Primed to Produce

Matt Snyder was all smiles Monday afternoon. He had reason to be. Now fully healthy, he's armed and ready to open his senior season Friday against TCU.

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Snyder wasn't quite himself last season. He didn't provide the production he expects of himself, relegated to the role of designated hitter following shoulder surgery in June.

Snyder toiled through an injury-riddled sophomore season. He dislocated his right shoulder on three separate occasions.

Snyder never saw the field in 2011. He could only watch from the bench as other players manned his position, first base, including the now-departed Matt Smith, who Snyder considers a brother more than a friend.

"It's extremely weird being an older guy on the team," he said. "I'm not used to that at all. But it's a lot of fun. You can help the younger guys out and show them what you've been through. I've been through a lot of stuff here."

Making the adjustment from every-day player to exclusive hitter was difficult.

"Whenever he wasn't in the field, it would kind of affect him a little bit," outfielder Tanner Mathis said. "Now that he's in the field, he's completely different. He's always been positive, always upbeat. Now it seems like it's through the roof. He can interact better. That's a big thing for him."

Matt Snyder
UM Media Relations

Snyder sat to the right of Mike Bianco as the Ole Miss head coach announced from behind a podium Monday that Snyder would be his starting first baseman.

He's finally retaken his spot in the field, long removed from March 6, 2010, when Snyder originally hurt the shoulder and missed the first eight of a series of games.

"I feel great," Snyder said. "I'm ready to go."

A New Approach:

Snyder has worked this off-season on his hitting mechanics. He hit .301 in 176 at-bats last season with a team-high nine home runs and a .534 slugging percentage. But his team-leading RBI numbers (39) were less than his strikeouts (40).

New to the Ole Miss coaching staff is hitting coach Cliff Godwin. Godwin has guided Snyder in a new hitting approach, one that focuses more on the middle of the field and hitting the ball with authority to all fields.

Godwin noticed when he arrived Snyder was too reliant on pulling the ball, leading to Snyder's propensity to strike out, especially when down two strikes.

"Just trying to use the whole field instead of trying to pull everything," Godwin said of Snyder's new approach.

"When he walks up to the plate, really think middle of the field. He's a strong enough guy to where he can hit the ball out to left-center field or pull it. Doesn't matter. It allows him to stay in the middle, allows him to stay on the ball longer and see off-speed pitches better."

Snyder has seen a dramatic shift in his two-strike approach, as has Godwin. The Centreville, Va., product is staying on the ball longer in an attempt to see more pitches and go deeper into counts. The move has paid dividends in practices and intrasquads.

"His two-strike approach, he's really bought in," Godwin said. "He's staying later (on the ball) and really seeing a lot pitches later in the count. He's put a lot of good swings on the ball when he's had two strikes on him."

"He kind of laid it out on the table and told me exactly what I needed to do. I've been feeling so good with two strikes," Snyder said. "It feels like it's 0-0 with two strikes ‘cause if you slow your body down, you can see the ball so much better. You can hit the ball just as hard; you're just slowing your body down. It's paying off a lot."

Cliff Godwin
Bruce Newman

Snyder said Godwin has the players come in early, well before the start of practices, to get swings in. The players have fed off the energy of Godwin, who made the move to Ole Miss last summer after three seasons at Central Florida.

"He's so intense and has so much energy, but you love him and you don't want to disappoint him," Snyder said.

A left-handed hitter, the 6-foot-6, 218-pound Snyder posted 17 multiple-hit games last season, including four games with three hits. He posted eight multiple-RBI games. He posted six RBI against Arkansas State last March.

But he expects to be far better as a senior. He understands his value to the team, a run-producing force in the middle when healthy. He's instant offense with power to spare.

"His approach has gotten a lot better," Mathis said. "It's not like it was bad, he's just a more complete hitter. He's not just a power hitter. You'll see more singles and doubles versus just a home run. He's been tremendous. He hit a ball out the other day to the bullpen. His approach has gotten better. He's not swinging and missing."

Grand Return:

There was no draft-day surprise for Snyder in June. He knew the Washington Nationals would select him in the 44th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.

Snyder and the Nationals had spoken a few weeks prior to the draft. He had suffered a fracture of his right cheek bone in a summer league game, when a ball hit him in the face. The Nationals indicated they still planned on drafting him. He needed only to prove he was healthy.

So he did. Sporting a specialized batting helmet with a one-sided face guard to protect the injured cheek, he hit seven home runs in 12 games. But when the time came, and after he was drafted, the Nationals deemed him unhealthy. The money he was promised wasn't the same.

"I was like, OK, I'm going to Ole Miss then," Snyder said. "There's no better place in the world. If you're going to do that and have that kind of business, I don't want to be a part of that stuff. I want to go back to a place I love and a place I want to be. There's no better place than here. I'm very fortunate to be coming back here. I'm so excited to be back with these guys."

Mathis welcomed Snyder back with open arms.

"When you want to come back, it makes you a better player. Snyder, he wanted to come back. He wanted to be here. He wanted to get to Omaha. That says something about the kid himself," Mathis said.

Matt Snyder
Associated Press

Ole Miss hasn't reached Omaha in 40 years. Its last appearance was 1972. The Rebels have made four appearances all-time in the College World Series.

Snyder has plans for a fifth. Ole Miss was five outs away against Virginia in 2009, his freshman season. Ole Miss won the first game on a walk-off home run by Smith, but an Evan Button error in the second game opened the door to back-to-back losses.

"I can't tell you how badly I want to get to Omaha," Snyder said. "That's something that once I knew I was coming back in the summer, I couldn't wait to get back.

"I knew with Coach Godwin coming in here, the offensive guy he is, we're all just ready to get started. We're excited. This is the best offense I've been a part of."

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