A look at Fall Ball

Mike Bianco said he and his staff got a lot of looks this fall at this year's version of Ole Miss baseball. After a month and a half of evaluations, they know more what these Rebels are all about. Inside is Part I in a series looking back at Fall Ball.

"I thought it went well," Bianco said after his 11th fall ball session at Ole Miss concluded. "I thought we had great energy and great life throughout. There was a lot of competition at several different positions. We had a lot of good days this fall."

Bianco said generally he liked what he saw throughout the squad.

"As far as pitching goes, the guys we thought needed to pitch well did," he said. "Offensively it's a little harder to judge with the new bat, and one of our best hitters was not out there this fall, Matt Snyder (recovering from shoulder surgery). I do like this club offensively.

"We don't necessarily have tremendous depth, but we have more depth than last year," he continued. "Last year's team lacked that a lot. This fall there was competition at each position. Overall it was a good fall."

One of the reasons for the improved depth was the addition of new players. With the transfers and the freshmen on the team, there are more new guys than old ones. Some 18 veterans welcomed 20 newcomers.

R.J. Hively

"I don't know if we've ever had that before (more new players than returnees)," Bianco said. "So many of them had not been through this before. There was a lot more teaching going on rather than reviewing. There are times as a coach you have to sit back and be a little more patient. The weight room is a change for many of the guys. Let's face it, a lot of guys don't lift a lot of weights before they get here (to college). You have to step back sometimes and just be patient."

For starters, he liked what he saw on the mound.

"When you look at the pitchers, we have a lot more depth," Bianco said. "We pitched much better than we did last fall. I'm excited about some of the guys. But at the end of the day, there are question marks because so many of them haven't done it before (at this level). That's not a negative and doesn't mean they can't do it. But you just don't know."

The Rebels don't return an "ace" of the staff either, which is unusual for a program that has done so the past several seasons.

"When you return a Drew Pomeranz or a Will Kline or a Lance Lynn, there's that comfort of knowing, hey I've got that guy on Friday," he said. "This year, that isn't the case."

The weekend starting rotation is wide open. Obviously the coaches have a few on the pitching staff in mind for those three spots, as well as midweek starters. A lot of guys are back.

"We return Jake Morgan who is a year removed from arm surgery," Bianco said. "We return Brett Huber. Then we return some guys who didn't have their best years last spring, like David Goforth and Matt Tracy and Trent Rothlin. All of them pitched much better (this fall) than what they pitched last fall or last spring.

"David added the cutter, and I thought he pitched with a lot more confidence. I thought Tracy was more consistent into the strike zone with better command. Rothlin changed his arm slot, moving it down a little more and becomes more of a submarine pitcher. He was strong in a lot of outings and very dominant in some outings. Eric Callender pitched very well this fall, looked a lot more confident, and is just more of a veteran."

Statistically Matt Crouse led the way. The junior left-hander posted impressive numbers, with a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings pitched, allowing just two runs on nine hits with 25 strikeouts and only two walks.

Bobby Wahl

"Matt Crouse probably had the best fall of anybody, one of those where every time you looked up, he was just getting them all out," Bianco said. "Crouse is probably not mentioned a lot because he doesn't throw 95, he doesn't have some super-duper breaking ball or trick pitch. He just competes. He had a terrific fall."

Bianco mentioned that not only did Tracy pitch well but also hit well. The pitcher/outfielder is versatile and could see action hitting, in the outfield, and pitching.

"He had a real good fall offensively," Bianco said of Tracy. "He probably should have done more hitting last year, but when Matt Snyder couldn't play first base anymore, and Tracy moved to the bullpen, it was tough to hit him. You would have to DH him if you wanted to pitch him in some capacity in relief. That would have meant taking out Matt Snyder, and we weren't really willing to do that."

Other pitchers impressed Bianco this fall and are in the mix to start.

"The two juco guys (R.J. Hively, Austin Wright) pitched really well throughout the fall," he said. "Austin was one of the top pitchers but statistically dropped off when he had one bad game his last outing. And that happens. I really like him. I think he's got a shot to be one of those three guys.

"Same with R.J. He commands the zone. He's got great stuff, the ball moves all over. None of his balls are straight. His fast ball cuts and sinks. He's got an excellent slider and a changeup. He's a seasoned guy who has been through a lot. He pitched at Cal State-Fullerton and then in junior college, and I think he really understands the game. He's got a shot at pitching on the weekend as well."

Two freshmen pitchers were among the fall's best.

"Both Mike Mayers and Bobby Wahl had good falls," Bianco noted. "Mike probably didn't have as much notoriety coming in. But he pitched very well. Quietly every weekend he just got outs. He has very good command, especially with his fastball. His curve ball we kind of reworked at the beginning of the fall and made him throw with a little more velocity. It became more of a pitch for him when before it was just a distant second pitch.

"Wahl had a good fall, especially for a new guy. He wasn't super dominant, but it was similar to guys like Pomeranz and Lynn who came in their first fall and pitched well."

Junior left-hander Jon Andy Scott has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery last fall as well and is in the mix to help on the mound in the spring.

Part II will take a look at the position players and more from Bianco.

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