Fall Ball Underway

Mike Bianco was pleased after the first weekend of fall baseball practice. With basically half a team of newcomers to the program, it is going to be an interesting fall session. Bianco had mentioned that before and did again Sunday.

"Good start for us and a lot of new faces," said Bianco, entering his 11th season as head coach of the Rebels. "A lot of new guys did well (Sunday). Most of the new guys pitched. Overall for the weekend it looked like everybody is in pretty good shape. A lot of velocities were what we expected. Sometimes in the first intrasquad or two, you don't see that. From some of the new guys you don't see that immediately because of the fatigue. But we saw a lot of guys in the 90s the first two days. I thought (Sunday) the younger guys really attacked the zone and maybe even had more command than the older guys."

As for hitters and fielders, a few stood out early.

"A lot of young position players played well, especially (third baseman) Preston Overbey," Bianco said. "It's hard to play much better than he did all around for the weekend. Caught just about every ball with a lot of confidence playing defense, and swung the bat with a lot of confidence. I thought Will Allen (catcher, DH) swung the bat well. He only caught a few innings but looked good behind the plate throwing the ball."

Jake Morgan made his first appearance since Tommy John surgery last fall as did Jon Andy Scott.

"It was good to see them come back," Bianco said. "They looked good, especially in the first inning, to be able to throw the ball in the strike zone. We've watched them pitch now for a few months and seen them throw hard and look healthy. So we'd already seen that. But it's hard when you come out to face a hitter (in a game setting before the fans).

"Those guys didn't pitch on Scout Day (last Friday). It had more to do with not putting that pressure on them that soon or asking them to do too much. They were just coming back, and to add the pressure of the professional scouts in the stands (wasn't what he wanted to happen). They did well and it wasn't a surprise. It was certainly nice to see. They both looked strong."

Matt Smith wasn't dressed out for the intrasquad on Sunday. He is being evaluated today for a heart rhythm situation.

"He had some issues with his heart rate. It was kind of elevated," Bianco said. "That happened on Friday, and we thought it was best to rest him today and see the doctor (Monday). We certainly want to be cautious."

There was no report on a doctor visit as of Monday morning.

Jake Morgan 2 years ago vs. Virginia

Matt Snyder continues to rehab from his shoulder surgery back in June.

"It's kind of like the throwing program with the (pitchers)," Bianco said. "He hits a day, takes a day off, and it's very slow and methodical. He doesn't get fully released to face live pitching until December. But that should give him enough time to get ready for the season. When he comes back in January, he'll be doing everything. He won't be doing any team stuff this fall. But he is out here everyday doing his workouts."

Tidbits from the first weekend (stats from the Sunday scrimmage are pinned at the top of the Spirit message board):

On freshman Jimel Judon who wore a yellow shirt on Sunday, which meant he was selected as the outstanding defensive performer in the Friday intrasquad.

"He played great Friday," Bianco said. "He picked some balls, and he's like a lot of young guys who are trying to figure it out. He hit a pretty good ball to shortstop and had only a few at-bats, but he's doing a good job."

On Alex Yarbrough, who continues to impress as he heads into year two.

"Alex had a really good freshman year," Bianco said. "A lot of times when they come back for their sophomore year, they look like a different kid. This time last year we weren't sure how much he would play. Now he's bigger than last year and stronger and more confident in everything he does. We're going to need his leadership. We need guys who have been here. There are a lot of new guys out here. (Alex) and the catchers (Taylor Hightower, Miles Hamblin) are the lone experienced guys this fall in the infield (with Matt Snyder out until January)."

On more depth and options in the outfield this year.

"Not a lot more players but a lot more depth," Bianco said. "A lot more options and a lot more guys who are closer to playing. It's going to be a fun fall for us coaches and an interesting fall everyday to see who steps up."

On the pitchers as a whole. All draft-eligible pitchers pitched Friday, and the others (with the exception of the two back from Tommy John surgery – Morgan, Scott) pitched Sunday.

"We were really curious about the pitchers. For the first weekend, it was pretty good," Bianco said. "Certainly there's a lot of room for improvement. Everybody looked strong and nobody really had a bad day out there. You run a lot of pitchers out there, and that's pretty good."

On the "new" bats the NCAA now requires teams to use.

"It's going to change college baseball," Bianco said. "No doubt about it. I haven't spoken to anybody that says they like them. I don't mean just players, I mean other coaches. But that is the bat that will go into effect this spring."

Matt Smith

The Rebels are one of a few schools who already have them to use this fall to get ready.

"Easton rushed to get us some even before they put labels on them," Bianco said. "They look like demos, which they are. But they are actually the real bats that aren't dressed up."

What are the differences in the old and new bats? The change in the bats, which are still aluminum but with a different feel and sound, will allow for less home runs and should move the game along faster, or at least that is the thought. There's a smaller sweet spot, and players can't really tell as well how they've hit the ball as they could with the old bats.

"They don't hit the ball very far," Bianco said of the new bats. "Nobody has really given us a reason (for the change). We've heard pace of game. We've heard safety. That could be an underlying factor. Some people talk about the offensive integrity of the game. Last year was an offensive year without a doubt, at least in the SEC. My experience is that that just happens.

"It wasn't just last year (the reason for the change in bats), because the rule was made a couple of years ago (to change in 2011). It's made by rules committee. It's not made by vote, and it's not made by college coaches. I think that's why a lot of college coaches aren't happy with it. It just kind of happened by 10 guys sitting on a rules committee."

Bianco said he hears two sides of the college baseball story when things like this are brought up.

"The thing that frustrates me is in one breath everybody involved in college baseball talks about how popular it is. You have all these stadiums and attendance and more games on TV, a new Omaha contract with ESPN, and people love it. Then in the next breath they tell you the games are too long and too many runs are scored and you're driving people away. It can't be both. But it is what it is."

Bianco said it will be interesting to see how the game is affected.

"Right now we're doing what we normally do. There's no doubt defense will be more of a premium. Is pitching more important? Pitching is always important. The effects are on offense. There may be more of a premium on offense. It may be more important to get a guy that can hit versus a guy that can just field. I think you will see people bunt more early in a game. I think you will see people try to steal more. I think you are less likely to leave a player at first (base) and hope for the double or the home run. You're more likely to hit and run. I think you'll see more of that.

"There really is a significant difference. There are some days we haven't even hit a ball out of the park in batting practice," Bianco concluded. "That hasn't happened before."

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