Ole Miss arguable has the strongest reason to be disappointed in the 2020 season being cut short. The Rebels were the hottest team in the country and well on their way to a special year. Head Coach Mike Bianco returns the bulk of that team and hopes to remake what could have been an Omaha bound season.
2019 Record: 41-27 (16-14)
2020 Record: 16-1
Perfect Game Recruiting Class: 19th
By season’s end Ole Miss held the nation’s longest active winning streak at 16. The Rebels hadn’t lost a game since opening day in a 7-2 loss to the No.1 team Louisville. Ole Miss would end up winning the next two to pad a strong nonconference resume that included wins against then No.17 ECU and Indiana as well.
A powerful offense and good consistent pitching was the key to that success. The bats ranked second in the SEC with a .549 slugging percentage and led the conference in homeruns with six more than the next team. Bianco’s team had all the momentum they could hope for entering the weekend series against LSU.
Ole Miss could give Vanderbilt some competition for best rotation in the conference. They return all three starters from the 2020 season, headlined by one of the best one-two punches in Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund. Nikhazy has excelled in the ace position despite his small frame. He was 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA last year.
Hoglund is a sure slotted first round pick. His fastball is his best pitch which has continued to uptick in velocity as he develops and his ability to place it is prime. He’s also developed a nasty slider to his repertoire. The sophomore numbers made a big jump going 3-0 with a 1.16 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
Gunnar Hoglund was filthy yesterday (12Ks in 6IP, 88 pitches). pic.twitter.com/NpO1fsCnKp
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 23, 2020
The Sunday guy is sophomore Derek Diamond. The California native had good numbers in four starts with a 3.48 ERA. He pitched into the sixth inning just one time last year in the opening game against Louisville. He’ll hope to make some strides and work deeper into games this year.
The Rebels lose their two best hitters, both from the left side of the plate who were putting up video game numbers a year ago. Tim Elko will slide over to fill the hole at third base. The senior struggled his first two year but was really turning a corner last season. He brings serious power to the right side of the plate and should continue his progression.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) March 7, 2020
Outside of Elko there’s not a lot of veteran experience so the Rebels will rely on newer faces to boost the offense. A pair of freshman from 2020 Peyton Chatagnier (.311/.449/.574) and Hayden Dunhurst (.269/.355/.577) erupted right away last year and produced big numbers.
JUCO Hayden Leatherwood is another guy who had limited playing time last year but should be a steady starter this year. He was hitting .361 with three homeruns and provides some power from the left side to replace the missing bats. Ben Van Cleve is another JUCO who could see a bigger role after limited time in 2020.
Ole Miss’s rotation is going to keep them in every series which is a coveted strength in a league as deep as the SEC. They also have some of the most experience from their guys with both Nikhazy and Hoglund having numerous SEC starts under their belt in 2019. The bullpen boasts numerous seniors who in a normal year would be moved on but are taking advantage of the extra year.
The biggest question will be the offense. The Rebels exceeded expectations in 2020 with the powerful bats so be wary of their potential decline. Still, Bianco has plenty of potential options should any of the new guys not work out early on in the season.
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