Breaking It Down

Further breakdown of the Ole Miss baseball team shows the Rebels have more depth at most positions. Let's take a look at some of the additional pitchers past Bobby Wahl, Mike Mayers, and Chris Ellis.

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Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said Tanner Bailey is one who will help this team.

"He's Mr. Reliable. He's Mr. Consistent. He's the guy that can pitch in any type of game," Bianco said. "He can pitch with a lead. He can pitch from behind. He can pitch in a close game. He's a strike thrower, a guy that can throw three or four different pitches into a strike zone. He's the guy that doesn't have overpowering stuff but can be at times. He commands both sides of the plate and that can make hitter's jobs difficult. He's a guy we counted on a lot in all different situations last year. He's improved. Remember, last year was his first year to pitch here."

There are other pitchers who are actually new to the program that are expected to help this season.

"I'm proud of the young guys," Bianco said. "Jeremy Massie from Northwest Mississippi Community College, a left-handed pitcher. Another left-hander Austin Blunt from Howard (Junior) College didn't get to pitch this fall (because of arm soreness) but is close to being off the mound now. Jacob Waguespack, Brady Bramlett, Matt Denny, these are all new guys that I think have an opportunity to pitch in their first year. But the road for them may be a little steeper than the freshmen last year, because all those freshmen are sophomores. This year has a lot more depth. Those guys will have to earn it a little more."

Bianco said there is a lot of talent on the pitching staff in the first and second year guys.

"The good news is some of those guys are very talented, the guys we see as being the next Wahl or Mayers or Ellis," he said. "That's going to make our decisions difficult. Depth's a good problem to have. All of them last year had good moments and moments where they struggled. There's that learning curve."

A couple of them became household names to fans last season, and they will be an important part of whatever success the Rebels have this spring.

"Josh Laxer threw more like the Josh Laxer we recruited," Bianco said of the sophomore right-hander's fall. "He looked more comfortable out there, and the stuff is getting more electric. The fast ball is more alive. The breaking ball is more consistent and more of a weapon. He's got to locate a little better. And I mean locate in command and not necessarily control. He's not a walk guy and doesn't put himself in a lot of bad counts. I was really impressed with his fall, even though statistically it may not look that great. I thought he pitched in the five or six weeks better than he's pitched here.

"As far as (sophomore right-hander) Hawtin Buchanan, we've worked with some different things, and he's got a giant ceiling. We have to find a use for him with the stuff (he has) and to have that type talent. The breaking ball has improved exponentially. Now it might be his best pitch. We've got to work on his fast ball control. That's one of the things he'll work on the next two months."

The catcher position is one of strength for the Rebels this spring. The fall proved that.

"Stuart Turner, a junior college catcher, had a tremendous fall," Bianco said of the LSU-Eunice product who was coached there by former Rebel catcher Brett Basham. "We return Will Allen. We return Austin Knight. We have as much talent and depth behind the plate as we've had in a long time. We've come a long way in one year.

"Will Allen is also getting reps at first base, along with Sikes Orvis and Preston Overbey. Defensively Overbey is the best guy there. Offensively, Sikes statistically didn't have the best fall but it's in him. And Will had one of the best offensive falls of anyone. We have many options there."

One of the question marks heading into the fall was second base, since Alex Yarbrough is gone to the pros. That spot may still be determined as the team heads toward the season.

Josh Laxer
Bruce Newman

"Second base is the most up in the air position," Bianco said. "There's Jake Overbey and we need him to continue to improve. He's a solid defender. Lance Wilson is a junior college transfer who has had some great days for us but also some days when he wasn't as consistent. He has tremendous speed and can really help us on the base paths. Christian Helsel is a true freshman who has played at second and third. We think he's going to be a player in this program, but he's got to improve. True freshman Luke Gibbs is, I think, one of the team‘s favorites, a guy who busts his rear every time he's out on the field. He brings so much energy."

Shortstop and third base appear, at least for now, to be locks.

"At shortstop is Austin Anderson, and he had a great fall, defensively, offensively and as a leader," Bianco said. "He's really comfortable in his role now, and we need him to be confident there.

"Andrew Mistone is coming off one of the best years at third base I've ever seen. He's back for his senior season."

One player who could also see extensive time in a number of positions is a returning veteran.

"(Senior) Jon Gatlin is a guy who could play a lot of places," Bianco said. "He got a lot of at-bats last year."

The Rebels appear to be stacked in the outfield. There are some veterans and a lot of speed.

"In the outfield we return basically all three outfielders in Tanner Mathis, Auston Bousfield, and Will Jamison," Bianco said. "Jon Gatlin can go out there. Preston Overbey can go out there. True freshman Cameron Dishon really improved throughout the fall. We're as fast as we've ever been in the outfield. We will defend as well as we ever have out there. I expect all three of those guys to have double digit stolen bases. There's a chance they could all be close to 20. And Senquez Golson will figure in, at least that's the plan and another option."

Bianco believes that in Cliff Godwin's second season as offensive coach, the Rebels will be better in that area. Since teams don't score as many runs in college baseball now as in other eras, a premium is certainly placed on getting runners home when they are in scoring position.

"Coach Godwin's such a great coach," Bianco said. "He's relentless with (the players). He's got such a great rapport with them. He knows when to push them, and they trust him and believe in him."

Bianco said that's a positive since quite a bit of the Rebels' offense has departed. But there's still plenty of players who can produce runs.

"When you lose Alex Yarbrough and Matt Snyder and Zack Kirksey, that's a lot," he said. "But we also return a lot. Looking at it on paper, it's hard to imagine we'll hit as many home runs, although we didn't hit many last year (37), but we hit more than most teams. But I don't think it's as important a deal anymore about hitting home runs. It's about scoring runs, and that's what we struggled with last year.

"With the pitching better this year, I think the confidence will be there to score more runs. And we'll run better. I think we'll run more because we run better. This will be a club who will steal more bases."

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