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2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 9 Mississippi

Last season: 45-22 (18-12 in SEC); reached super regionals
Final Ranking: No. 12
Coach (record at school): Mike Bianco (822-462-1, 21 seasons)

The good news: Just about every key piece from a lineup that was among the best in the country is back for 2022, and given that Ole Miss will have a fully healthy Tim Elko at its disposal, you could make an argument that the lineup it will run out there on Opening Day this year is better than the one it ended the season with last year. Elko, now a fifth-year senior, sophomore shortstop Jacob Gonzalez and fourth-year junior left fielder Kevin Graham will ensure that the Rebels hit with plenty of power, with sophomore right fielder Kemp Alderman being a breakout player to watch from a power perspective, and fourth-year junior third baseman Justin Bench and sophomore center fielder TJ McCants have the athleticism to make things happen on the bases so that the lineup doesn’t become overly dependent on waiting around for a three-run homer. Third-year sophomore catcher Hayden Dunhurst can not only handle the bat well, but he’s a good enough catch-and-throw backstop to help a rebuilt pitching staff manage the opposing running game.

The bad news: With the departure of Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund from the rotation and Taylor Broadway from the back end of the bullpen, Ole Miss really is retooling its pitching staff. Third-year sophomore righthanders Derek Diamond and Drew McDaniel are back, with Diamond projected to be the Friday starter, but both came in and out of the weekend rotation last season due to some struggles and will need to be more consistent moving forward. Two transfers in fifth-year senior lefthander John Gaddis from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and third-year sophomore righthander Jack Washburn from Oregon State are proven options to some degree, but it’s a big jump to SEC weekend starter. In the bullpen, while Ole Miss would certainly take someone like sophomore righthander Jack Dougherty or fourth-year junior righthander Brandon Johnson becoming the type of workhorse reliever that Broadway was last year, success might be defined more by finding a whole host of relievers it can trust in big moments after leaning almost exclusively on Broadway last season.

Player to know: Jacob Gonzalez, SS

Gonzalez had no issue adjusting to the SEC last season, hitting .355/.443/.561 with 16 doubles, 12 home runs and 55 RBIs, all while walking (38) more times than he struck out (34). Bianco described Gonzalez as the type of player about which there was no doubt about his ability once he stepped on campus, and after a summer spent with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, the shortstop returns to be a centerpiece of the order once again. Gonzalez’s offensive skills are clearly outstanding, but he’s also a solid defensive shortstop with a strong arm. Gonzalez is in position to be the most dynamic player on a very good Ole Miss team in 2022 and to have his name called in the first round of the 2023 draft.

Path to Omaha: The first step in the path back to Omaha for Ole Miss is rebuilding the rotation successfully. No one it puts in those roles will be as good as Nikhazy and Hoglund right out of the gate, but finding at least a couple of pitchers from the group of Diamond, Gaddis, Washburn and McDaniel to compete on the weekends against the best in the SEC is paramount. Beyond that, finding more depth on the staff would be very helpful. Last year, even if Ole Miss hadn’t lost Hoglund to injury late in the season, therefore shortening the staff, finding enough bullpen arms it trusted to get outs against good teams in the postseason was going to be a challenge. Hoglund going down made that challenge even bigger, as we saw in the Tucson Super Regional, when the Rebels just didn’t have enough to slow down the Arizona offense. The 2022 season is an opportunity to flip that script.

Jace Jung Texas Tech John Williamson

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2022 Lineup

CHayden DunhurstR-So..280.385.435232743
1BTim ElkoR-Sr..325.444.6751601655
2BPeyton ChatagnierR-So..271.368.412221643
3BJustin BenchR-Jr..307.423.440241739
SSJacob GonzalezSo..355.443.5612621255
LFKevin GrahamR-Jr..342.422.5622601456
CFTJ McCantsSo..300.369.433217535
RFKemp AldermanSo..125.125.3131611
DHHayden LeatherwoodR-Sr..285.348.441186733
RHPDerek DiamondR-So.355.2675821
LHPJohn GaddisR-Sr.
Transfer—Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
RHPJack WashburnR-So.Transfer—Oregon State
RPJack DoughertySo.225.4025360
RPBrandon JohnsonR-Jr.104.9122281

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