By Gabby Gosch and JR Wilbanks
The Ole Miss baseball team is ranked No. 1 in the country and here are five players to watching for this season. Today, the Rebels take on the Arkansas State University Red Wolves in their first home opener.
Here’s a look at some of the expected standouts for the Rebels.
Five players attracting preseason attention include Cael Baker (first baseman), Hayden Dunhurst (catcher), Tim Elko (third baseman), Gunnar Hoglund (pitcher) and Doug Nikhazy (pitcher).
“The hype is going to be rolling early for the Ole Miss baseball team,” said John Macon Gillespie, a journalist for the Red Cup Rebellion.
Even with the stadium being at 25% capacity, fans are ecstatic about being in Swayze again.
Taylor Robertson, a longtime fan, adds, “We have a lot of players that are coming back that helped us get to the 16-1 record that we had last year. I think it’s going to be a good season again.”
- Cael Baker
Cael Baker is a senior first baseman who was named SEC Player of the week during the short 2020 season. He had an impressive game against Louisville in 2020, scoring two home runs. Keith Pearson, Ole Miss alumnus and longtime season ticket holder, says that Baker is on the top of his list of players to watch this season.
“I’m looking forward to seeing if Cael Baker can do what he did last season,” Pearson said. ”He had a good 17-game stretch, but hopefully he can make that last for a whole regular season.”
2. Hayden Dunhurst
Hayden Dunhurst is a sophomore at Ole Miss this year who was also named SEC freshman of the week in 2020. Gillespie believes that Dunhurst can be a key factor in the upcoming season.
“The word that we used in the past for him was just a stud,” Gillespie said.”He’s great behind the plate and great pop time. He hit .269 which is decent but had five home runs in 17 games which is impressive. He is a complete package.”
3. Tim Elko
Tim Elko is a senior who will play third base position this season. With the fifth highest batting average last year at .354, he broke his personal record. During his first couple of years, Elko struggled with the heat of SEC play and the pressure of intense matchups, but now has stepped into his full potential.
“He struggled at times earlier in his career, but last year he was beginning to show up more in the starting role before COVID-19 hit,” Gillespie said. “Seeing him progress over the years has been fun to watch.”
His role at third base will be crucial this spring with the departure of Tyler Keenan to the MLB Draft.
4. Gunnar Hoglund
A sophomore from Hudson, Florida, Gunnar Hoglund will be considered a valuable resource as a projected weekend pitcher. As a freshman, Hoglund struggled in the 2019 campaign which was relied on heavily. However, Hoglund finished the 2020 season 3-1 and with an impressive 1.16 ERA.
“It’s a mental thing. Out of high school, his slot money was almost at 2 million dollars that he turned down from the Pirates to come to Ole Miss. Being that highly talented out of high school makes it a mental thing,” Gillespie said. “I think last year he took a big step in overcoming that, and he pitched a lot better in that Saturday role.”
5. Doug Nikhazy
Doug Nikhazy is what most people would consider an electric player with great endurance and swagger. The left-handed pitcher from Windermere, Florida, had an impressive 2020 start with three wins under his belt and a solid 2.35 ERA. He’s expected to open on Friday nights and be an anchor for the Ole Miss Rebels.
“I think he will be, if he continues to play like he has the past two years, one of the best Friday night pitchers in the country,” Gillespie said. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think he’s poised for the accolades he was getting last season.”