OXFORD, Miss. -- So all of you can make fun of me later I'm taking a shot at next season's opening day lineup.
This is an annual occurrence, and sometimes I get closer than others. Last season's was fairly spot on except I had Tanner Bailey as the Sunday starter and Chase Nyman at second base. Bailey had a nice year in the bullpen, and we all know how the latter worked out. I also had no idea how good Stuart Turner was going to be.
Here's this year's best guesses. Hope it's informative at times and somewhat accurate when the Rebels take the field next February.
Catcher: Austin Knight .167 BA/.192 OBP/.208 SLG OR Will Allen .231/.264/.313
Turner stole the show in 2013 on the way to All-America honors by multiple publications, so in a way this will be deja vu back to 2012, when Allen and Knight split time behind the plate. Knight is the better catch-and-throw defender, throwing out 6-of-8 runners as a freshman. He was 0-for-3 in very limited action this past season. Allen has more pop offensively but needs to return to his sophomore self. After hitting .302 as a sophomore he fell to .231. Allen could also land at first base or designated hitter, as Mike Bianco likes his bat in the lineup. I expect both to play, and I wouldn't be shocked if another catcher is added prior to fall practice.
First Base: Preston Overbey .280/.330/.415
Overbey began the season as an outfielder but second base issues forced him into the infield, and he played remarkably well considering the inexperience and lingering shin splints that affected him all season. His bat will play, and he can make tremendous strides if he can be a little less of a free-swinger out of the zone. Overbey can be a plus defender at first base, and it takes pressure off his legs. Also while Overbey did all he could, Ole Miss needs to get stronger and quicker up the middle.
Second Base: Dalton Dulin (Memphis University School)
As you'll notice I'm shaking things up a little bit and going with somewhat of a youth movement. Dulin is a dirtbag in the best sense of the word. He's very solid defensively, and while his arm isn't great it's plenty good for second base. He transitions well in double plays, and he can steal bases and be a terror with his feet. Dulin switch hits with some lift and gap power from the left side. He was drafted in the 36th round but should show and provide immediate help for the Rebels. He's a great hustle player, and his background should help the transition.
Shortstop: Errol Robinson (St. John's College, Boyd, Md.)
Here's my biggest reach, but I think it helps the team overall. Robinson is extremely athletic and does everything very well. He needs to add weight and strength, but he has plus range defensively and profiles as a shortstop at the professional level - probably the only player on the roster that does so. His offense has improved over time, and he'll add some pop later in his career. The key early will be bat control and contact, but from a defensive standpoint, this gives the Rebels needed range in the middle infield.
Third Base: Austin Anderson .310/.386/.418
Anderson finished over .300 for the year and was the Rebels' best hitter late in the season. He struck out only 13 times in2013 and should make more improvements for his senior season. Throwing errors plagued him defensively as a junior, as he was charged with 18 miscues. A move to third should help in that area, as he has good hands and reaction times, and there's a hole to fill with the exit of Andrew Mistone. Starting shortstops aren't usually moved going into their final season, but this one may make the most sense from a team perspective.
Left Field: Braxton Lee (Pearl River Community College)
There was some worry Lee would get scooped up in the MLB Draft, but he's headed to Oxford and should be a quality replacement for Tanner Mathis in left field. He hit .406 as a sophomore at PRCC with a .502 on-base percentage. He also stole 37 bases and gives another speed option in the lineup. The Rebels were successful stealing bases just 55 percent of the time, and that's far from acceptable in today's college game.
Center Field: Auston Bousfield .253/.344/.344
Bousfield is the best defensive outfielder I've covered day-to-day, so his spot is safe, but the Rebels are hoping he shakes off a brutal year at the plate in 2013. He hit .281 as a freshman but regressed as a sophomore instead of taking the jump most expected. He struck out 11 more times during his second season, and the numbers were also bogged down by a 1-for-32 stretch entering regional play. The tools are there, and I expect him to make that increase this time. The Rebels need Bousfield easily hitting over .300 to get what they need to offensively.
Right Field: JB Woodman (Edgewater High School, Orlando, Fla.)
The star of Ole Miss' signing class, the Rebels plucked Woodman out of Florida over the Gators and dodged the MLB Draft due to Woodman having a sizable signing bonus requirement. Offensively he should have line-drive power to all fields from the left side, and he runs a 6.6-second 60-yard dash at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, so it's another speedy player in the lineup. Perfect Game clocked Woodman with a 91 MPH throw from the outfield in June 2012, so his arm will definitely play in right field. With a few adjustments offensively, Woodman profiles as a star the college level.
Weekend Starter: Sam Smith 3.41 ERA/.286 BAA/33-19 K-BB
I'm not differentiating Friday, Saturday or Sunday because I have no idea. Being close to accurate on the names is guessing enough. We'll start with the easy one, as Smith was incredibly reliable as the Sunday guy in 2013, posting a 3.41 ERA in 68 innings. He always gave the Rebels a chance and could move toward the front of the rotation if he can add enough to get into the lineup a third time through. The fifth inning was somewhat of a wall during his sophomore season. No matter what, you know what you're getting, and it's plenty good enough to give him a spot in the rotation.
Weekend Starter: Christian Trent (Delgado Community College)
Trent signed with LSU out of high school but heads to Oxford out of the Louisiana junior college system. The left-hander averaged more than a strikeout per inning and threw four complete games in 10 starts. Opponents hit .241 off him, and he has three years of eligibility remaining.
Weekend Starter: Jacob Waguespack 3.46/.196/6-5
Waguespack struggled with elbow tendonitis for much of the season but showed flashes of his projectable ceiling during limited action late in the year. He pitched just 13 innings, but the .196 batting average against is notable, and he should be able to lengthen his outings with a full offseason to get ready and fully recover. I still expect his fastball work work around 90 before he's finished, and there's ability with his secondary pitches. If you're looking for someone to make a major jump, I'd go with Waguespack.
Closer: Chris Ellis 5.57/.348/16-11
This is the definite wild card. Ellis has all the physical tools to the Friday night starter and a good one at that, but he struggled in 2013 because of the early abdominal injury and never regained the ability he displayed last summer and fall. I expect closer to the upside, and he'll be one of the top guys to watch as the season nears. This spot wouldn't surprise though because of his velocity in short work and good secondary pitch. He was just never comfortable this past year.
Quick Hits: Obviously if Bobby Wahl comes back I expect him to be the Friday night starter. Shocker, huh? My gut says he signs with the A's, but it's much more likely he comes back now than it was two weeks ago.
I didn't put a DH in because it could be any number of players. Ole Miss should have more playable depth next season since this projection doesn't include Sikes Orvis, John Gatlin, Christian Helsel, Cameron Dishon, Holt Perdzock or Will Jamison. That provides a bench that was much needed this past year. Freshmen Corey Baptist and Colby Bortles are also possibilities for at-bats, and Carlos Williams will certainly run in late-game situations. Preston Tarkington, Evan Anderson and Cheyne Bickel are the incoming pitchers I considered for roles. Also, the coaching staff may try to extend Aaron Greenwood into a starter.