Battling It Out

Fall ball showed the Rebels have options at several positions in both the infield and outfield.

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After taking a look at the pitchers Thursday, now it's time to glance at the rest of the team.

There is solid depth at catcher, although nobody expects the position to be filled by anyone of the talent and productivity of Stuart Turner, the one-year wonder named college baseball's best last season as the winner of the Johnny Bench Award.

Senior Will Allen, with the most experience, is the likely starter, with junior veteran Austin Knight and freshman Henri Lartigue more than capable.

"Lartigue had a little bit of a slow start, but he's really done well the last month," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "(Freshmen) all kind of get over that hump physically. It looks like he has, and thrown it a lot better, swung it a lot better."

There are quite a number of possibilities at various infield positions. Junior Sikes Orvis had a good fall at the plate with three homers and an on-base percentage of .410, has played first and DH'ed in the past and also played some third base this fall due to injured teammates.

Senior Austin Anderson might be found at shortstop again, or he could also be the Rebels' third baseman, depending on how things shake out in preseason practices and as the season unfolds.

Senior Preston Overbey, versatile and dependable wherever he's playing, was among a lengthy list of injured players this fall. He had a recurring back problem that troubled him two seasons ago. But Overbey could be at first or third, and he played second quite a bit last season.

Newcomers in the infield mix that are bound to make a run at quite a bit of playing time are freshmen Errol Robinson, Dalton Dulin, and Brantley Bell, along with juco transfer Kyle Toth, who is a junior.

Robinson has impressed the coaches at shortstop and could wind up there, which would likely put Anderson at third. But, again, that remains to be seen as January moves into February.

"Robinson has kind of stood out as the best defender out there," Bianco said. "He was bothered by a sore wrist where he was hit by a ball. But he's played great defensively. Kyle Toth has been good as well."

Senior John Gatlin, another of the wounded from fall, had another foot surgery. He had missed last season because of that and would likely have played second base daily. He should be ready for the season, but it's been a long time since he played in a game. Can he come back from basically a couple seasons off with his injury? Time will tell.

Dulin, son of Tim Dulin of Dulin's Sports Academy in Memphis that produces so much top baseball talent, could slide into that second base position. A gritty, speedy, seasoned, knowledgable infielder, he had a solid fall and is in the mix.

Austin Anderson
Bruce Newman

"Much like Lartigue, Dalton got off to a slow start physically, but he's played really well the last three weeks to a month," Bianco said.

Bell had the best average of them all at the plate, hitting a team-high .360 heading into the fall world series and will compete for an infield spot.

"Brantley Bell had a terrific fall and continues to work hard," Bianco said. "Shouldn't be surprised the son of the hitting coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates (Jay Bell) came in and had a good fall offensively. Proud of him and continues to work hard at all three positions – third, short and second. It was exciting to watch a freshman swing it that well in the fall."

Freshman Colby Bortles, whose brother, Blake, is the standout quarterback for Central Florida, is competing for a spot as well, although another one with a fall injury.

"Colby, although slowed with a bad shoulder and hasn't been able to play the left side of the infield, hasn't missed an intrasquad and has played first base. I thought has swung the bat great for a young freshman," Bianco said. "He's back in a throwing program now and should be fine."

The outfield is deep and speedy.

"(Juco transfer) Braxton Lee had a terrific fall and is just what we thought he would be," Bianco said. "Leadoff type guy that can run and hit and that's a tough out. Could bat first or second in the lineup."

Freshman J.B. Woodman also impressed in the fall.

"Again, what we thought. Athletic, can hit, can run. Really impressed with the way he runs the bases," Bianco said. "He's not as fast as a couple of those guys out there but can really steal bases and plays with a lot of confidence. Good defender in the outfield and can play any of the three positions."

Bianco likes all the options in the outfield.

"We'll really defend out there with (Auston) Bousfield, (Will) Jamison, (Cameron) Dishon, Woodman, and Lee," he said. "They all run. They all can throw. They all can play real good defense out there. It's been fun to watch those guys."

Injuries have indeed played a part this fall. Bianco discusses that.

Auston Bousfield
Bruce Newman

"Banged up is an understatement. This is the worst fall for injuries we've ever had," he said. "The good news is they'll all be back (for the season). We feel confident Gatlin will be back 100 percent by the start of the year. (Freshman) Peyton Attaway had a broken finger. Never really missed time but played with a splint on it the whole time. Toth got hit in the eye with a ball and missed like ten days. He's better now and back out there. Jamison has had some lower back issues. He'll be fine and is starting to do things now. Preston (Overbey) reinjured his back; he injured it a couple of years ago. He's starting to do some things now back in the weight room.

"Matt Denny dropped a weight on his foot and broke his toe. He pitched in three games and missed half the fall. Bortles with the shoulder and should be back soon. Will Allen tore a ligament in his thumb and missed more than half the fall."

But the news is actually better than the list appears at first glance.

"If this was the season, those guys would be close to playing right now," Bianco continued.

Bianco loved the team's attitude and work ethic in the fall. He said they were challenged and responded.

"They've really worked unbelievably hard. We've really pushed them. It was a goal to see how tough we could be. Ben Fleming (new strength and conditioning coach for baseball) arrived (from Kansas State), and with his workouts and some of the things we put them through, we tested them mentally, which tested them physically. I'm really pleased with the results. This team is as tough as any we've ever had and has been through as grueling a fall as we've ever had."

Bianco said it's a team that is going to have to compete as a "team" for it to be as successful. And he expects that.

"This team doesn't have that star quality, that Bobby Wahl or (Drew) Pomeranz or Stephen Head, that type of player returning. This is going to have to be a team that plays hard, plays right, plays aggressively, and does the little things that over a season make a difference.

"That's not to say we're not talented. Because we are. We'll have as much depth as we ever have. It's a great mix of new guys, and because of some injuries and so many new guys out there, there will be some freshmen and junior college kids that will make an immediate impact and start from game one. But some of the guys have also been here three or four years and had some success. I think it's really a good mix. It's been a fun fall."

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