‘It’s still baseball,’ Coast senior stays cool under pressure as MLB Draft stock rises
Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco and his staff pieced together one of the nation’s best recruiting classes for 2019, but it was long assumed that the group would see defections when the MLB Draft took place last week.
A week later, the Rebels couldn’t be in a better position.
As Ole Miss fans awaited the final result in the Fayetteville Super Regional, they can be confident knowing that they’ve already hit the jackpot with the group of freshmen that will join the program for the 2020 campaign.
After not being selected in the first round as some had projected, Jackson Prep football/baseball star Jerrion Ealy is expected to pass on the opportunity to go pro and join both the Rebels’ baseball and football programs. He was selected in the 31st round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Ealy had already indicated that he planned to join the Rebels.
Pearl River Central catcher Hayden Dunhurst, another Ole Miss signee, was considered one of the nation’s top high school catchers entering the MLB Draft, but he wasn’t picked until the 37th round by the Colorado Rockies.
Dunhurst told the Sun Herald the reason he dropped so far is that no team stepped up to meet his financial demands early in the draft.
“I was expected to be a first day guy and a lot of people also told me I could go in the third round,” Dunhurst said. “I got some offers in the third round, but they weren’t enough for me with where I had put my number at. I prayed about it. I knew if I’d got the number I wanted, I’d be a pro baseball player. If I didn’t, I was going to be a Rebel at least.”
Other top signees like California pitcher Derek Diamond and Niceville, Florida, infielder Connor Walsh are also on pace to land in Oxford after entering the draft as highly-rated prospects.
As all the pieces come together for the Rebels’ Class of 2019, there’s plenty of optimism among the signees.
“We’ll have some of the fastest guys in the SEC,” Dunhurst said. “With how athletic and how fast everybody is going to be, we’re going to be very talented. I’m going in and I’m going to try to win three national championships.”
With starting catcher Cooper Johnson set to go pro, it appears that Dunhurst has a great shot to start immediately as a freshman.
“You never walk into a starting spot,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. I’ll work hard every day. If I continue to do that, I’ll see if I can get a starting spot.”
Dunhurst, who is very refined behind the plate, hit .396 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs from the left side of the plate as a senior.
Another Ole Miss signee, Ocean Springs right-hander Mitch Murrell, has the experience of playing with many of the new signees on a travel squad — the East Coast Sox. Murrell, Dunhurst, right-hander Harrison Dorsett, outfielder Trey Lafleur, lefty Jackson Kimbrell, right-hander Cole Baker, Oak Grove outfielder John Rhys Plumlee and outfielder Cade Sammons all played together on the team.
“It’s definitely a very talented group,” Murrell said. “We played really well together this fall.”
Murrell, whose fastball reached 94 miles an hour as a senior, finished 3-2 with 0.71 ERA in nine appearances this past season. He struck out 88 and walked 20 in 49 innings.
Murrell hopes he and Dunhurst will build on a chemistry they’ve already developed with the East Coast Sox.
“He definitely steals a lot of strikes,” Murrell said. “I have confidence that no matter what I throw it’s never going to get by him.
“This is a really special group.”