Mon Jun 11 12:23pm EDT
OXFORD, Miss. -- Yeah, sure, fall practice is still several months away, but it's never too soon to look ahead to next baseball season. As I've done the past few years, here's my way too early guess at Ole Miss' 2013 Opening Day lineup. The Rebels start next season by hosting TCU for three games at Swayze Field. The offensive order will have a different look to it, but most of the pitching staff returns from 2012's 37-win team that lost in the finals of the College Station Regional.
Catcher: Austin Knight .267 BA/.371 OBP/.267 SLG OR Stuart Turner .332/.457/.529 (LSU-Eunice)
I cheated a little here and decided to write both down. Knight was very solid behind the plate in 2012 as a freshman, and I expect him to make a significant push toward the starting spot next season. He threw out 6-of-8 would-be base stealers and showed adequate bat control in only 30 at-bats. Turner helped Eunice to a 57-5 record and a national title while hitting seven home runs and 16 doubles. He walked 39 times and struck out just 22 times. Turner threw out 36 percent of runners on attempted steals.
First base: Will Allen .302/.333/.391
Allen started 56 games at catcher this past season, but I expect a position change for next season. He was much improved offensively, and another jump should be expected with Allen spending the summer in the Cape Cod League. Ole Miss will likely need more than one home run out of the Gainesville, Fla., native next season, and he should bat in the middle of the order.
Second base: Chase Nyman .359 as senior at Pascagoula (Miss.)
Nyman should begin his career with significant gap power from the left side and transition that into legitimate power as his career progresses. The batting average was down, but that shouldn't be alarming. Nyman had little protection in the order and was extremely aggressive -- to a detriment -- for much of the season. He was 9-for-12 with five extra-base hits during the 5A championship series. I expect a solid defender in the field.
Shortstop: Austin Anderson .239/.352/.312
Anderson started 2012 in a deep hole and never fully recovered from it. I hate using luck as a reason for anything, but he definitely didn't catch any breaks during the season offensively. Normally that kind of thing averages out. For Ole Miss to be as good as it can be, I think Anderson needs to progress before next season and be an important part of the lineup. Defensively, Anderson fielded .939 with three of his eight errors coming in one game against Alabama.
Third base: Andrew Mistone .243/.305/.299
The Rebels return the best defensive third baseman in the league -- no matter what the postseason list said. Mistone saved a couple games at the hot corner and was automatic for much of the season. Mistone needs to improve offensively, and that usually happens with second-year JUCO transfers. His bunt game is solid, and he'll work hard to find a way on base. The average needs to jump up.
Left field: Tanner Mathis .359/.460/.462
Ole Miss got a huge lift last week when Mathis turned down an offer from the Astros and chose to return to Oxford for his senior season. He's the Rebels' offensive spark plug at the top of the order and will be a huge key to Ole Miss in 2013. He was UM's best offensive player in the postseason, and his energy can't be overstated. Mathis started the year with several defensive miscues, but those went away as as the year moved on.
Center field: Auston Bousfield .281/.352/.362
Bousfield played in 62 games this past season in the outfield and showed a ton of promise. He was clutch offensively at times and is already a plus defender with a strong, accurate arm. He had six assists in his rookie campaign. Bousfield compares well to a young Alex Yarbrough, so it'll be interesting to see him develop. He's staying in Oxford this summer and working out with Mistone and Mathis.
Right field: Will Jamison .247/.289/.325
I expect a platoon situation in right field unless someone really emerges. Jamison and Preston Overbey are the main candidates, and I decided to go with the defense and speed. Jamison is spending his summer in Alaska, and he needs to better his bat control and pitch selection. He struck out 15 times with five walks in 2012. Overbey hit .296 in SEC play -- 41 points above his overall average -- and could be in right or at first base.
Designated hitter: Sikes Orvis .232/.317/.321
Orvis could also find time at first base, but I'll go with Allen there and Orvis here. He showed power at times and was serviceable late in the season with increased at-bats. Orvis' big moment came with a ninth-inning home run against Tennessee to sweep the series when the Rebels won a couple innings later. Orvis should have some left-handed pop in the middle of the order next season. He's playing this summer in the Northwoods League, which has arguably become the second-best summer league behind the Cape.
Friday starter: Bobby Wahl 2.55 ERA/.211 BAA/104-32 (strikeouts-walks)
Shocker, I know. After an excellent sophomore season, Wahl will likely compete against Arkansas ace Ryne Stanek to be the top arm in the SEC West. He's pitching for Team USA this summer and should have the Rebels an advantage on most if not all Friday nights. Wahl took a significant step from 2011 to 2012, and he could continue to improve with another year of experience.
Saturday starter: Mike Mayers 3.50/.222/71-30
Mayers should team with Wahl to form an extremely potent top end of the rotation. It's what next season will have to be built around, and Mayers is an extremely talented No. 2 arm. Mayers will be in the Cape this summer to further his progression. Mayers was better than his numbers for most of the season, and I expect more command with runners on base in 2013.
Sunday starter: Tanner Bailey 3.86/.188/35-8
This is the inevitable question. Someone like Chris Ellis could take a Mayers-like jump from freshman to sophomore, but I'll go with the junior-to-senior jump that Bailey could possibly make. The .188 average against and control numbers gave him the edge here. His 32 innings this past season are more than Wahl or Mayers had in 2011.
Closer: Brett Huber 2.84/.256/29-10
The Rebels' all-time saves leader will return as a fifth-year senior in 2013. Huber struggled early in 2012, but after a short break due to a sore arm, he was electric, hitting some mid 90s on the gun and pitching very well the final portion of the season. I expect the Rebels' bullpen to be better next year, as guys like Hawtin Buchanan improve, and Huber will start the season at the back end with a chance to crush the career saves mark.