Rebels In The Show: Looking at 3 Former Ole Miss Players in the Bigs

Before taking the field in the Major Leagues, Grae Kessinger, Nick Fortes and James McArthur suited up at Swayze Field and donned the red white, and powder blue.
Oct 20, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates with shortstop Grae Kessinger (16) after the Astros defeated the Texas Rangers during game five in the ALCS for the 2023 MLB playoffs at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 20, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates with shortstop Grae Kessinger (16) after the Astros defeated the Texas Rangers during game five in the ALCS for the 2023 MLB playoffs at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In 2018, the Ole Miss Rebels had completed a terrific season which included an SEC West title, an SEC Tournament championship, and a top-five national seed entering the NCAA Tournament.

While that season didn't end like most anticipated thanks to Tennessee Tech, three guys were destined for big league fame.

Nick Fortes was the backstop for the Rebels as he started all 65 games, with 46 coming behind the plate. Fortes had a thunderous bat while he was in Oxford, and it looked like his power would be the reason he could reach the Major League ranks.

That wasn't the case for Fortes early in his career with the Miami Marlins. Like most at the big league level, Fortes is a defense-first catcher as he played in 108 games behind the plate for the Marlins in 2023. The bat hasn't fully translated yet, but as he continues his career, he is bound to get more comfortable in the box.

It's tough to find a catcher who can both play elite defense and slug at a high level, so if Fortes can keep giving the Marlins confidence behind the plate, he will continue to get his opportunities.

James McArthur has carved out a nice role for the Kansas City Royals in the early portions of his Major League career. McArthur was mostly a starting pitcher at Ole Miss, but the Royals saw something in him as he has taken over closing duties for the club.

The Royals have had a great start to 2024 as they are exceeding expectations thanks to an infusion of young talent that includes Bobby Witt Jr. at short and McArthur coming out of the bullpen. McArthur has 11 saves so far this season, and the Royals are duking it out in the American League Central seeking their first playoff appearance since they won the World Series in 2015.

Grae Kessinger was once the face of the program in Oxford after being an All-SEC-caliber shortstop throughout his career at Ole Miss. Kessinger was taken in the second round by the Houston Astros in 2019 and debuted in the majors in 2023.

Kessinger hasn't found the success he once had in Oxford so far in Houston but has carved out a role as a utility infielder for the club. The Astros have a log jam up the middle with former AL MVP José Altuve at second and former World Series MVP Jeremy Peña at short, so Kessinger has been the next man up at both positions for the past year.

It was interesting to see Kessinger in the playoffs as the Astros and Rangers played a classic series with Kessinger making a game-saving snag in the ninth inning of Game 5 fresh off the bench in replace of Peña. It should be fun to watch Kessinger's career as he already has experience in the postseason.


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Jackson Harris

JACKSON HARRIS

Harris, a native of Dallas, Texas, is a staff writer at The Grove Report, specializing in football and baseball coverage of the Ole Miss Rebels.