Another look at Fall Ball

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said fall is always valuable in evaluating his team, but it doesn't tell you everything.

"The fall is not a great measuring stick of what they're going to do in the spring," he said, just completing his 11th fall ball session with the Rebels.

"Defensively it is a good evaluation. And it's easier on the mound than it is offensively. Offensively there's no way to tell. To me I'd rather watch BP than look at the stats at the end of the fall. Pitching you can look at command and does the guy throw the ball in the strike zone. But you're talking about the most innings pitched is 20, and some guys that pitched every weekend had like 14 innings. Position players we get a little better feel for."

That being said, the evaluations of the fall are still important as the coaches go through the winter and into preseason practice trying to find the best players for each position.

Alex Yarbrough

Ole Miss entered the fall looking for a third baseman. Zach Miller, who manned it most of the time the past two seasons, is gone. The likely frontrunner as his replacement is talented freshman Preston Overbey.

"Overbey played great in the field defensively and swung the bat fairly well but had some tough weekends in between," Bianco said.

But he actually said there are four players mainly in the mix at third, short stop, and second.

"Preston Overbey, (freshman) Austin Anderson, (junior) Blake Newalu, and (returning sophomore) Alex Yarbrough are there. Amongst those will probably come the guys in those positions. Defensively (freshman) Gabe Woods has to play better and he realizes that. He had a good fall offensively, but defensively he has to be a little stronger."

At first base, junior Matt Snyder could return to man the position, and currently he is recovering from shoulder surgery in June. So he missed all the fall. But Snyder being at first base isn't for certain.

"Some of first base will also be figured out between the outfielders and catchers," Bianco said. "Matt (Snyder) has to come back and play and be able to handle things defensively. (Senior) Miles Hamblin can play first. (Freshman) Will Allen can play first and also had a great fall behind the plate and offensively. (Senior) Matt Smith can also play first. So depending on the outfield situation, we'll see."

Bianco said three solid catchers are vying for playing time.

"There's great competition among three catchers with (junior) Taylor Hightower, Hamblin, and Allen competing behind the plate. All of them have to catch better. They all improved throughout the fall. Hightower and Hamblin hit about the same. Allen hit below them, but Allen had a better fall than both of those guys offensively, just had better hit balls."

Matt Smith

Moving to the outfield, Bianco is pleased with the players out there.

"But that's far from being set," he said. "I thought (sophomore) Tanner Mathis had a tremendous fall. I thought (senior) Jordan King had a tremendous fall. Both were in center field. But that doesn't mean one of them couldn't go to left field. They played hard, got a lot of hits, and just looked good.

"Jordan, for the first time in the outfield, I thought was really smooth, much like Tim Ferguson last year (moving from infield to center field). Matt Smith can do whatever you ask him to do. He can play center if you want him to. He played left and right and some first. He probably will play some first. He is probably our best defensive first baseman, him and Hamblin."

Others in the mix in the outfield are newcomers.

"(Junior) Zach Kirksey started slowly but played well at the end and really swung it well. He plays hard, runs well, hits for power. I think the mix of the outfielders is good. And even some of the younger guys, like (freshman) Jordan Poole, who struggled early, played much better the last few weeks, swung it much better."

Bianco said one of the best things about the fall was simply having more players this year than last.

"We're just seeing more of the depth," he said. "Last year it was like we don't know who can play here or there. This year I feel pretty comfortable about the situations, that there are two or even three people at every position we would feel comfortable with. But we want somebody to step up and be really good at all of the positions throughout the team."

Part III will take a further look at fall ball and also some statistics from those sessions.


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