though he’s not a big opposing guy, I think he can hit some home runs for us.”

On what you’ve seen out of Thomas Dillard this fall…
“That’s why we put him out there. Thomas was recruited as a catcher, we put him in left field because of his bat. I think Thomas will be a mainstay in the middle of the lineup, so we’re excited about him to turn those numbers around from last year.”

On leadoff hitter…
“Leadoff is the tough one. I think there’s a good chance that one of those second basemen, maybe Servideo or Adams leads off opening day, but we’ll have to play with it. Some of those other guys that run well probably aren’t your prototypical leadoff guys, like Olenek and Golsan. They’re good hitters, but I think Servideo and Adams did that for us, and I think they’re ready for that position.”

On strength of non-conference opponents…
“When we look at our schedule, you try to play teams that are going to challenge you, but the truth is you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know that Winthrop and Long Beach are going to be conference champions from a year ago, so two of our first four opponents are conference champions, and then of course you have a conference pitcher of the year at Winthrop, so it’s pretty competitive. Tulane’s going to be a lot better than they were a year ago with a new coach, and I see Tulane being much improved. I look at these four weeks as good for us, you need something to test you and get ready for the SEC. Last year we played an easy schedule early then got beat up in Houston, but this team that’s returning so many players, I think the competition will be good.”

On freshmen pitchers…
“Probably the most impressive freshman arm has been Jordan Fowler, left handed pitcher. Max Cioffi has pitched well in the spring, but it’s going to be tough for these guys. With our depth, I think that’s why you don’t hear as many new guys in the pitching talk, not as many vacancies as other places.”

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