Closing The Fall

Fall ball, as it's called, has wrapped up for Ole Miss baseball, except for the Fall World Series which is this week.

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What were the Rebels mainly looking for these last seven weeks? Who could potentially be counted on as weekend starters. Who will replace the nation's best catcher, Stuart Turner, who has gone pro. Who are the candidates for any number of positions, basically every spot on the field.

Gone are pitchers Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers as well as dependables like Tanner Bailey and Brett Huber. That's a lot of innings over the past three seasons and even more in the case of Huber.

Turner, who won the Johnny Bench Award in the postseason as the best in college baseball in 2013, was here only one season. Those watching closely this time last fall knew that with the ability he had at the plate and behind it, he wouldn't be back for a second season.

The outfield has depth and speed, and at least a couple of new players could emerge as starters. The infield is a mix of old and new, and some players could move about those spots to get the most productivity out there at any given time.

Chris Ellis, the right-handed junior, is again projected to be a weekend starter. Last year at this time it was almost a certainty he would be one of the three. But an early-season pulled ab muscle limited his performance all season.

This time around, Ellis is not only projected to be heavily in the mix as a weekend starter but could be the game one, Friday night, ace of the staff.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco likes what he's seen from the pitching staff.

"I think the pitchers have done really well," he said. "It was one of the best pitching falls we've ever had, even without some of those ‘big-name' guys we've had (in the past). And one of the big-name guys, Chris Ellis, only pitched two innings this fall."

That was planned because Ellis had recovered nicely from his muscle pull and was able to pitch all summer in the Cape Cod League with Cotuit. As has been the case with several potential aces or weekend pitchers, like Wahl and Mayers last year, Ellis was limited in fall ball.

"Even though he didn't pitch this fall, we've seen enough out of him in bullpens to know he's really primed to have a great year," Bianco said.

Besides Ellis not necessarily emerging but already being tabbed as the potential Friday starter, Bianco said other spots remain unclear.

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"One of the things we saw is that there is more depth on this (pitching) staff than even we gave it credit for at the beginning (of the fall). I think we'll have more options. We have to figure out what order they go out there. We feel confident Ellis will be the Friday night guy."

Sophomore LHP Christian Trent, a transfer, and junior righty Sam Smith are two who will compete for weekend starts. So will sophomore RHP Jacob Waguespack and sophomore LHP Matt Denny. But both were limited this fall – Waguespack, who was recovering from cleaning up some bone chips in the elbow of his throwing arm, and Denny, who dropped a weight on his foot in a workout.

Senior RHP Aaron Greenwood is another who could start on the weekend. But any who don't start on the weekend could have midweek start duty.

Junior right-hander Hawtin Buchanan had a solid fall, according to Bianco. Sophomore RHP Preston Tarkington, a transfer, has seen extensive action as a closer this fall.

"He's a strike thrower and has an out pitch with a cutter that is terrific," Bianco said of Tarkington.

A freshman who stands 6-foot-5, Evan Anderson is a left-hander who Bianco believes can help this season.

"Much like a lot of those freshmen, we feel there's more in the tank," he said. "And we'll see more as the year progresses. He's super-talented and has a shot to do a lot of good things here."

Cheyne Bickel is a freshman righty who has done well.

"Of all the freshmen he was maybe the most dominant guy, and a guy who will certainly log some innings," Bianco said. "He throws a sinker, a fast ball that's heavy, hard, and barrels into right-handed hitters and away from left-handed hitters. It's hard for people to barrel balls up against him."

Other returning pitchers on the current roster are junior LHP Scott Ashford, junior RHP Scott Weathersby, senior LHP Jeremy Massie, senior LHP Austin Blunt, and junior RHP Josh Laxer.

(A look at the position players and more will follow in a second story of Ole Miss Fall Ball 2013.)

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