Part two of SuperTalk’s Ole Miss baseball season preview takes a glance at the outfield, a place where centerfield is concrete, one corner spot is thought to be secure to some degree, but could change based on necessity, and the other corner spot will be occupied by someone new.
Left field: Thomas Dillard
Dillard was the team’s everyday left fielder last season and will likely begin the season with the same job title. But Dillard’s services could end up being required elsewhere based on a number of different factors. Catcher is Cooper Johnson’s job to keep. But happens if Johnson’s production at the plate isn’t sustained at a level to justify playing every day. What happens if some of the past ball issues he’s dealt with in the past resurface? Freshman catcher Knox Loposer is an option, but as of this writing is still nursing a foot injury and has been sidelined for a bit. The hope is that Loposer should be fine by opening day and junior college transfer Hunter Nabors could be an option behind the plate as well, but Mike Bianco has been consistent this offseason in saying that Dillard will most likely be needed at catcher at some point.
Let’s say the best case becomes the reality and Johnson plays well. He isn’t going to be able to catch every game. That isn’t physically feasible and with the number of bats Ole Miss has on this roster, sliding Dillard behind the plate to open up a corner outfield spot certainly seems like an attractive option.
It is no secret that Dillard’s biggest asset is his power and production at the plate. He hit 13 hime runs, drove in 59 runs and posted an OPS of 1.002 a season ago. But, to his credit, he improved defensively from his freshman to sophomore year and looked more natural in terms of tracking balls and making throws. Dillard the opening day left fielder. Whether he’s moved, or how often he’s moved, remains to be seen.
Center field: Ryan Olenek
Olenek played right field a year ago and was tremendously productive at the plate. He was a First-Team All-SEC outfielder and struck out just 17 times in an 83-hit season. Olenek is a versatile athlete and another one of Mike Bianco’s infielder-turned-outfielders that has seemingly become common place over the last few years. Olenek will move from right to center with Will Golsan leaving the program, a place that isn’t foreign to Olenek as he played center field during his sophomore season.
This slot is the most concrete of the three in terms of the Rebels trying to figure out what their outfield will look like. Olenek elected to return for his senior year after being drafted in the 17th round by the Giants and will be a leader on a team with a good bit of experience in the field.
Right field: Carl Gindl, Anthony Servideo, Chase Cockrell, Jacob Adams, Tim Elko.
This could likely be said for both corner outfield spots, but with Dillard being the established starter in left field, it seems more fitting to dub right field the pace that Ole Miss will use the most to get plate appearances for a plethora of hitters it has on the roster. As far as a best guess as the opening day starter in right, I will lean Carl Gindl. The sophomore had a breakout summer at the plate and parlayed that into a fall that saw him slug .568, post an OPS of 1.096 and tied for the team lead with 19 hits. Gindl has good speed and appeared in 15 games last season, mostly as a pinch runner.
But this is also a place you could see Anthony Servideo or Jacob Adams make a start depending how the second base battle shakes out, or Chase Cockrell who is thought to be the most likely candidate to DH. Tim Elko is another guy the staff will be looking to get at bats after hitting well in the summer and fall.
Again, you could see a few of these guys get starts in left field as well depending on where Dillard’s services are needed. You’ll likely see most if not all of them in right field at some point as well, but for now I will lean Gindl as the man who runs out to right field on opening day.