Welcome to Ole Miss baseball 2005-06 Needless to say, the first day of fall ball Monday had us all looking at our rosters and lineups every few minutes. Coach Mike Bianco says he believes he knows them all by face and by name now. Others of us still learn.
"Usually it's tough to learn them all this quick," said Bianco, starting his sixth year as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. "But for some reason, this year it's been easier."
Maybe it's because the majority of the players who are new are pitchers, and that's where Bianco spends a lot of time – with the pitchers in the bullpen. Maybe there are other reasons.
But the fact remains that if you come to the fall intrasquads over the next few weeks, it's a certainty you will either need a roster or you'll be asking those around you who this or that player is.
"It was nice to see some of the new guys out there today," said Bianco, whose program is coming off its best season yet with 48 wins and a Super Regional appearance at home. "I thought several guys pitched well, Nick Hetland and Garrett White among the newcomers (both juco juniors – Hetland a righty, White a lefty). Jon-Jon Hancock and Will Kline also (both returning sophomores from Tupelo)."
Other pitchers who threw were senior LHP Tommy Baumgardner, senior RHP Stoney Stone, junior RHP Matt Rozier, junior LHP Craig Rodriguez, and sophomore RHP Brooks Villar.
Monday was Scout Day, so much of the attention was given to upperclassmen. For example, new pitchers righty Cody Satterwhite and righty Lance Lynn didn't pitch but most likely will this weekend.
The Rebels went through some running and individual drills for the scouts of the major league teams, then followed that up with some batting practice, infield, and a five-inning intrasquad game.
Bianco mentioned he was pleased with Chris Coghlan at the plate. The junior was 2-for-3 in the contest. He just missed a home run to right. Freshman catcher Basham, Hancock, Alex Presley, and C.J. Ketchum all drew some praise from Bianco for their at-bats Monday.
"There were some others, but in just a short period of time today some guys really did well." Bianco said. "This will be an interesting fall. We do have so many new faces, especially on the mound. We're trying to figure out roles, who will start on the weekends, who will relieve, who will close. Maybe in the last few years that hasn't been quite as complicated because of the guys we returned. But no matter what, each team is always different and unique. This one is no different."
But there are a lot of veterans on the team as well, especially with the position players.
"Coghlan, Cozart, Henry, Ketchum, Mark Wright, Alex Presley, Justin Brashear, Hancock, lots of guys who have been here a year or two or three who have some or even a lot of experience," Bianco said. "So there are some things we know already, and other things we will find out about this team as we go along."
Outside the pitching staff, where it appears everything is up for grabs with Mark Holliman, Eric Fowler, Stephen Head, Anthony Cupps, and Matt Maloney departed, the areas that seem to be more open are first base, right field, and the designated hitter role.
"We have the personnel to fill those positions. It's just that those seem to be the most wide open positions right now," Bianco said. "Which ones will fill those positions, I don't know yet."
There were four players at first base for the most part Monday – Ketchum, freshman Cullen Kight, sophomore Peyton Farr, and redshirt freshman Brett Bukvich.
Among the right field candidates are Hancock, Bukvich, and redshirt freshman Cody Overbeck. At DH, Kyle Mills is a clear possibility along with any number of those who step up as hitters.
So the year after the first Super Regional season is officially underway. Individual workouts along with strength and conditioning have been the order of the past few weeks. Monday seemed like baseball season again. It's now all about building on the great success the program had last year and also in recent seasons.
"At the end of each year, you hear coaches whose teams had great years say that their team had great chemistry and the players loved each other. You hear that a lot when teams do well," Bianco said. "I feel that way about last year's team. Last year's team was very special. People know that because of the amount of wins and the talent we had and the draft afterward and all that. But it was a unique team. We had a freshman All-American (Presley from the year before) who sat the bench much of the year because he was beaten out by a senior (Miles Franklin). We had C.J. Ketchum hitting .400 who didn't play every day, wasn't a starter but was a pinch hitter or a reserve.
"We had Justin Henry that hit .400 most of the year but DH'ed or didn't get into the starting lineup until halfway into the season as a regular player. Justin Brashear was drafted out of high school and he caught again (for the second year) as a backup. We had a guy like Anthony Cupps who was the first pick in the seventh round (this June) who didn't pitch much the last two months of the season. Not because these guys weren't talented enough, but the talent level was so great in front of them.
"And we never had issues. We never had ‘When am I going to play?' We just never had problems. At the end of the year you start realizing what a neat thing that was. We had so much talent and some guys could have questioned a lot of things about their own playing time or this or that. And that never happened last year. That was a very special team. And now we carry on from here. This year's team will have to define who they are in the weeks and months ahead."
|Photos by Jeff Roberson|