Settling In

John Gatlin appeared to have won the starting job at second base to replace Alex Yarbrough, who is now in the pros. Then came last week, a shoulder dislocation, and a few weeks out of action.

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Gatlin said Friday he will rehab and try to make it back as soon as he can. The timetable is up to how well his shoulder recovers. As a team captain, Gatlin is an important part of the 2013 Rebels.

Most of the positions appear to be set for Ole Miss. Second base actually has about as many options as any position. That's been the case during the fall and into the preseason.

Lance Wilson, a junior college transfer, looks to now be the starter when TCU comes calling beginning next Friday at 4 p.m. Others, like freshmen Christian Helsel and Luke Gibbs, and sophomore Jake Overbey, are also middle infielders who can play second base.

"We have so many great athletes here," said Wilson, from Tuscaloosa, Ala.'s Hillcrest High School and Shelton State Community College. "Guys like Christian Helsel, who's been making so many great plays and playing so consistently. Luke Gibbs busts his butt every day. There's definitely competition, but I look at it as a good thing and a great opportunity for everyone of us."

Wilson, cousin of former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and former Alabama baseball player Ross Wilson, said he feels good about the adjustments he's made from junior college to senior college, and he's ready for Division I baseball, which has always been a goal.

"I've just tried to be comfortable," he said of competing at this level and also playing second base. "I've talked to Coach (Cliff) Godwin about it a few times. I've always played shortstop. And now I'm moving over to second base. It took a little bit of time to get used to it. But I've taken a lot of reps over there, so defensively I've gotten a lot better."

Helsel came in last summer as a freshman and has made solid strides. His comfort zone is high as the season approaches.

"It's gone really well," said the Altoona, Pa., product and graduate of Altoona Area High School. "I improved a lot in the fall. The whole team did. We're really optimistic, and it's gone really well."

Helsel said the abundance of competitors for the second base spot has made them all better. And the fact that a teammate has gone down for a period of time has actually lifted them to do even better – for the team and for Gatlin.

"It's motivating us all," he said. "John is one of our best players. He's a leader. The other guys stepping up are helping me elevate my game. So we're trying to turn a negative into a positive. We want John to be back, but we want to step up for him."

Christian Helsel
Bruce Newman

Andrew Mistone, the returning senior, is set at third base, while junior Austin Anderson, with two years of Division I baseball under his belt, is back as the starter at shortstop. Helsel, a versatile player, has seen a lot of time at all three positions.

"They're moving me around, which I'm OK with," he said. "I like playing all the positions."

Offensively last season Ole Miss was second in the Southeastern Conference in batting average but eighth in runs scored. The new players, like Wilson and Helsel, are aware of remarks made about run production for the team. They're confident these Rebels can get it done offensively.

"I've heard that from some people. But every day watching these guys take BP, it's not a question mark to me," he said. "There's a great improvement that's happened this fall from an offensive standpoint. Guys like (juco catcher) Stuart Turner have been knocking the cover off. Auston Bousfield, Sikes Orvis."

And as for himself, Wilson said he's working to be a more effective offensive player.

"I've gotten a lot more comfortable, working on my two-strike approach," he said. "Just driving the ball. I've always been a singles guy that didn't hit a bunch of extra base hits. Just been trying to work on hitting some gap balls and working my way around the bases."

Wilson, with so many Crimson Tide family members, said he's been converting them to become Rebels.

"Christmas was fun this year. There was a lot of Ole Miss gear," he said. "They're all Ole Miss fans now."

Wilson said he wondered how life would be in a new situation, even if just across one state line. But it's been a smooth transition to be a part of his new team.

"I'd been in Tuscaloosa all my life," he said. "With people from all across the country, I figured it would be different here. I thought I'd come here and it would kind of be different. But I think I may be closer than with any other team I've been on."

Helsel looks forward to opening weekend for a number of reasons. One of them is because he knows both programs well.

He wanted to play in the South. He chose TCU during his recruitment. Then TCU joined the Big East Conference, which had a lot of northern teams. That changed his mind on things.

"It's especially huge for me," he said, not looking back now that the Horned Frogs are in the Big 12. "I was committed to TCU, then I decommitted, and now I'm here. I'm really excited for this series. They're a great ballclub and so are we."

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