Diamonds in the Rough

A tweet from Ole Miss baseball strength and conditioning coach Ben Fleming Monday signaled the second semester had begun and so had his intense summer workouts for the Rebels.

The newcomers have arrived and are getting indoctrinated into the ways of the college baseball world. Fleming loves working with the new players and teaching them the ropes of what it takes to succeed at this level.

“It’s a huge pitching staff,” he said as he enters his third season with Ole Miss baseball. “Something like 15 of the new guys are pitchers. Getting those guys ready is an important part of it.”

Most of the returnees are playing summer baseball. But some are in Oxford. The returners who are on campus this summer are Brady Bramlett, Matt Denny, and Cameron Dishon, along with those still recovering from arm surgery and rehab – Sean Johnson, Preston Tarkington, and Brady Feigl. (More from those three pitchers and their recoveries in the next few days.)

It’s basically the first real summer back for Bramlett, who pitched this season at 100 percent but was not at that point this time last year after shoulder surgery.

“Getting him ready to go for a season is important,” Fleming said. “Now we can get him ready for a normal fall and then on into next season. We keep going and building on his frame and his muscle endurance. He’ll be a better pitcher this (upcoming) year than last year, because he’s had more time to get his body ready and to get his arm in shape.”

There are several marquee names for the class, either players who were highly recruited, were among the best in the country, or who were drafted.

Right-handed pitcher Dallas Woolfolk of Desoto Central, RHP Andy Pagnozzi of Fayetteville (Ark.), and junior college RHP Chad Smith of McCalla, Ala., are but a few of the talented arms among the newcomers.

Fleming said he enjoys getting the new players acclimated to their surroundings in the weight room and in the conditioning program.

“It’s always important to get the new guys activated into our routine,” he said. “We want them to be able to come in, get used to things here, and get ready to become impact players right away.”

Fleming said for the most part the position players and pitchers are divided into two groups. Of course, this year’s summer is pitcher-heavy.

“The pitchers do 100 percent different stuff as far as their upper half is concerned,” he said. “They attack the lower body and legs the most (in the weight room). Position players do the same thing (lower body). But upper body it’s different for them.”

Fleming said the summer isn’t meant to be any kind of walk in the park. It’s a tough grind, and the players know that coming in.

“A lot of the summer is a boot camp type thing to get them into that high-paced routine and ready for the fall,” he said. “We’re getting those guys used to that Mississippi heat, because it will stay hot until October. That way they’ll be ready to go.”

Fleming said this past spring, although the team’s record wasn’t as positive, was still a good one as far as the squad’s strength and conditioning. He was pleased with how they worked and how they prepared.

“Physically and ability-wise, like bigger, faster, stronger and all those adjectives you can use, last year’s team was all of that,” he said of the 2015 Rebels. “I think we had a faster team this past year (than in 2014), although that’s hard to believe. We had great athletes. They were fit and physically prepared to play the game. And we always pride ourselves on doing that and being that way.”

Some of it was carryover from his first full year with the Ole Miss baseball program in 2014.

“Last year we maintained that level we built the year before,” Fleming said. “This year the guys know the culture. They’ve heard all about the summer stories. They know it’s hard. They’re mentally prepping themselves for this battle of four weeks of summer and four weeks when they return before fall ball starts and we’re actually throwing the baseball around on the field.”

One note of toughness. Fleming said junior college RHP Austin Sanders (Hinds CC) from Madison brings some special prep work to the group.

"He's done some MMA in the past," Fleming said. "He's done mixed martial arts. When we talk about toughness, guys who have been in the ring and done some things like that, that's pretty cool. I'm sure he'll share some stories."

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