OXFORD — All week, the 2019 MLB Draft raided rosters across the country for the best college and high school baseball talent the nation has to offer. And, against high odds, the Ole Miss baseball program came out a huge winner.
Eight current Ole Miss baseball players were drafted this week, five of whom should probably be considered locks to go pro. Shortstop Grae Kessinger was the first Ole Miss player picked, going to the Houston Astros in the second round. Pitcher Will Ethridge, catcher Cooper Johnson and outfielder/catcher Thomas Dillard followed on Day 2, being selected by the Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers respectively. And closer Parker Caracci, a college graduate, was the fifth Rebel picked, going to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After that, the remaining Ole Miss underclassmen selected all have reasonable rationales to potentially return for 2020. First baseman Cole Zabowski was selected by the Tigers in the 22nd round, a mark he could likely improve on with a fourth season at Ole Miss. Left-handed pitcher Zack Phillips was picked in the 27th round by the Kansas City Royals but might prefer a second season of high-level college baseball to prove he can be a starting pitcher. And right-handed pitcher Houston Roth was picked in the 29th round by the Baltimore Orioles, but a chance to move out of the bullpen into the starting rotation could draw Roth back for his senior season.
But beyond the chances to return a middle-of-the-lineup bat like Zabowski or two potential contenders to replace Ethridge in the starting rotation in Roth or Phillips, the Rebels' most impressive gains from the MLB Draft came from its signing class. Only four of Ole Miss' 19 Class of 2019 signees were drafted this week, and two of them have expressed interest in coming to college.
One player, of course, is outfielder and five-star running back Jerrion Ealy. Despite being a consensus top-100 prospect, Ealy wasn't selected until the 31st round of the draft at pick No. 932 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. On Tuesday, Ealy tweeted "HYDR," in reference to the popular slogan chanted by Ole Miss fans, seeming to indicate that he'll come play football and baseball in college.
Additionally, five-star catching prospect Hayden Dunhurst, who was ranked the 123rd-best prospect in the MLB Pipeline, fell to the 37th round where he was picked by the Colorado Rockies 1,119th overall. When asked by the Clarion Ledger if he was leaning toward coming to college, Dunhurst simply replied "Hotty Toddy."
The other Ole Miss signees drafted include outfielder and Pensacola, Florida, native Trey Lafleur and California pitcher Derek Diamond. Lafleur was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 21st round, No. 641 overall. Diamond, Ole Miss' top pitching prospect for 2019, was selected in the 40th and final round by the Diamondbacks. Neither Lafleur nor Diamond could be reached for comment about whether they'll choose to go pro or come to college, though it is expected that Diamond will come to school.
That leaves 15 other Ole Miss baseball signees who went undrafted, including infielder Connor Walsh, who came into the draft as MLB.com's No. 117 draft-eligible prospect. Walsh was the third-highest rated player to go undrafted, and the top-rated position player.
Even if players like Zabowski, Roth or Phillips elect to forgo their senior seasons, Ole Miss preserving potentially its entire recruiting class would be huge for a team in need of replacements for key players. If Walsh can be a replacement for Kessinger, Dunhurst can step in for Johnson, Ealy can replace Dillard and Diamond can fill in for Ethridge as analogs on the roster, Ole Miss might've replenished its biggest draft losses with freshmen.
Sure, seniors like center fielder Ryan Olenek need replacing too. But Ole Miss' recruiting class is deep and talented. The Rebels will likely be young in 2020. But the 2019 MLB Draft set the Rebels up to be young with high upside. Which is about as much as any Ole Miss fan could've asked for from this week.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.