Bianco On Baseball

Mike Bianco stood at the front of baseball's team meeting room underneath the third base seats at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. It's a sign of how things have advanced in the program.

The media members were awaiting the start of the annual preseason press conference. Before that, a lunch had been served in the spacious Diamond Club area behind home plate above the general admission seats. That's another sign of how far things have come.

Only half a decade ago and before, Ole Miss baseball preseason press conferences were held in the media room at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum prior to a home men's basketball game, just so there'd be a crowd.

Then came Regionals and Super Regionals. And the fans flocked to the ballpark. So on days like this, when the media came calling to learn about another baseball team Bianco will field, we gathered.

In the spacious Diamond Club to eat. In the team meeting room underneath to interview. In one of the nicest parks in all of collegiate baseball.

Alex Yarbrough
The fans and the media get to use it from time to time, especially February through June. The Rebels and their coaches call it home every day.

On this day, three players who are keys to the upcoming season, joined Bianco at the press conference.

Matt Crouse: Perhaps a surprise first-game starter on the mound for the Rebels, but certainly a junior in his second year with the program who has earned that right.

Matt Smith: The five-year veteran of the program who brings experience, leadership, athleticism, and a strong bat to the team, as expected.

Jake Morgan: The sensational closer for the Rebels in 2009, out since Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2009, who spent a year rehabbing and is now ready to join teammate Brett Huber as the best closing tandem in the country.

The Rebels aren't ranked in most polls heading into the season. That doesn't mean they won't contend. They should be good again. And certainly deeper.

Last season, after they got past their one game of Drew Pomeranz and also when Brett Huber closed and saved them a near-record 12 times (Stephen Head once had 13 saves), the Rebels were not very strong on the mound. This year, there is depth.

"Last year's team really struggled on the mound," Bianco said. "I think we had a 4.9 ERA, something like that, which I think is the highest we've had in my ten years, which put us in the middle of the pack but was the highest we've had since I've been here. And that's with arguably the best college pitcher on your staff."

That was, of course, Drew Pomeranz, the fifth pick overall in the June draft last year by the Indians.

"After we got past those two guys (Pomeranz and Huber) we were just too inconsistent on the mound to have a lot of success day in and day out," Bianco said. "This staff has a lot more depth and I think certainly one through 10 or 11, we're more talented than last year by far."

Some other comments from Bianco today:

The positions look like this – Outfield: Zach Kirksey, Tanner Mathis, Jordan King, Matt Tracy, Matt Smith

"I'm sure all five of them will start (in the outfield) at some point," Bianco said.

Third Base: Preston Overbey Shortstop: Blake Newalu

Second Base: Alex Yarbrough

First Base: Miles Hamblin or Matt Smith. (Matt Snyder will not play first base for about a month, and then they will revisit his shoulder situation. He will DH, and can do that now.

Catcher: Hamblin, Taylor Hightower and Will Allen

Tanner Mathis

Trent Rothlin, a senior RHP, has dropped his arm to become more of a submarine pitcher this year and a projected bullpenner.

"He's going to be a guy that comes in in the middle, like long relief, middle relief," Bianco said. "A guy that's going to come in, and I usually use the term out-eater. A guy that will come out and bridge the gap between the starters and the Hubers and Morgans. Trent was always a three-quarters guy, and now we dropped him to even further down, a sidearm or submarine, whatever you'd like to call it. He was almost there anyway, but also he throws the ball with a lot of velocity. Most guys that throw down there don't throw it with the velocity he does. Certainly against right-handed hitters I think he'll have a huge role. But also to have success he will have to be able to handle the left-handed hitters as well. He's done OK with that. Part of that is an 88 and maybe 90 (mph) submarine that makes things tough on all hitters."

Freshmen Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers are two pitchers who will be counted on.

"Both have done well for freshmen," he said. "There's a little bit of a learning curve when you come here for guys to kind of get through that and play and handle it out there on a bigger stage than they're used to. Both kids are very talented. Both kids will pitch as freshmen. A lot of times it takes the pitchers a little longer to develop. A lot of times as they get some innings, some of them will take off. Pomeranz started off in the bullpen and by the end (of his freshman season) he was the Saturday starter. Lance Lynn started off in the bullpen. Bobby and Mike are like that, hopefully they can get their feet wet and like those great pitchers in the past they'll take off as their innings come."

On senior outfielder Jordan King: "I love him. He's what I think of when I think of college baseball and guys in my program. He's my kind of guy. He'll do whatever you ask, plays hard, athletically, swings the bat aggressively, steals bases, can do it all. He's a great kid, good student, smiles, personality, can talk, and that's what it's all about. He's proven he will be on the field. He can play center, left, right."

OM Spirit Top Stories