Ole Miss baseball brought in another class of talented newcomers that arrived last summer. Three freshmen infielders were among those who made some noise in fall ball.
With senior Sikes Orvis the likely candidate for first base, sophomore Colby Bortles the apparent frontrunner at third base, and sophomore Errol Robinson returning at shortstop after a solid freshman campaign as the starter, there’s an open spot at second base.
Four-year veteran Preston Overbey has departed, and the position looks like it will go to a newcomer. Overbey brought a lot of Ole Miss baseball experience to second base and had his best year as a senior.
Now the Rebel coaching staff turns to others, and among them are freshmen Tate Blackman, Will Golsan, and Kyle Watson.
Blackman, 6-foot, 180 pounds, was the highly recruited infielder from the Orlando Scorpions pipeline that’s produced so many good Ole Miss players recently. Blackman, from Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Fla., broke his hand sliding into a base midway during the fall ball sessions.
He’s recovered and ready for preseason team practices, which begin in a couple of weeks.
“It was my right hand,” said Blackman, who bats right and throws right. “Everything was going smooth as can be. One bad slide, and then I was just watching.”
He’d had more than a smooth fall up until then and was the likely candidate to man the second base spot. He still is, but there is competition as the Rebels return to campus for second semester.
Blackman had been through a situation before similar to this one, but only worse.
“My freshman year (of high school) I broke my leg, and it was a like a six-month deal,” said Blackman, drafted in the 20th round last summer by the Brewers. “This (broken hand) was five weeks. I didn’t sit at home. I wanted to be here and around my teammates and practice, still learning from the coaches since I couldn’t play.”
Watson and Golsan had already been playing some middle infield in the fall. Since Robinson is a shortstop, and there are two teams during intrasquads, that meant two Rebels were at short and two at second each game. That got several of the players, some of them newcomers, involved in the action.
“I tried to make the most of every opportunity that I got,” said Watson, a 6-3, 187-pound DeSoto Central (Miss.) High School graduate. “Overall I guess I’m pretty pleased with how I did. There were some areas I feel I could have done more than what I did. But overall I was pleased.”
Basically the same goes for Golsan, who, like Watson, was pleased with his productivity.
“I feel content with what I accomplished this fall,” said Golsan, at 6-1 and 171 pounds, a product of New Hope (Miss.) High School. “I feel like some areas were better than others. But overall I thought it was a really good fall.”
Adjustments to this level from high school are always common. All three said there have been some to make and still more to make in the future.
“The biggest adjustment as a hitter was the pitching, seeing a lot more elite pitching and staying more comfortable in the box,” Watson said. “And defensively the balls were a lot harder. The game was sped up a whole lot more from any high school or summer game I ever played.”
“My brothers played at high Division I schools," Blackman said, "and I would always talk to them about what I needed to focus on and they’d tell me it’s really a grind. Your body’s not going to be used to working out and practicing every day. You’re not going to be used to taking ground balls for an hour and 30 minutes straight without a break. One thing I had to really develop was playing every practice and going all out to make every play, to not be tired, to push my teammates, and them to push me, back and forth. Really I had to make those adjustments so I can contribute to this team.”
Golsan said he knew that with the success of the program, especially getting to the College World Series last summer, that it would be a lot more intense than anything he’d done in baseball before.
“When I was in high school, my coach would always tell me I needed to be ready for when I got up here," Golsan said, "because they’d be hitting the ground running. Once they got to Omaha, I knew they’d want to go back. We’ve been working at it at the highest intensity level. The biggest adjustment I’ve faced is the workouts, the intensity, the lifting, the legs.”
All three want to play. All three know there could be some movement as far as positions go. They all showed in the fall they are ready to contribute at this level. Now comes preseason practice in a couple of weeks, and they are looking forward to seeing how things progress from that point until the season begins.
“For me, I just go out to the field every day and work,” Blackman said. “Wherever they put me, I just try to be the best at it. If they put me at third, I’m going to try to be the best third baseman. If they put me in left field, I’ll try to be the best left fielder. I’m just trying to get on the field and get as many ABs as I can and work hard at that. I played shortstop my senior year of high school. But I was mainly a second baseman.”
“We were all working at second and short in the fall,” Watson said. “I think overall we made each other better. Us competing for a spot made each other better. Whoever is put there is going to be what’s best for the team. And that’s what we’re all about here, trying to win games and get the best people on the field. Sophomore and junior year of high school, I was a second baseman. My senior year I was a shortstop.”
Said Golsan, “I would say I’m more comfortable at short because I’ve played there more. But I wouldn’t use the word uncomfortable (at second), because I’ve been there, I’ve played there. It’s similar to short but it’s just some of the small things that are different.”
Blackman’s played some at third as well. He said he adjusted there, but it is different than the other two positions.
“I played third when I was like 12 years old on like showcase teams in Florida,” he said. “I was at the hot corner. It comes a little quicker and it’s different with the footwork. But if a ball’s hit to you, you’ve got to get in front of it, put the glove down, and it’s the same routine.”
Golsan said it’s all about what’s best for the team and that any of the three will do successfully what is asked of them.
“You’ve got to be versatile in all positions at this level of baseball,” he said. “If they tell you to play third, you suit up and you play third.”
The Rebels return one significant starter in the outfield – J.B. Woodman – although at least one other has played there - Cameron Dishon. Connor Cloyd and Josh Watkins, both juco transfers, are potential outfielders for this team. There’s a chance one of the freshmen infield trio could scoot out there and play some.
Again they reach back to their younger days to recall playing some in the outfield.
“I played out there when I was younger, like when I was 12, maybe,” Watson said. “Like we’ve all said, wherever coach will put us, if it’s the outfield, I’ll be the best outfielder I can.”
“I played in the outfield when I was like eight,” Blackman said. “If you’re up the middle, you’re a good athlete. They can stick you in right or left field, you can make the adjustment and make it happen.”
All three have had to adjust to life in college. That comes in a lot of shapes and forms – weight room workouts, practices, classroom work, tutoring, scheduling everything to get it all done on any given day.
“I worked out a lot back at home,” Blackman said. “But I was never used to the running after working out, running the stadiums, things like that. So that was a little bit of a butt kick I had to get woken up to. I had to get used to that.”
“I was excited coming in, seeing the level of intensity, how we do things here,” Watson said. “I really didn’t know what to expect at first, but it’s a grind every day. We love the game of baseball. Ben (Fleming, strength and conditioning coach) kicks our butt. Lifting in high school really wasn’t anything. We went to weights but we didn’t really do anything much. Here it’s a whole lot more intense. No rest and everything is fast. Intensity.”
Golsan said he has some immediate goals as well as long range ones.
“First of all, I want to gain some weight and get stronger,” he said. “I just want to earn a spot, come out here working every day to try to do that. Help be a part of something that’s bigger than me. I think the biggest thing I wanted to do is help this team so we can get back to Omaha. That’s the biggest goal for all of us.”
“It’s more like growing up and becoming more responsible,” Watson said of the first semester of their college experience. “Going to class in the morning. Then bust your butt to get to practice, work hard here, then go to weights. There’s only so much time in the day that you have to do stuff. You have to be disciplined. It’s basically growing up. Being responsible. Putting your priorities in order. We’re here to play baseball. Wake up and do it again every day.”
“For me I would say time management,” Blackman said. “I have a lot of 8 a.m. classes. And then I have tutors. I have to get my rest, wake up for my 8 a.m. and go talk to a tutor for an hour, then find time to eat, maybe a nap, then practice. Give it your all, then have more energy to go to weights. It’s all about time management. It’s all about setting your priorities straight on academics, baseball, and then the social life of college.”
Blackman, the long distance Floridian as opposed to the other two who are Mississippians, said having other central Florida players on the team he already knew has helped him in his adjustment.
“Having J.B. (Woodman) and Colby (Bortles) and Sikes (Orvis), all those guys. I played with J.B. two summers in a row. We joke around a lot. He’s like one of my brothers basically,” Blackman said. “I actually committed to Ole Miss before J.B. did. So I always tell him that if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be here. I have all my freshmen friends I’ve met. We all love each other like brothers.”
Blackman was a part of the Orlando Scorpions, his team back home that has influenced Ole Miss baseball heavily the past few seasons.
“My travel ball team has a really good connection with Ole Miss,” he said, as former players like Will Allen, Austin Anderson, and Auston Bousfield are Scorpion alums. “They know if they get an Orlando Scorpion kid, they’ll be hard workers and they’ll play the game 110 percent and take their school seriously. It’s a good thing for us back in Orlando to have the Scorpions promote us the way they do so colleges like Ole Miss will keep coming after us Florida kids.”
Watson said the leadership on the Ole Miss team is outstanding, but that the younger players have learned quickly they are just as much a part as the veterans.
“All the older guys, they’re great leaders. But everybody on our team, we all push each other,” he said. “There are a bunch of leaders on this team. Freshmen like us, we look up to them.
“Probably the biggest goal I have is to be a contributor, whether it’s on the field or in the dugout cheering people on,” Watson continued. “There are only nine positions on the field. If you’re not one of those, and we’re all working to be, but if we’re not one of those nine, we don’t need to have a bunch of bums in the dugout because they’re not out there playing. You need to have a supportive team, cheering each other on and being team players.
“For the spring, it’s trying to earn a spot,” Blackman said of preseason practice. “Be an everyday contributor to make our team better. If we’re on the field, sure, or even on the bench, just be the best cheerleader you can for your team. Try to keep winning and make it back to Omaha.”
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