Bianco Previews 2018 Team At Media Day

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By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com

Mike Bianco spoke with a sense of excitement in his voice as he stood at a podium in the Diamond Club seating area at Swayze Field at media day. Ole Miss opens its 2018 season against Winthrop on Friday afternoon.

The Rebels return seven starters in the field from a young group last season and also return the bulk of their pitching both in the rotation and bullpen.

Bianco gave a preview of a potential starting lineup, starting with the outfield. Thomas Dillard will be the opening day left fielder, Will Golsan will be in center and Ryan Olenek will man right field. Olenek played center field in 2017, but Bianco anticipates the junior to play some infield as well and preferred to have some stability in center field, hence the flip between Golsan and Olenek. Aside from that, it is the same outfield personnel-wise from last year.

With Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman being the only everyday position players Ole Miss needed to replace, both of the open positions are in the infield at second and third base. At third base Bianco said both Tyler Keenan and Tim Elko could see action there this weekend. Both are freshmen and Keenan bats left-handed. Jacob Adams and Anthony Servideo will be the primary candidates to replace Blackman at second base. Servideo is a true freshman out of Miami, Florida, and Adams is a junior by way of Crowder Community College. A healthy Grae Kessinger returns at shortstop and Nick Fortes will play first base after sliding over to that position from catcher last year. Cole Zabowski could also see time at first base as well. Sophomore backstop Cooper Johnson will be behind the plate for the Rebels as well.

Bianco said lefty Tim Rowe and right-hander Chase Cockrell will see time at DH this weekend, giving him two solid bats with some power and a match-up option depending on the opposing pitcher.

"Chase had a great fall, and Tim showed us what he could do last year, and look for him to add to that his senior campaign," Bianco said.

Ryan Rolison will grab the baseball for the Rebels on opening day. The sophomore lefty is coming off of a dominant summer in the Cape Cod League and has plenty of experience pitching in the SEC after sliding in to the rotation early on in SEC play last year.

"Last year, as good as we were on the mound, we weren't good enough to compete on Friday night in the SEC," Bianco said."And if you want to compete in our league, you have to compete on Friday night and I think Ryan gives us the best shot to do that right away."

Rolison's developed his changeup as a formidable third pitch along with a really good breaking ball.

"It has come a long way," Rolison said. "I feel comfortable throwing it for a strike in any count. I have gained a lot of confidence in it."

Junior righty Brady Feigl will start on Saturday and fellow junior right-hander James McArthur will be getting the nod on Sunday. Feigl got a taste of the rotation a year ago, but was mostly an effective option for Bianco out of the bullpen and all 12 of McArthur's outings in 2017 were weekend starts.

"The biggest thing for me going back into the fall was gaining consistency with my slider," Feigl said. "When I was good last year, I had my slider. It bumped up all of my other pitches."

This group has 14 upperclassmen compared to six from a season ago and has a lot of talent on the mound mound in particular.

All-American closer Dallas Woolfolk and senior Will Stokes are experienced pieces on the back end of the Ole Miss bullpen and the team also returns the likes of sophomores Will Ethridge and Houston Roth who were effective for the Rebels out of the pen as freshmen. Bianco said freshman left-hander Jordan Fowler turned some heads in the fall and that fellow freshman Max Cioffi pitched well, too. Throw in an experienced junior in Connor Green and Cal Ripkin Summer League Pitching MVP Parker Caracci, and Bianco will have a number of options to go to in the later innings.

"When you look at the pitching staff, they really did pitch it pretty well last year," Bianco said. "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."

Ole Miss tweaked the top of its lineup a good bit last year as it tried to find a natural fit at leadoff hitter. Golsan and Olenek spent time hitting in the leadoff spot, but ideally Bianco would like to slot them behind the leadoff guy and is hoping one of the candidates at second base could assume that role.

"Leadoff is the tough one," Bianco said. "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 guy, 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."

Bianco is excited with the fact he returns a lot from last year's team as this was not the case this time last year with the number one-ranked recruiting class headlining a slew of newcomers. There's a nice blend of experience and depth on this team.

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    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

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