Baseball in the Fall

Fall baseball is in well underway, and Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco is happy to put last season's 30-25 record behind him and his program and move ahead.

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"It's exciting to get everybody on the field and start again," he said as fall ball began. "We've seen them throw bullpens (in individual workouts since August). We've seen them take batting practice. Now we want to put them together and watch them compete in intrasquad games. It's like a second stage, and certainly an exciting time."

Bianco said the fall is an important time in the development of a team.

"In general, it's to implement a lot of the things we do as far as team defense and team offense, pitching and baserunning. Those types of things. Then there are the individual things, like who is going to win what position, what returners got better and stronger and improved since last year? What new guys are ready to step in and play big roles? This is the time to make sure we get as much of that information in as possible. Because when we get back in January, we only have three weeks before the first game."

The Rebels open the 2012 season on the road at TCU for three games Feb. 17-19.

There are no more important decisions to make this time around than the starting rotation of pitchers. All three starters from last year – Matt Crouse, David Goforth, and Austin Wright – are gone.

"On the mound, it's big," Bianco said. "We lost all the weekend starters. So one of the things is who are the guys that are going to pitch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?"

Alex Yarbrough
Bruce Newman

He mentioned at least one returnee who is heavily in the mix, plus a host of newcomers.

"We'll try to extend Bobby Wahl's innings a little bit and see how he does," Bianco said of the sophomore. "He had a great summer and will certainly be one of the top pitchers on the staff. We just need to figure out what role he'll have.

"There are so many young arms that are really good. But who is going to be a starter this year? Who will be the relievers? What's their role going to be? It's not super critical to end the fall and say these are the Friday, Saturday, Sunday guys. But we just need to get a better feel and try to narrow it down a little bit."

Mike Mayers, also a sophomore, is among those to become a probable starter on the mound for Ole Miss during the 2012 season. Senior R.J. Hively could be in the mix for one of those spots as well, if he continues to improve as he did last season. Veteran Brett Huber is also back.

But it's the newcomers who may be creating the most buzz. Hawtin Buchanan, Josh Laxer, Chris Ellis, Casey Mulholland, and Sam Smith, all freshmen hurlers, should have a strong impact on the pitching staff. Junior transfer Dylan Chavez, the lone lefty of all those mentioned so far and also drafted in the 32nd round by the Twins, will definitely figure heavily in the mix.

Returning position players are a team strength. Junior Alex Yarbrough returns to the infield. Mainly a second baseman, Yarbrough played some third base late last season as Bianco moved the infielders around. Senior Blake Newalu, mainly at shortstop but in the late-season shift at second, returns. Sophomore Austin Anderson is also back. He played a lot of third base in 2011 but in the move late was at shortstop. Freshman Will Allen, who played there some in 2011, is a strong candidate at first base. Yarbrough is the team's leading returning hitter at .350 last season.

Freshmen Sikes Orvis and Jake Overbey will fight for a spot in the infield. Orvis is a first baseman/third baseman. Overbey was drafted in the tenth round by the Phillies but chose college. He is a shortstop that can move about the infield positions.

Bobby Wahl
Bruce Newman

"We've got three shortstops," Bianco said. "We've got Yarbrough returning at second base. We've got (Preston) Overbey at third, along with a junior college transfer, Andrew Mistone. We've got (Will) Allen, (Taylor) Hightower, (Austin) Knight, (Kody) Sepulveda, several options behind the plate."

Tanner Mathis, a junior, returns to lead the way in the outfield. He played center field last season. After team leader Yarbrough, Mathis batted .336 good for second among hitters.

Beyond Mathis, the outfield spots are wide open. Senior Zach Kirksey returns after playing in 29 games this past season. Sophomore Preston Overbey is back after playing a lot of third base but late in the season – in those infield shifts – he was sent out to left field.

Matt Snyder returns for his senior season. It remains to be seen if he plays a position - with his oft-injured shoulder - or is a DH.

Newcomers could factor into the outfield. Freshman Will Jamison has tremendous speed. Freshman Auston Bousfield comes in with solid credentials and has already impressed this early fall. Chase Reeves is another freshman who will definitely get a shot at one of the spots. Tyler Roach is a junior transfer who could be in the outfield mix.

Allen should get a shot at catcher, his primary position coming to college last year. Hightower returns for his senior season. With junior transfer signee Ryan Hornback opting for pro baseball after being drafted in the 27th round by the Pirates, the Rebels went the high school route this summer for another catcher. Freshman Austin Knight, first-team all-state catcher from powerhouse Sumrall High in south Mississippi, makes the catching position one of depth entering the fall. And then there is Sepulveda, a junior college transfer.

Bianco, as has been the case with several of his classes, was able to keep most of the drafted incoming players from turning pro.

"Eleven drafted and we were able to keep nine of them," he said. "That's got to be around the most in the country, nine drafted guys showing up on your campus. The majority of the high-profile guys (in the new class) are pitchers, which was needed."

A few of the pitchers are coming off injury and successful rehab.

"Austin Hartzog, Tanner Bailey, and Casey Mulholland are all coming off injuries," Bianco said. "All are healthy, and all have thrown bullpens on schedule. Nobody's missed a day."

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