Happy Opening Day to all
Some Charleston Southern notes, five things to watch and Dave Van Horn being a stick in the mud
Hope everyone is having a good week. We’ve got a new podcast out with Collin Brister previewing Ole Miss’s matchup with Charleston Southern this weekend. You can check that out here or anywhere you get podcasts. We will have a Mailbag Friday podcast out later today, so keep an eye out for that.
We’ve got some baseball and golf to get to today.
Opening Day is upon us.
College baseball begins today. I am excited for this season for a variety of reasons. I am no ratings or favorability guru, but each year when a new season begins, it feels like this sport is growing. More games are on TV. Fanbases grow. Tennessee apparently cares about college baseball now? Auburn went to Super Regionals in back-to-back years for the first time ever in 2018 and 2019, and made an Omaha trip in that 2019 season. Georgia decided to roll out of bed and become competent. All of this makes for a better product. College baseball gives you a lot of what Major League Baseball lacks. It has a sense of urgency. Individual games matter more. People get angry about a home series loss in April because there aren’t 55 more just like it over the next 180 days. A 56-game regular season with a 64-team postseason, that includes eight head-to-head series to make a neutral-site, double-elimination eight team finale is a weirdly electric postseason format. It’s cheap and fun to go to games. Yes, there are flaws. The scholarship imbalance is nonsensical and not having a paid third assistance maligns the sport’s credibility. Midweek games seem silly and take way too long. But for all of its flaws, the product delivers in strangely compelling ways.
Anyway, rant over. I am looking forward to the season. Let’s hit some Ole Miss-specific topics.
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Five things I am curious to learn this weekend
If you missed the comprehensive preview we did in Wednesday’s newsletter, it’s right here. I am not going to rehash every area of this team again. Here are a few things I am looking to learn this weekend. I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, but there is always that one guy out there: of course we aren’t going to learn a ton about this team in three games against Charleston Southern. This content item will become more fruitful in about a month or so. But there are still things to look for that. I mean, we have to start somewhere.
What does this version of Derek Diamond look like? This question is layered. From a stuff standpoint, he went from flinging mid-90s fastballs past Texas hitters in Arlington last February to a much flatter 90 by April and was out of the rotation. At media day, Diamond talked about wanting to get more consistent with the fastball and curveball, and that he wants to make his slider a true wipeout pitch. He spoke about spin rate supplementing velocity and becoming a more well-rounded pitcher. As I said Wednesday, he spoke like a confident man with a plan. Confidence eluded him at times last year. Is he able to keep his confidence this year when his plan goes awry? Can he generate more swings and misses and stray away from hard contact more consistently? Diamond is the anchor of this staff by default. I don’t think his leash is extraordinarily long. He’s a talented kid that Ole Miss needs to be very good, which is different than being great.
Thanks to Mike Bianco’s shocking competence when it comes to using Twitter, this next question was answered as I wrote it. Bianco put out the Opening Day lineup. The only real question regarding a lineup that returns everyone from the 2021 team was third base. Would it be Justin Bench or newcomer Reagan Burford? I guessed Bench would play third to start but would eventually move the outfield with Burfurd moving to third, but Bianco went thru with the move from the start. What does this do? If Burfurd is productive, it makes Ole Miss a much better defensive outfield. Bench played center field last year before injuries and T.J. McCants’ emergence pushed him to third base. the best centerfield play Ole Miss got all season was from the versatile Bench, but it wasn’t worth the cost of potentially squeezing McCants’ bat out of the lineup last year (though one could wonder why McCants, a natural shortstop, couldn’t have moved to third, but whatever).
This year, it makes more sense. Bench in center slides McCants to an easier role in right field and also makes the Rebels a deeper lineup with Alderman as the designated hitter and Hayden Leatherwood as the odd man out when it comes to finding a place to hit. I am interested to see what Burfurd looks like at third.
What does a healthy John Gaddis project as on Saturday? In a weird way, he might be the most important cog in this pitching machine. Why? If Diamond struggles, Ole Miss can get creative to find a frontline guy. Maybe it’s Brandon Johnson becoming a starter. It could be Jack Washburn or even Jack Dougherty. If McDaniel struggles on Sundays, all the aforementioned guys are options. To me, all of this is hinging upon Gaddis being really sturdy on Saturday. Ole Miss already lacks a true ace. If the Rebels don’t carry an advantage on the mound on Saturday, then the rotation suddenly becomes pretty toothless to the point of being a fatal flaw. Also, what is the likelihood of both McDaniel and Diamond succeeding and the rotation being the same for all 14 weekends? A coin flip, maybe? If Gaddis is good, Ole Miss has options to shore things up elsewhere. If he struggles, then rotation becomes a much tougher riddle to solve.
If Ole Miss does find itself in a close game at some point this weekend, what does the bridge to the end of the game look like? Is Brandon Johnson or Jack Dougherty the “closer”? That’s in quotations because there’s a decent chance it’s a more fluid thing this year, and that may not be a bad thing for Ole Miss. It’s not like the ‘oh god, how do we get seven outs to get this thing to Taylor Broadway without asking him to record a nine-out save for a second day in a row’ scenario last year made for a strong bullpen. This will take a few weeks to really learn a ton, but if and when Ole Miss has to nurse a slim lead late in a game, I am curious to see what the plan on the mound looks like.
There will be a newcomer on the mound that will stand out this weekend. There is always one guy that comes in and immediately catches everyone’s attention, ‘woah, that fastball will play. Who is this?’
There always is. Who is it? Hunter Elliott? Dylan Delucia? I am curious to see who turns heads.
That’s all I have for now. I am looking forward to watching some baseball.
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A Charleston Southern scout
I am not going to spend a ton of time on this content item until conference play arrives. I don’t think any of you want a deep dive on what Charleston Southern did at the plate in a 40-game Big South slate a year ago. This segment will serve a more valuable purpose more in conference play. But there are some Mississippi connections with Charleston Southern.
Ole Miss is playing Charleston Southern because former Mike Bianco assistant Marc MacMillan is now the head coach at Charleston Southern. The Bucs went 18-26 in year one and 18-22 in Big South play.
Former Ole Miss pitcher Kaleb Hill plays for MacMillan at Charleston Southern. I was a little surprised not to see him in the weekend rotation. I feel pretty confident in saying you’ll see him at some point this weekend.
Charleston Southern instead will go with a trio of right-handers in Bryce Brock, Jerry Couch and Evan Truitt in that order. Brock is a former Mississippi State signee that went to junior college before ending up in Charleston.
This team is junior-college heavy and has six or seven Mississippi junior college players. At least five of the team’s starting eight will be junior college guys. There is a lot of new on this team.
I suppose I will put this on record, though I doubt they will be anywhere close to correct. Here is how I think the SEC will shake out.
Vanderbilt has to replace a lot on the mound. Yes, do they likely have a dozen kids that throw 95 on the black to choose from? Sure. But Florida’s got a pretty potent lineup and is a little more solidified on the mound. I probably would’ve picked Arkansas to win the West if not for the Peyton Pallette injury. Pallette is a potential first rounder and was supposed to be the Hogs’ ace, but will miss the year due to an elbow injury. Mississippi State is going to be really good and Landon Sims will be a menace on the mound. But in what should be an offense-heavy SEC, I’ll take what will likely be the best one in the Rebels. Call me a homer, if you wish.
Dave Van Horn is very serious about baseball
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn took a harmless question about Illinois State’s head coach (Arkansas’ opponent this weekend) saying he respects the program and respects he way Arkansas plays the game — in other words, the most canned, cliched baseball praise anyone can offer — into a very silly and hypocritical rant.
I find it perfectly ironic that a 61-year-old man, wearing a hoodie that boasts a cartoon pig wearing a hat and gripping a baseball bat, went on a rant about how serious the game of baseball is and that his program doesn’t stoop to showing emotion, trash talking and having fun.
“That’s not the way the game is supposed to be played,” Van Horn said.
Who died and made him the ruling dictator of the sport? College baseball is entertainment. Jawing and trash talking is entertaining. So are celebrations. But we want less of it? That should get people interested in a niche, non-revenue sport. Great call.
Also, has he ever been outside his own stadium? Before game three of the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional, I walked up to the stadium to my press box seat and passed as gigantic metal cage on wheels. Inside was a wild boar, eating and pooping on some hay as people took pictures in front of it. I suppose they were paying homage to the caged pig? If you dropped an alien into this scene who knew nothing about sports or baseball, he’d likely think the pig was about to be sacrificed as part of some blood ritual. But yes, tell me more about how serious this is and there is no place for shenanigans in his program.
I have a hard time taking people with this mindset seriously. College baseball is fun in large part because of the reasons he is bemoaning. Hell, I wish they’d let them fight without penalty every now and again. Hockey does it. Why not let the guys with aluminum sticks mix it up a bit?
Dave Van Horn is a stick in the mud.
On the horizon
Mailbag Friday podcast
A Sunday Baseball reaction show
Feature story on an Ole Miss football assistant and an off-field battle his family faced. That drops Monday on RebelGrove.com. It will be worth your time.
That’s all from me today. Thanks for being a loyal subscriber. Send to your friends and tell them to join in on the fun by hitting the subscribe button below. It is free.
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