2019 Preseason Top 25 Preview: No. 21 Southern Mississippi
Last Year: 44-18 (23-6 Conference USA); reached regionals.
Final Ranking: NR.
Head Coach (record at school): Scott Berry (343-190-1, nine years).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: OF/RHP Matt Wallner (No. 35).
The Good News: Matt Wallner is one of the best players in college baseball. At the plate, he’s been nothing short of outstanding, hitting .343/.468/.637 and collecting 27 doubles and 35 home runs over the past two seasons. There’s no reason to expect anything other than the same in 2019. He hasn’t had as much of a chance to shine on the mound, but that will change this season. He could begin the season as a midweek starter, with the idea that he could slide into the weekend rotation at some point during the season if he performs well.
The Bad News: Righthander Nick Sandlin and third baseman Luke Reynolds were both revelations for Southern Miss in 2018, and now both are plying their trade in pro ball. Sandlin moved from the bullpen to the Friday night starter’s role and quickly became one of the best starters in college baseball. In his one season with Southern Miss, Reynolds formed a fearsome one-two punch in the lineup with Wallner and earned All-American honors. Those are two big voids in a couple of key places. Replacing Sandlin is a tall task, but senior lefthander Stevie Powers will be asked to take over on Friday nights. Reynolds’ production won’t be easy to replace either, and while freshman Danny Lynch takes over at third base, it will be a collective effort to fill the void in the lineup.
Player To Know: Hunter Slater, 1B.
With Reynolds gone, Southern Miss will be looking for increased production elsewhere, and Slater is a senior with a history of producing. In his first two seasons, he hit for a solid average, got on base at a decent clip and provided some gap power. But in 2018, he developed into a legitimate home-run threat. His 12 homers last season were third most on the team, trailing only Wallner (16) and Reynolds (15). As the coaching staff looks for others to step into bigger roles, it will be important for Slater to continue his steady performance.
Path To Omaha: If Southern Miss is to return to Omaha, it’s likely on the back of a Player of the Year-type campaign from Wallner that features him mashing in the middle of the order and serving as a key piece of the Southern Miss pitching staff. It will also be crucial for a pitcher to establish himself as the true ace of the staff. It’s asking too much to ask one player to completely replace Sandlin, but whether it’s Powers, junior righthander Walker Powell, or someone else, a run to Omaha will almost certainly require a workhorse to emerge at the front of the rotation.
Twins Stay Local With Matt Wallner
The Twins liked the Minneapolis native so much that they drafted him twice, once as a pitcher and once as a hitter.
|3B||Danny Lynch||Fr. (HS -- Jupiter, Fla.)|
|DH||Hunter LeBlanc||Fr. (HS -- Luling, La.)|