Previewing the Batting Lineup and Pitching Staff

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Ole Miss held its annual media day on Monday inside the Diamond Club at Oxford-Unversity Stadium, ahead of the Rebels' season opener Friday at 4 p.m. against William & Mary, the opening game of a three-game series. 

Here are some notes and quotes from the media opportunity with head coach Mike Bianco and selected players, looking at the batting lineup and the pitching staff heading into the start of the 2015 season.

The Hitters:

"As we start this spring, I in a way struggled to explain to the team, something different and something exciting for you to write about," Bianco said. "But, it seems that I come back to the same sentence, it seems very similar to last year. What I mean by that is we return some big pieces on the field. 

"When you look around the field on Friday, you will see Sikes Orvis, Errol Robinson, J.B. Woodman, Austin Knight, Colby Bortles. These are some guys who certainly played big roles for us last year in getting to the College World Series. And like last year, there is certainly going to be room for some new guys to step in and help us."

Projected Defensive Lineup:

C Austin Knight

1B Sikes Orvis

2B Tate Blackman

3B Colby Bortles

SS Errol Robinson

LF Connor Cloyd/Josh Watkins/Kyle Watson

CF J.B. Woodman

RF Cameron Dishon

Speaking to the batting order, Bianco said Woodman will likely lead off, followed by Robinson, Orvis, Bortles and Henri Lartigue, who will back up Knight at catcher and be a possible designated hitter. After those five in the order, Bianco said a lot of it will be determined by lefty-righty matchups.

More on Austin Knight:

Knight has appeared in 74 games over the last three year, drawing the start in 16 games, including two games behind the plate in the College World Series as senior Will Allen moved to designated hitter due to injury. During his career, Knight has played behind two Johnny Bench Award finalists in Allen and Stuart Turner, who won the award in 2013.

Knight: "I'm very confident going into the season. I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing against somebody else. I got to play behind two very good catchers and very good people (Stuart Turner and Will Allen). Being able to learn from those guys has been great."

Bianco, on Knight: "To catch in our system, every coach on the staff was a catcher, it's tough to catch here. We're very hard on the catchers. There is a high expectation, not only for your performance, but also your leadership, getting the signals, being able to handle the staff, body language and all these other things we talk about. That's one of the reasons why Austin will be starting on Friday night. Not only can he handle it behind the plate and catch the ball and hit for us, but he's our best option as far as leadership and doing all the things we need from that position."

LHP Christian Trent, on Knight: "I was close to him last year, but Will caught the majority of my games. He's going to be fine. He's going to step up and take the place of Will. He has a good arm. He's really good at receiving the ball. As a pitcher, I'm already comfortable with him."

More on Tate Blackman:

Sikes Orvis and Errol Robinson return at their respective spots in the infield. They are joined by Colby Bortles, who played in 40 games, drawing the start in 14 games, nine at designated hitter and five at first baseman, as well as Tate Blackman, the preseason SEC Freshman of the Year by D1Baseball.com, who will start at second base for the Rebels.

Blackman: "It's a blessing to get the opportunity. I came in here as a freshman, trying to work hard on and off the field. My goal was to come in here and making a big impact my freshman year, and hopefully Friday will be a good day for me and for my team."

Bianco, on Blackman: "We think he is our best option at second. We saw a kid that didn't play like a freshman, not just with his ability, but with the way he carries himself. Tate looks like the guy that is most ready to play. He is an outstanding hitter, runs well and is a good defender. I am excited about all of the freshman.

Orvis, on Blackman: "He has a lot of talent, a lot of power, a lot of juice, and he's not afraid to mess up. He gets right in there. He's a hard-nosed player. He's going to be really good. The game speeds up on him as it does for all freshmen, but he has all the confidence in the world in himself, so he'll be fine."

More on the corner outfielders:

J.B. Woodman, the Rebels' leading returning hitter by batting average (.298), returns to the outfield, as he moves to center field, having played mostly right field and designated hitter this past season. Cameron Dishon will step into a bigger role as the start right fielder, having played mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement over the last two years. 

At the other corner outfield spot, what Bianco called the big question mark, as they open the season, Bianco said they will probably play a lot of guys to start with, mentioning junior college transfers Connor Cloyd and Josh Watkins, as well as freshman Kyle Watson by name. Another freshman, Will Golsan, might also figure in the mix.

Bianco, on left field: "I don't know if you need to have two games in a row or three games in a row," Bianco said. I don't know if there's a number. It's more feel. The goal over the first four weeks is to find the best lineup by the time we get to LSU on the opening weekend of SEC play. One of those guys can DH, somebody can play left, one of the other outfielders could sit a game and we can play two of those guys, so a lot of it just depends."

The Pitching Staff:

"On the mound, we are a little different than last year in the sense that last year at this time I think that was the big talk and most of the questions in the preseason press conference were about the pitching and the starting pitching, maybe for the lack of experience in the projected starters," Bianco said. 

"This year we return two of the SEC starters (Christian Trent and Sam Smith) from last year, along with some guys who have tons of experience like Scott Weathersby, Wyatt Short and Matt Denny. These are guys who gained some valuable experience for us last year."

Friday: LHP Christian Trent

Saturday: RHP Sam Smith

Sunday: RHP Brady Bramlett

Trent, on the move from Saturday starter to Friday starter: "My routine is not going to change. You're still coming to the field and do everything pregame I did last year. The role is different. Pitching on Saturday, the mindset was to win the series or push the series to a third game. I like the role of Friday because you can start the series off with a win and give your team a chance to get ahead in the series early."

More on Bramlett and Johnson:

Earlier in the spring, Bianco said Sean Johnson, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from the junior college ranks, would be a weekend, but he's been dealing with tendinitis and will be limited to bullpen work in the first weekend. In his place, Smith will move up to Saturday, and Bramlett will get the start on Sunday. Bramlett, himself, missed the last part of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season due to recovery from a torn labrum.

Bianco, on Bramlett: "You don't know when they come off an injury where they are going to be or how they are going to be that first year back. When they are released and able to pitch you have to see how they are. 

"Brady had a really good fall. Once we got back, his three starts were probably better than any of the starters. He was pretty spotless here this January and early February. We are excited. He is a guy when we recruited him a couple years ago we knew would have a big time fastball. His slider keep coming, and he has improved his change-up. We really think he is going to have a big year."

Bianco, on Johnson: "We mentioned earlier to some of you that Sean Johnson would be a weekend starter. He came up a few days before our first intersquad game with some tendonitis in his shoulder. He is fine and he threw a bullpen on Friday. Sean will throw another bullpen tomorrow. He will not pitch in the first weekend, he just isn't in shape enough to start and log that many innings. Look for him to, at some point, get back into that starting role."

More on the bullpen:

After the graduation of Brett Huber two seasons ago, the program's all-time saves leader with 38, five different players recorded saves for the Rebels this past season, two of whom return in left-hander Wyatt Short and right-hander Scott Weathersby. Bianco also mentioned left-hander Matt Denny and right-hander Will Stokes, a freshman, as arms out of the bullpen. 

As far as the closer situation, Bianco said it will be a combination of guys, at least to start the season, similar to last season.

More from Bianco: "At the beginning, we'll go with a handful of guys and see if somebody emerges. Last year, we tried to force that a little bit. I think that guy has to just emerge. If that's the case after a certain period of time, if there's one guy we are better if he's pitching at the end of the game, then certainly we will do that. 

"We have shown an ability to do that in the past, when you look back at guys like Brett Huber, Jake Morgan, Scott Bittle or Stephen Head. If not, you can certainly win the other way, where you put the best guy out there on that particular day, much like we did last year, especially at the end of the year."

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