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January 18, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Mississippi

Head coach: Mike Bianco
Last season: 40-25, 16-14 in SEC
Postseason: After finishing the regular season third in the SEC West, the Rebels hosted another Regional. They took care of Sam Houston State in impressive fashion, but stumbled against powerful Arizona State in Super Regional action.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

With coach Mike Bianco leading the charge, Mississippi has established regular season consistency. Now the Rebels hope to finally apply it to the postseason, where they've had little luck.

Even without key players Justin Henry, Zack Cozart and Will Kline, Ole MIss enters 2008 with confidence.

The Rebels welcome back a talented offensive lineup, which is spearheaded by sophomores Zach Miller and Jordan Henry. Cody Overbeck and Logan Power serve as power producers.

MISSISSIPPI REBELS
Junior right-hander Cody Satterwhite has the ability to be one of the best.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Kyle Henson
1B Matt Smith
2B Zach Miller
SS Evan Button
3B Cody Overbeck
OF Logan Power
OF Jordan Henry
OF Michael Guerrero
DH Michael Hubbard
SP Lance Lynn
SP Cody Satterwhite
SP Nathan Baker

With the offense in good shape, the Rebels hope the pitching staff meets expectations.

Junior right-hander Lance Lynn is one of the nation's top pitchers, while Nathan Baker has starting experience. The Rebels will also look to Cody Satterwhite for consistent starts.

The Rebels have another talented team, but must ultimately prove their stock during the most important part of the season the NCAA Tournament.

Offense

Barring a major surprise, the Rebels will have a productive offense this spring.

Ole Miss is led at the plate by sophomores Zach Miller and Jordan Henry. Miller finished last season with a .368 batting average and four homers. Meanwhile, Henry hit .376 with a home run and 17 RBIs. He was also 12-for-13 in stolen bases.

Third baseman Cody Overbeck and shortstop Evan Button are expected to rise to the occasion, while outfielder Logan Power hopes to have a fruitful junior campaign.

Power batted .292 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs last season. He also had a .462 slugging percentage and a .342 on-base percentage.

Also keep an eye on newcomers Kyle Henson, Michael Hubbard and Michael Guerrero. According to the coaching staff, Henson is a solid defender with an offensive punch while Hubbard and Guerrero have power potential.

The Rebels will rely on some newcomers this spring but have the experience needed to succeed.

Starting pitching

The Rebels had a two-headed monster last season with Lance Lynn and Will Kline leading the charge.

Kline is now in the professional ranks, while Lynn is back for his junior season.

Lynn had a successful sophomore campaign. The tough right-hander went 8-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 123 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 146 and walked 44, while opponents hit him at a .209 clip.

Hard-throwing right-hander Cody Satterwhite makes the move from reliever to weekend starter, while sophomore left-hander Nathan Baker is coming off an impressive campaign.

In 2007, Baker started 12 games and had a 3.92 ERA in 64 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 40 and walked 20, while opponents hit him at a .253 clip.

Lynn and Baker have experience as starters but it will be interesting to see how Satterwhite makes the transition.

Bullpen

The Rebels hope the weekend rotation takes care of business on a consistent basis. But if not, they have some talented and experienced arms in the bullpen.

Perhaps the most important bullpen role, the Rebels will look to sophomore Justin Cryer to finish games in dominant fashion. Cryer made 15 appearances last season and had a 4.55 ERA in 27 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 32 and walked 16.

Freshman left-hander Drew Pomeranz could also fill a key role in the bullpen, while veterans Scott Bittle and Brett Bukvich bring experience to the mound.

Bittle finished last season with seven saves and a 2.79 ERA in 42 innings of work. Meanwhile, Bukvich started 11 games and made 17 appearances. He also had a 4.10 ERA in 68 innings of work.

Wade Broyles and Rory McKean are two more relievers to watch. Broyles had an outstanding summer and a strong fall, while McKean showed great command throughout fall workouts.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Let's try this again, Rebels. Since arriving in Oxford, Miss., coach Mike Bianco has transformed the program into a consistent winner. However, one important accomplishment is missing a trip to the College World Series. I'll be the first to admit the Rebels have had the worst luck possible, drawing Texas, Miami and Arizona State in Super Regional action. However, 2008 needs to be the year they break through and get to Omaha. The Rebels have one of the nation's best pitchers with Lance Lynn but Cody Satterwhite and Nathan Baker must rise to the occasion. At any rate, the pitching staff is deep and talented. The offense is also in good shape with Jordan Henry and Zach Miller leading the charge. As always with Bianco at the helm, the Rebels will be in the mix at the end of the year. Will they finally avoid the postseason blues?

Shoes to Fill

Unlike most teams, Ole Miss enters the season with few holes.

Despite the promising situation, they must find a way to replace pitcher Will Kline and infielders Justin Henry and Zack Cozart.

Kline went 7-3 with a 3.75 ERA 124 2/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 134 and walked 45, while opponents hit him at a .241 clip.

Henry did his part as an offensive table-setter. He ended the year hitting a team-leading .381 with 38 RBIs and a .450 OBP. The former Rebel was also 22-for-28 in stolen bases.

Cozart also finished up a successful career last season. He batted .311 with five homers and 47 RBIs. He also had a .432 slugging percentage and a .389 on-base percentage. Additionally, he finished the year with an impressive .967 fielding percentage.

Must Step Up

The Rebels have several players assuming greater roles this spring. The list includes third baseman Cody Overbeck, shortstop Evan Button and weekend starter Cody Satterwhite.

Overbeck had impressive power numbers last season but needs to be more consistent. The redshirt junior hit .288 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs last season. He also slugged .534, but had a less than stellar .340 on-base percentage.

Button didn't have a bad 2007 campaign, but must replace one of the nation's best in previous shortstop Zack Cozart.

The junior hit .278 with three homers and 15 RBIs last season. He also had a .355 on-base percentage but finished the year with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

On the mound, the Rebels are expecting significant innings from junior pitcher Cody Satterwhite. The talented junior finished last season with 27 appearances (no starts) and a 3.31 ERA in 54 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 44 and walked 28.

Impact Newcomer

With the departures of offensive contributors Zack Cozart and Justin Henry, the Rebels enter spring counting on immediate production from several newcomers.

The talented list is highlighted by outfielders Michael Guerrero and Michael Hubbard.

Guerrero hit 11 homers and Meridian CC last season, while Hubbard hit 21 homers at Arkansas-Fort Smith.

The Ole Miss coaches described Guerrero as an outfielder with a power bat, good defense and an exceptional arm. Hubbard also earned rave reviews for his ability to hit for power.

On the mound, the Rebels look forward to having left-hander Drew Pomeranz in the mix. The talented freshman has a great frame, throws in the low 90s and has a nasty changeup.

Pomeranz could eventually find himself in the weekend rotation.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 14.



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