Projecting the 2021 Ole Miss Baseball Lineup Following the MLB Draft

Thursday night completed the final round of the 2020 MLB Draft. Two Rebels were selected and likely won't be with the team when the next season kicks off. So let's take a look at what that next season lineup will look like.
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Thursday night completed the final round of the 2020 MLB Draft. Two Rebels will drafted and likely will not come back to Oxford for their senior years. 

Anthony Servideo was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Orioles, a draft slot with a pick value of $844,200. Tyler Keenan was drafted just one round later by the Seattle Mariners, a slot with a pick value of $543,500.

None of the major Rebel recruits were drafted in the shortened, five-round draft.

So Ole Miss is likely going to be out a shortstop and third baseman from last year's team that went 16-1 before the year was cut by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the draft now completed and the recruiting class seemingly finalized, this seems like as good of a time as ever to look at who will likely be starting for Ole Miss in 2020. 

C: Hayden Dunhurst (So.)

The nation's No. 1 catching recruit out of high school in 2019, Dunhurst started from day one behind the plate this past season. 

Dunhurst appeared in all 17 games as a freshman, making 15 starts. He hit .269 with five home runs in just 16 games. 

Oh yea, and he just happens to casually have a howitzer for a right arm.

1B: Cael Baker (Sr.)

Ole Miss' own Kenny Powers replica brings the heat from inside the batters box, not on the mound. In his first year at Ole Miss out of junior college, Baker made 13 starts last season at first base, hitting .220 (.349 OBP) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. 

In the opening weekend against No. 1 Louisville, baker was named SEC Player of the Week after going 5 for 12 with five RBIs and two homers. 

2B: Peyton Chatagnier (So.)

Peyton Chatagnier went a little overlooked in the 2019 recruiting class because of the likes of Dunhurst and two others we'll get to later in this list. Yet when the season kicked off, it was Chatagnier starting at second base. 

He would go on to start 15 of 17 games in that slot, being named a Freshman All-American after hitting .311 with a .449 on-base percentage. 

It's also worth noting that Chatagnier was a high-school shortstop recruit, so there's a chance he gets moved to that hole, although he looked incredibly comfortable at second one year ago. 

3B: *Wild Card – let's throw out options*

Over the past two seasons, Tyler Keenan has started in 84 of 85 possible games at third base. There's no obvious replacement on roster. It's the biggest question mark going into the season for the Rebels, and it's not particularly close. 

Here's some options: Tim Elko would be better served in his comfortable outfield role, which as you'll see is where we slot him, but he has been used as a bit of a utility player thought his career. 

Additionally, Head coach Mike Bianco has been keen to moving bigger players to third to get their bats in the lineup, something that may make the names Ben Van Cleve or Kevin Graham stand out. 

If Bianco goes for more for defense at third, maybe we'll see the transition of Justin Bench or one of the two stud freshman shortstops make the transition to third. This one will ultimately be more of a waiting game. 

SS: TJ McCants or Jacob Gonzalez (Fr.)

Here's the two kid shortstops just mentioned. McCants, rated by FanGraphs as the No. 154 overall prospect going in to the draft, would be the most likely of the two to start from day one. 

McCants also has played some third base, making him a potential Keenan replacement. Ole Miss is going to want to find a way to play him, as there's not a ton of lefty bats in the lineup. 

Another option here, in addition to the aforementioned Chatagnier, is another freshman Jacob Gonzalez. Gonzalez was ranked as the No. 299 draft-eligible player by Baseball America. 

LF: Hayden Leatherwood (Sr.) 

Another first-year Rebel in 2020, Leatherwood really turned it on at the end of the season. He made 11 of 17 starts last year, five in left field and two in right. He'll likely be in one of those corner outfield spots at the start of this upcoming season. In his lone year thus far with the Rebels, Leatherwood hit a blistering .361/.477/.639. 

CF: Justin Bench (Jr.) or Jerrion Ealy (So.)

This is your all-defense rotation. Justin Bench deserves to be in their lineup somewhere. He's the Rebels' best utility player. Last year, he made 14 starts at four different positions – five starts came in center field. It was also by far his best year behind the plate, hitting .295 with a .458 on base percentage. 

Ealy, while a fantastic defender, is a guy that you'd have to see a noticeable offensive bump for him to earn more time as a sophomore (he hit just .182 as a freshman). That said, the blueprint for that is actually Bench himself, who hit .200 as a freshman before .295 as a sophomore. Ealy also has the "are we sure he'll even play baseball and not just stick to football?" concerns. 

RF: Tim Elko (Sr.)

Tim Elko may have been Ole Miss' most improved player through 17 games in 2020. As a freshman and sophomore, Elko hit .216 and .212, respectively. As a junior, his numbers catapulted to .354 with a .667 slugging percentage. He simply saw the baseball better than he ever had in his career. 

Right field is where Elko saw nearly all of his work as last season's lineup became more cemented, even in just 17 games. In his career, he's played both corner outfield spots, as well as first base. He also could be one of those wild cards at third.

DH: Ben Van Cleve (Sr.), Kevin Graham (Jr.) or Calvin Harris (Fr.)

We've already touched on Van Cleve earlier in the third base conversation, but after hitting .385/.529/.500 on limited reps, he's a bat Bianco is going to want to find room for somewhere. Kevin Graham is another player that can clobber a baseball, but has really struggled in the past hitting left-handed pitching.

A fun name to consider that we haven't yet mentioned is actually Ole Miss' top-rated recruit, Calvin Harris. A catcher out of Iowa, Harris can really hit and also has a lot more speed than the typical catcher. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he's a force behind the plate. Oh year, he was also a damn good high-school quarterback. 

Rotation: Derek Diamond (So.), Doug Nikhazy (Jr.), Gunnar Hoglund (Jr.)

These are absolute no-brainers. All three members of the Ole Miss rotation from one season ago will return and all three should be as good or better than ever. 

I was tempted not even going into how good these three are (the only SEC school that might have a better rotation is Vanderbilt), but if you're still reading at this point you're a big Ole Miss fan and you know who they are.

But consider this, Gunnar Hoglund was a first round pick in 2019. He struggled as a freshman, finishing with a 5.29 ERA. This past year, with a newly-learned slider, he had an ERA of 1.16 through 23.1 innings. He's projected as the No. 13 pick in next year's draft. I'm scary excited to watch that kid throw in 2021. 

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