Southern Miss enters the 2019 baseball season with a pretty sharp contrast in experience from returning starters, veterans stepping up to fill bigger roles, and talented newcomers who are anxious to make their own marks. With just five returning starters from last spring’s defensive lineup, Coach Scott Berry and his staff plan to give some of those newcomers the opportunity to make a big impact on the team with early playing time. Here are a few names fans should expect to hear early and often at Pete Taylor Park:
Perhaps the most championed new addition to the dugout is junior transfer Brant Blaylock. The Southaven standout began his collegiate career in 2016 with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, during which time he was named No. 47 in Perfect Game’s Top 100 college sophomores and the No. 12 SEC prospect for the 2018 MLB Draft. As a redshirt freshman, Blaylock made 26 starts in left field before being moved into the pitching rotation midway through the season. Feeling he had more to offer as an offensive player, he transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College where he turned even more heads with his work at the plate. Through one season with the Rangers, Blaylock had a .385 batting average with 18 home runs and 62 runs batted in. He also earned a 6-2 record on the mound with an earned runs average of 6.43.
“[Brant is] a very gifted, strong young man,” Berry said on Media Day. “We talk about two-way players and how physical you have to be; Brant is certainly one of those. So he will see some action both on the mound and as a position player.”
Through his experience with the Bulldogs and Rangers, Blaylock believes he learned invaluable lessons that have prepared him to seize this opportunity with the Golden Eagles. “My first trip around Division I was pretty sped-up, and it took me a while to really get going,” said Blaylock. “Going to junior college gave me the opportunity to build my confidence and figure some things out that maybe I didn’t have figured out the first time around. I’m grateful for the opportunity to come here to Southern Miss with a chance to perform well.”
Fans might very well see a true freshman starter at third base, filling a void left by Luke Reynolds who is now a member of the Chicago Cubs organization. If the name sounds familiar, that would be because it is—Danny is the younger brother of former Golden Eagle standout first baseman Tim Lynch, who was drafted by the Yankees in 2016. Berry says he sees many of the same qualities in Tim’s younger brother, who is perhaps playing at an even higher level as a freshman than his older brother did when he first arrived in Hattiesburg.
“Danny, a true freshman, [is] very impressive both defensively and offensively. A lot of the same that Timmy brought us. I think a little bit ahead of where Timmy was as a true freshman, but still the same high baseball I.Q. Knows how to play the game, very competitive, focused on what he does. Comes out and practices like he’s going to play. The young man has been really impressive in the fall camp and moving into the spring.”
A native of Jupiter, Fla., Danny hit .333 at the plate during his senior campaign and was named Hitter of the Year by PalmBeachHighSchoolBaseball.com. All signs indicate another great impact from the Lynch family on Southern Miss baseball.
Lynch is not the only member of Southern Miss sports royalty being added to the playing field. Competing for playing time at the shortstop position is redshirt freshman Will McGillis, the son of former USM athletic director Bill McGillis. McGillis received numerous accolades as a high school player at Presbyterian Christian School, including MAIS Player of the Year after batting .500 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs as a senior. McGillis’ two older brothers both played college baseball ahead of him, and he is now ready for his turn to create his own legacy on the NCAA level.
“The thing with Will that’s been surprising honestly,” said Berry, “has been his bat and his power. I didn’t really realize that he had that much power, but he does. What [Will] lacks in ability is offset by his baseball I.Q. and his ability to understand as to how to play the game, to anticipate the game and be ahead of the game just because of his intelligence and understanding.”
Despite the loss of elite playmakers such as Nick Sandlin and Luke Reynolds, the addition of skilled and touted newcomers like Blaylock, Lynch and McGillis—along with the returning pieces from 2018—make the approaching season seem more like a reload than a rebuild. Southern Miss’ ability to reel in and develop new talent factors largely into why the Golden Eagles are projected by many to bring home a third consecutive Conference USA title.