Second Time Around

Alex Yarbrough emerged on the college baseball scene last year successfully. As the Rebels' freshman second baseman, he was thrown into the fire, so to speak, from the get-go.

And he produced. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder played in 61 games, starting 58. Only three who are no longer on the team – Tim Ferguson, Zach Miller, and Kevin Mort – played in more games. The trio appeared in all 63 Rebel contests in 2010.

But Yarbrough did more than just get into the lineup. He batted .283 with four home runs, 13 doubles, three triples, and 41 RBI. The negative stat might have been his 10 errors, which led the team.

But the Allen, Texas, product had a solid fall at second base, and that's where he thinks he will be again.

"I believe I will be at second, at least from everything we've talked about," he said as preseason practice approaches.

And he's ready.

"I'm really excited," he said. "Last year it was more nerves heading up to the season. This year it's more excitement and anticipation. I'm ready to get started for sure."

Yarbrough enters his sophomore campaign coming off a productive fall. He batted .288 and tied for the top spot in home runs with two round-trippers, along with power-hitting newcomers freshman Preston Overbey and junior Zach Kirksey. With the new NCAA-mandated bats, that was a significant accomplishment.

Yarbrough said the new bats are different, but hitting the baseball remains the same.

"We got the first two models in, and neither one of them had the pop of the old ones," he said. "The first one actually felt like you were holding a metal pipe with a handle on it. Then we got another (third) bat in, and I'm not exactly sure what the makeup of it is. We got it probably a month before we went home for Christmas break. I really liked it a lot. That's the closest it's been to the old bat."

The Rebels individually got to try the latest model out. It will be in January and February intrasquads that they will get to use it competitively.

Yarbrough, with four stolen bases in the fall, same as he had all last spring during the season, agrees with the common assessment. These new bats aren't as potent as the ones college teams used before.

"In batting practice you don't have the lazy fly balls that carry over the fence and also in games, I think," he said.

Alex should be at 2B again

"Those will be cut down a little bit. It won't be a hindrance if you stay with the same approach. I haven't changed anything in my mechanics or my thought process because of the new bats. I'm confident with them."

Yarbrough, named SEC Freshman of the Week in late April and the very next week hit a walk-off home run to win a game for Ole Miss against Murray State, continues to work on all aspects of his game to become an even better player the second time around.

"I felt really good. I really felt confident," he said of his freshman spring. "But the main thing I'm working on is if anything, be early. When I get the fast ball, be ready for it. Don't foul it off to the opposite side or hit a lazy fly ball to left field. There were several times last year I would get the pitch and be just a hair late on it. So I'd either foul it off or not make the best contact on it. When I was on time, I would hit the ball well. I always try to work to get more backspin on the ball, especially when I pull the ball.

"The mental aspect is one of the biggest things," he continued. "Last year there were a lot of aspects that I just didn't know coming in, like where I was going to play or how much I was going to play. This year I'm more comfortable and more confident. You can overthink a lot of things when you're young and overanalyze and get yourself thinking too much. I think I'll be better off this year just trusting myself. I had success last year, and I can look back on that."

Yarbrough also gives his evaluations of some other areas of the Rebel team in 2011:

On shortstop candidates junior Blake Newalu and freshman Austin Anderson:

"Anderson and Newalu are both really, really great in the field and at the plate. They're both pretty quick guys, especially Blake, and they get to a lot of balls. I think Anderson had only two errors all fall, and they were both in the same inning of the last scrimmage. You'd hit the ball to Anderson with two outs, and everybody started to get their gloves to go out and play defense. He just didn't make too many mistakes. Same thing with Blake. He gets to a lot of balls and is really quick, which helps him at the top of the order. He steals bases and does a lot of things to wreak havoc with their defense and pitching staff."

On this year's pitching staff:

"We've got so many quality arms this year. It was good facing them 10 to 15 at-bats every weekend. That really helps you. The fall went great. Every practice we were picking up something new. I feel really good about the pitchers. (Matt) Crouse (a junior) has really come along. He had a great fall and was the pitcher that nobody wanted to face. He did a really good job of not letting you know what's coming, and he can throw every pitch in there for a strike, including the changeup.

"I couldn't stand hitting off (junior) R.J. (Hively). Everything he threw me had a lot of movement on it and was tough to hit. Same thing with (junior) Austin Wright. He was up to 92 miles an hour from the left side with a really good curve ball. (Freshman) Bobby Wahl had a good fall. (Freshman) Mike Mayers had a good fall. (Senior) Matt Tracy, I've never enjoyed hitting off Tracy. He really knows how to keep you off balance.

"(Junior) David Goforth's added the cutter now, and whenever he's got that going, you don't even realize it's a cutter until you after you've swung and missed it. I think that's going to help him a lot. He threw so hard, but sometimes I think what got him in trouble was he didn't have a lot of movement on it. Now his regular fast ball has more movement on it, and with this cutter and whenever he goes inside, it's nearly unhittable. So I think he's ready for a great year for sure."

On facing pitcher Jake Morgan for the first time, since Morgan missed last season with Tommy John surgery:

"His slider was almost unhittable to me, and his fast ball had some movement on it, too. He'll bring it in and is not afraid to throw you inside. That's always the mark of a good pitcher."

On how the new bat makes small ball and taking advantage of opportunities even more important:

"We've talked about how all the little things are even more important, because runs will be at a premium moreso than in past years. Once we get runners in scoring position, like on second and third with one out, we need to get those guys in. We need to capitalize, because the chances may not be there quite as much."

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