Fleming said the players are back in their comfort zone when they are in the Starnes Training Center. It’s a place they call home, just like the Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field facility not that far away.
“It lets them get their feet back under them,” he said. “It’s not the same when you go back home and train with your high school buddies or you meet up with one or two of the guys on the team here in your area. It’s just not the same as having 35 guys around you and working together.”
So they’ve returned, for the most part, and preseason practice officially begins next week. Fleming got a good look at the players in the fall and in the weeks leading up to Christmas break. He has a few evaluations of some of them as mid-January has arrived.
“A guy that really jumps off the board for you, and he was a freak athlete last year but is miles ahead this year, and that’s Jake Waguespack,” said Fleming of the 6-foot-6, 215-pound junior right-handed pitcher. “I feel he’s kind of got a chip on his shoulder and has more self-confidence. He has the highest vertical on the team (38.5 inches), the biggest broad jump. He’s in our top ten of our 60-yard dashes (second on the team at 6.43 seconds). He’s just a freak athlete and has a lot more self-confidence this year.
“Another is Matt Denny. He had a good summer in the Cape, and he has really stepped up as a leader with the pitching staff. Matt in the weight room, taking care of his body, and staying healthy, he’s really pushed himself. Did he want to be a guy that just comes in and pitches one inning? Or did he want to be a guy that makes an impact this year? That was his decision as to which way he wants to go.”
And Denny, a 6-1, 215, junior left-handed pitcher, accepted the challenge. He’s in the top half of the squad in vertical jump (31.5 inches). He’s the team’s strongest player in the weight room with a back squat of 500 pounds and a front squat of 440.
“Another is Cameron Dishon,” Fleming said of the 5-10, 170, junior outfielder, who is also one of the strongest players on the team as well as one of the fastest. “He knows he’s not guaranteed a position in the outfield just because players left last year. Cam has really stepped up and gotten out of his comfort box. He knows if he wants to play, he has to hit, he has to lift hard, he has to run fast, and he has to put all his tools together. So he’s really stepped up.”
Fleming, like probably everyone in Rebel Nation, is a Sikes Orvis fan.
“A fun one to watch is Sikes,” Fleming said of the 6-2, 240, senior first baseman. “Can Sikes take over the same leadership role that others had last year? Sikes is a little more of the jokester, a very jolly guy. But on the field he will need to lead like Will Allen did last year. In the weight room, in the conditioning, and in the competitions we’ve done, he’s definitely done that. Physically and mentally he’s shown he’s ready to take over that role.
“J.B. Woodman (6-2, 205, sophomore outfielder, and the fastest 60 time on the team at 6.42) I think puts a lot of pressure on himself. At times maybe too much pressure, because he feels he needs to be ‘that guy.’ But one thing that has helped him is that his good friend and another Orlando Scorpion, (freshman infielder) Tate Blackman, has no problem challenging him physically and on the field to compete. That’s been a very positive thing to have happen. J.B. has shown a lot of growth leadership-wise. In the weight room he has grown and developed.”
Fleming said a couple of older pitchers will also lead.
“Scott Weathersby (6-2, 180, senior RHP) is a born leader and has the respect of his teammates. You put great character along with ability, then guys immediately respect you and buy in to what you’re saying, almost like a player-coach.
“Christian Trent is Christian Trent,” he said of the 6-foot, 185, junior LHP. “He is who he is. He’s that guy who can be the jokester and care-free. But he is 100 percent a gamer. He has a great balance of letting it go, but then getting it locked in and being pretty much unhittable. He’s continued to develop his body. He’s never going to be the specimen of a body. But he’s gotten better and really knows how to take care of himself now to stay healthy to make sure he can duplicate or do even better than he did last year. He wants to show he can lead and be a reliable impact player for the team.”
Colby Bortles (6-5, 230, sophomore infielder) made a move late last season to become an even more productive player. That carryover will be important for the Rebels this season.
“You look at Colby and you still see so much raw potential,” Fleming said. “But physically and mentally he’s not a freshman anymore. He’s come out of that shell. He wants to be a starter on this team. He’s shown he wants to be that guy who doesn’t sit on the bench and wait his turn. He’s bigger and stronger than ever, and that’s going to happen when you have a guy with that size body. That’s the same thing I saw in Preston Overbey and Sikes Orvis last year. All those big position players. The harder you push them, the more they’re going to grow no matter what, because they are freaks.
“Joe Wainhouse (6-6, 250, freshman infielder) is another big body guy. Joe is a power hitter. He’s got some self confidence. He’s like Colby was last year. But he’s even bigger than Colby. One thing about both Colby and Joe is they’re really good athletes. They run really well for big guys. That’s why they’re here, obviously. They’re two good athletes and players, and they’ve pushed each other this year.”
Senior catcher Austin Knight (5-11, 190) is another that Fleming said has done what it takes to be in position to become a real key for this team.
“Austin Knight is one of those guys who will be a coach one day. His dad’s a coach, and Austin is a leader. Can he hit? Can he take over that catching role? Can he put all those tools together? He’s definitely cleaned up his body. He’s stronger than he’s ever been, and he’s got more self-confidence. Hopefully that will translate on the field for him to make a better impact.”
The key role players for the middle infield are one veteran and three new guys for the two positions.
“Errol Robinson (5-11, 170, sophomore) has really made a great jump as far as his strength and his speed,” Fleming said. “(Freshmen) Tate Blackman (6-foot, 180), Will Golsan (6-1, 165), and Kyle Watson (6-3, 187), they’re all very hard workers. They have great, lean bodies and they’re athletic players. None of those guys do you have to tell them to buy in. They’ve bought in no matter what. They were all stars on their teams, and they want to compete and they want to play. They can all play second base, or shortstop, and they can play somewhere else on the field because they’re all great athletes.”
Fleming said there are others who are having significant offseasons, and he knows they still have time to improve even more before the season begins on Feb. 13.
As for himself, Fleming is a newlywed. He and his wife, Alexis, were married on Dec. 6, 2014, back home in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“We love being here,” he said. “I get to focus so much attention on baseball. The daily ins and outs of the program only get better every year, especially at a place like this with so much history and such a great coach like Coach (Mike) Bianco. Everything will only get better, and we can see that physically with this recruiting class over the year before. Year to year, that’s exciting.
“Last year was special, but there’s still unfinished business. We have a lot left to prove and to accomplish.”
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