Questions? Some Answers

Ole Miss hosts Wright State for three games, starting a week from today. The 2011 season is upon us.

That being the case, there are some questions still to be answered. Let's take a look at a few of them.

The Rotation:

Everybody wants to know the rotation. What we normally know about the rotation is that it usually isn't the same three guys in the same order when snow is melting in February and the season starts as it is when fans are sweating in the stands at a Regional.

Matt Crouse, with a 0.95 ERA in the fall, has solidified his position as the Rebels' likely first-game starter. When the umpire yells "batter up" at 3 p.m. next Friday and the Wright State player steps in, the first pitch of 2011 will likely come from the junior left-hander, whose preseason has been solid to this point.

We keep hearing David Goforth as the game-two guy. Goforth needs to be better than he was last season when he was 1-6 and had an ERA of 9.43. His new cutter will help, as will a renewed confidence from the fall and the preseason along with improvement in basically all his pitches. Goforth says he's excited about the NCAA's new bats hopefully holding balls inside the park more often, too.

David Goforth
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
It looks like junior college transfer Austin Wright will get the third-game start, if things stay as the are now. The left-hander gives Ole Miss a lefty, righty, lefty weekend look at this point, and his fall set the tone. His strikeout to walk ratio was 25 Ks to 5 BBs. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, who signed with Arkansas out of high school before heading to Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., is an imposing figure on the mound. Other potential starters, like junior R.J. Hively, senior Matt Tracy, and freshmen Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers, are right behind Wright if things go wrong.

Who's On First?:

Matt Snyder started at first base last year until he injured his shoulder diving for the bag at Tulane last March. He was 100 percent rehabbed from June surgery and playing first until he dove again two weeks ago and re-injured his shoulder, but only slightly. Precautionary measures are being taken, and Snyder likely will not be at first base opening weekend. So who will be? Good question.

It depends on a combination of situations. If Taylor Hightower catches, Miles Hamblin should be at first base. If Hamblin catches, freshman Will Allen, whose bat they feel will help the offense this season, could be there. Freshman Jordan Poole, with an injured oblique this preseason, is back on the field and could man first base if needed. So could Matt Smith, since the outfield has four solid candidates for three spots.

Smith, in right, could slip down to first, which he has done in the past at times. Tanner Mathis, Jordan King, and Zach Kirksey, a newcomer from junior college, are vying for two outfield spots if Smith is in right. If he isn't, the other three are your outfielders.

Of course, returning sophomore Alex Yarbrough has second base locked down. He's been as solid as you would expect after what we saw his freshman season.

The Left Side:

Not much has been said about third base this preseason. That's because it's all but been a given that talented freshman Preston Overbey will take over for the departed Zach Miller. Overbey has loads of potential and at 6-4, 210, and already has the look of a future star. But the Rebels need him to step in and step up now.

Blake Newalu
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
His stats from the fall and the preseason are not sensational, but again the potential is there, as well as his resume' coming in. Defensively he has all the tools, but as a young freshman, there could be some growing pains. Still, projecting Overbey at third, based on all the knowns, is accurate.

Freshman Gabe Woods has stepped up his play both offensively and defensively this preseason. He could see time at third. Some have compared him to a young Miller, in terms of several of the plays he's made and also his size, at 5-9, 170.

Shortstop is always a position of high standards, given the players who have come through there the past decade. Guys like Matt Tolbert, Zack Cozart, and Kevin Mort have given Ole Miss a reputation of having a reliable shortstop almost annually.

This year two candidates are freshman Austin Anderson and junior college transfer Blake Newalu. Both had good falls offensively, specifically Anderson, who was second on the team in hitting with a .333 average. Both players are solid defensively and bring an air of confidence to the position that they can get it done.

Unless this weekend and next week change things, Newalu is the likely starter, especially from an experience standpoint. He was at the University of San Diego his freshman season and at Chipola, as a teammate of pitcher Wright, last season. Newalu also started at shortstop for the Rebels against the Alumni last weekend.

There are plenty of other questions and answers that we'll be monitoring the next few weeks, even as the season gets underway and games are played. February games are not just about winning, which is important. They are also about getting the right combinations of players into the correct situations heading toward conference play in March.

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