Roll Taken

All the newcomers for Ole Miss baseball have checked in but one as second semester of summer school is underway.

Clay Casey, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, drafted in the 33rd round by the Nationals, the 994th pick in this June's draft, is playing summer baseball while figuring out what's next for him.

So what is next for Casey? Time will tell. He has a couple more weeks to decide - college or pro.

It's a talented class of players already on campus. They are involved in the summer "welcome" program of strength and conditioning coach Ben Fleming.

"There's a good mix of junior college guys and high school guys," Fleming said. "They're all good. Unlike last year when I just got here, I had previously met all these guys before. That already makes our relationship better. They've followed me on twitter. They've seen what we did in the offseason. It's going to be good."

The size of some of the players jumps out immediately.

"We've got some really big-bodied freshmen coming in," said Fleming, entering his second season with Ole Miss athletics. "There are several players that are in that 6-3 to 6-5 range that are like 230 pounds. Ole Miss gets those bodies. Some schools don't. That's exciting for this program. Joe Wainhouse is 6-foot-6, 255 pounds out of high school. Lots of big guys in this class. And a lot of fast guys coming in, too."

The players here now are high school products Tate Blackman (5-11, 184, MIF); Brady Feigl (6-3, 197, RHP); Will Golsan (5-11, 158, SS); Michael Fitzsimmons (5-11, 222, 3B/1B); Kyle Watson (6-1, 176, SS); John Wesley Ray (6-3, 233, RHP); Joe Wainhouse (6-6, 255, 1B); Will Stokes (5-11, 171, RHP); Nic Perkins (6-1, 219, C); Calder Mikell (5-10, 154, RHP); Moises Castro (5-11, 179, RHP); and Blake Bennett (6-1, 200, RHP).

Junior college transfers in are Jay King (5-6, 162, SS/2B); Sean Johnson (6-6, 203, LHP); Drake Robison (5-11, 162, RHP); Jack Kaiser (6-0, 216, 1B); Matt Martin (5-9, 169, OF); and Josh Watkins (5-10, 190, OF).

"We've got big guys coming back, too," Fleming said. "Colby Bortles, J.B. Woodman, Sikes Orvis. They're all big guys already in the program."

Fleming said Woodman is one example of the progress he has seen from young players and will continue to see more of into the summer, fall, and season.

"The biggest thing for a player like J.B. is to continue to train and play more baseball this summer," he said. "Get more at-bats, more live reads, things like that. When he gets back, hopefully he's maintained his weight and continued to get stronger. J.B. was already surpassing so many older guys last year strength-wise throughout the year. He's only going to get better."

Newcomer Tate Blackman, one candidate to start in the middle infield next season, is from central Florida, like a number of Rebels now and in the recent past. Fleming sees connections such as that one as a positive for players.

"Tate knowing J.B. and seeing what he's been able to accomplish, that's only going to help Tate get better," Fleming said. "He's going to see what happened to J.B. in a year and how much different J.B. looks than when he saw him in high school."

Another player to potentially move up into a starting spot next season is Bortles. Fleming likes the improvement from him.

"Colby got so much stronger. He was so raw when he got here. Colby's summer will be good for him, playing more baseball. He'll get more experience on the field and when he gets back continuing to develop that and building on his strength. Because he is one of our strongest guys. The sky's the limit for what we could see out of Colby."

Fleming said there is evidence of Bortles' progress.

"We're seeing him top-spin baseballs over the left field wall. We all understand that's not very easy to do. His raw power and ability to do that as a freshman show us what he can do."

Fleming said it's the depth of talent that will also continue to help the Rebels improve in the offseason and pay off during the season. He gives examples.

"The biggest thing is the competition we did last summer and last fall," Fleming said. "Make them hungry for competition. J.B. has to be hungry to be our possible center fielder next year, and to make him understand that every day he has to compete to be that guy. For him to compete, that brings him to the forefront to become that leader.

"Same thing with Colby. When he comes back and sees those freshmen that are just as big as him, it's only going to make him get better and get stronger. The competition is the biggest thing with these guys."

Orvis wasn't drafted, which surprised some people. Fleming believes that will only make the veteran of college baseball wars work that much harder to improve and to prove that he belongs.

"He's still raw to some point. I think we'll make Sikes even more athletic this year on the base paths, especially with me having him all summer long. I think that's going to be a huge thing. He will be more polished, and there's no reason he shouldn't be drafted next year."

Nine Rebels from the 2014 team were, which led the nation, and Fleming said that's a positive for all concerned.

"It's very rewarding, and you want to think they'll all get drafted. But at the end of the day, you know how hard it is for that number of guys to get drafted. We had seniors but also a lot of juniors drafted. It makes my job easier when you can show the younger guys how many were successful."

Fleming believes because of the older leadership that returns, all the players, new and old, will buy in again this season.

"The biggest thing was so many guys bought into the program and what we did in the offseason and what we did throughout the year," he said of last year. "Team meals, team meetings, pregame routine, whatever it was. Everybody bought in and that was a testament to what everybody was doing as a staff. There's no reason, even with Cliff (Godwin) gone, that it won't continue. The culture won't change as far as what got us to where we were last season."


OM Spirit Top Stories