Fall Ball Begins

Baseball season is back. Fall ball, as it's called, has become an important aspect of getting the team prepared for the spring season. The fall of 2012 is no different.

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"It's always exciting in fall ball," said Coach Mike Bianco, his ballclub coming off a NCAA Regional final appearance in College Station, Texas, when it lost to TCU to end the season with 37 wins, just a victory shy of a Super Regional. "We were out there for a few weeks (as school began) doing what the NCAA calls skill work or group work. But fall ball started with Scout Day (today)."

Bianco said the fall sessions, which last six weeks, are important for the players but also the staff as they try to get to know new players and see where the returnees are with their games. It all starts on the mound, and Ole Miss has a head-start in that regard.

"Expectations obviously are very high," Bianco said for the returnees and for the team. "Most notably (pitchers) Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers. They had great seasons last year and were one and two in our rotation. At the beginning of last year, everybody was wondering who was going to be the SEC starters. Those guys jumped into those roles and pitched terrific. They logged a lot of innings."

But they won't pitch much this fall, and if they do it will be late.

"They both pitched in the summer. Mike went up and pitched in the Cape Cod League, and Bobby represented our country with the USA National Team. He pitched around the world from Cuba to The Netherlands and all around the United States. Both of those guys needed a break. Their arms needed a break. Physically they needed a break.

"They're scheduled to start throwing again (in early October). We'll take them along slowly to make sure they get the rest they need, and we'll gradually work them back into shape. It's not likely that they'll pitch in any intrasquad game this fall. Maybe at the end they'll be ready to throw a couple of innings. But we already know what they're about and what they can do. (Fall ball) is more to see what some other guys can do."

And there is some recovery time for other players.

"Tanner Mathis was held out (early in the fall)," Bianco said. "He strained an oblique muscle the last week of the season up in the Cape Cod League. He's recovering and getting better. It's kind of like a pulled hamstring where you don't want to go too fast because it can be one step forward and take a couple of steps back. So we're trying to take it slow. He's another who's been in our program for four years, and we know what he can do. We certainly don't want to move too fast with him."

Tanner Mathis
Bruce Newman

There are some key players that have arrived who will likely have roles on the team. Fall will see to some degree if that's the case.

"Certainly we're excited about this class, and you're always excited about some new guys stepping in," Bianco said. "Behind the plate is a junior college transfer, Stuart Turner from LSU-Eunice. Terrific defensive player, big, physical, offensive bat. He's one I know fans will notice right away.

"(Freshman) Christian Helsel is kind of a jack of all trades. He can play anywhere in the infield. He was a shortstop in high school. Can play third or second. More physical maybe than an Alex Yarbrough out of high school. But a kid that does a lot of things well."

Bianco said some of the newcomers from last year should be that much better this year.

"We're excited to see some of the returners as well, some of the guys that have grown. Just the experience that some of these young freshmen had like Auston Bousfield, Will Jamison, Andrew Mistone, although he wasn't a freshman but had a terrific year as a junior college transfer last year."

Bianco said it's apparent the Rebels are looking for, given that Wahl and Mayers return, a third starter. But he wants to see where all the pitchers are and how they can contribute.

"On the mound you're going to look at guys like Jacob Waguespack and Brady Bramlett, two big powerful right-handed arms that kind of fit the mold of a lot of guys that we've had here. Then you look on the mound at all those freshmen – Chris Ellis, Hawtin Buchanan, Josh Laxer, Aaron Greenwood, who although is a junior (this year) is in that group of young pitchers. I'm really excited about those young arms, all those guys having all that experience coming back."

Bianco said the pitchers who were here last year for the first time should be improved. But he's not so much into the talk, like maybe some other sports, that a player or team improves from that first season to the second, or from one game to the next.

"I don't have any coaches-speak about that," he said. "There are kids that come in immediately and are outstanding freshmen. There are kids like Will Kline that find it after two or three years, or Phillip Irwin. And guys like Bobby Wahl that have a decent freshman year but then explode onto the scene as a sophomore. Like Drew Pomeranz.

"I think these (young) guys are in that mold. They pitched last year, they had some success, they had some tough outings as well. But they cut their teeth in the SEC and it's a great learning place, although it can be tough. Although it is a great way to learn your skill, and it's a great way to improve. I think you're going to see a big jump in those guys."

Bianco likes his pitching staff and says it's one of the best to be here potentially.

"When you look at this pitching staff, on paper right now looking at it, it's as good as we've ever been," he said. "You look at the top with Mayers and Wahl, but you have so many other opportunities for some other guys to fill. Not just the Sunday starter, but Brett Huber is back for his senior year and there's so many guys that can make us really good on the mound. Depth-wise this is about as good as we've been on the top and throughout the staff as I can remember."

Alex Yarbrough, the All-American second baseman is gone and has moved up quickly in the pros. Bianco said second base is an area to be evaluated, and he believes there are a number of players that could fill it.

"It's a position like the rest of them, and they're all important," he said. "Who's going to bat in the middle? I think we're more concerned with Alex's bat. He was outstanding defensively. He was an All-American second baseman. It's going to be hard to find a guy that's going to come in and hit .360, only make two errors the entire season, and have the year that Alex did. But there's a lot of different options, and we have so many guys that can play short and play second and play third, we'll find the right guy.

"I've always looked at baseball as nine different positions, and it's not collectively trying to replace a Matt Smith or a Zack Cozart or an Alex Yarbrough. It's collectively can we be better as a team? It's going to be hard to be as good at second base as we were last year, but maybe we can be better at some other positions collectively where it's not going to matter as much that we lost an Alex Yarbrough, because some other positions stepped up."

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