Fall baseball starts today

Ole Miss baseball takes the field today for fall practice 2006-07. Lots of questions are usually answered in the fall. Some of them change by spring, however. A number of newcomers are also in the mix for several spots on the team.

Ole Miss opens the 2007 baseball season on Feb. 10 when the University of New Orleans comes to Oxford. The day before that on Feb. 9, C.J. Ketchum turns 24.

The Joplin, Mo., native says he's already taken some good-natured ribbing from teammates and coaches about being the old guy on this year's ballclub. But Ketchum doesn't seem to mind, at least not too much. He's just gonna try to show them that age sometimes beats out youth, even in sports.

And let's be totally honest. Being 24 years old doesn't mean the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is about to reach AARP status or get senior citizen discounts. He's still basically a kid playing a kid's game, albeit a mature one.

But this year things are a bit different. He has a future to worry about now. This year he's showing his versatility and also his willingness to change. As the Rebels begin fall practice today, Ketchum might be over at first base some, where he played last season. He might also be playing catcher as well, something he hasn't done since he was half his current age, when he was about 12 playing in summer baseball.

He didn't really come up with the idea of being behind the plate, but he accepted the suggestion from his Ole Miss coaches back in the summer.

There are several reasons Ketchum might be playing catcher some this upcoming season. One of the reasons, and it's one he likes as much as any, is that his coaches believe it will help his chances of being drafted higher next June if he adds that role to his resume'.

"Coach Bianco said, and I agree with him, that it will help me in my draft status at the end of this year," said Ketchum, in his third season at UM after playing for a year at Crowder CC in Missouri. "Add catcher to my list and that can only help."

There's a lot of talent in this Ole Miss program. But with his prowess at the plate, Ketchum has shown as a pinch hitter his sophomore season and as the first baseman last season, the Rebels need his bat in the lineup somewhere.

And with the veteran Justin Brashear gone to the pros, even with several more catchers in the fold, the team always needs four or five that can play behind the plate.

Sophomore Brett Basham returns. He played in 19 games last season, starting eight. Junior Alex Kliman is back. He played in 13 games in '06 and started six. Freshman Tyler McMullen of Southeast Lauderdale High is also in the mix, as is second-year man Ryan White. Miles Cabecieras would have returned but gave up baseball to concentrate on school at Ole Miss.

Mike Bianco says trying Ketchum at catcher shouldn't necessarily be a news-flash situation.

"I wouldn't read too much into it," said the seventh-year UM head coach, meaning as much as anything that the other catchers, including the returning guys, can obviously play at this level. "It's just being done to give us some more options, and something I think he can handle. If he can't, we won't do it. But so far he's looked pretty good at it."

So who will play at first base? That's a question that could be answered this fall, or it might be preseason practice before we know. Sometimes the answers of the fall don't pan out when the season rolls around.

Last year was a pretty good example of that when the first weekend Tommy Baumgardner, Nick Hetland, and Cody Satterwhite started the opening series. As the season moved on, Baumgardner was relegated to spot starts and relief, Hetland was out for the season fairly early with injury, and Satterwhite became the winningest freshman pitcher ever at Ole Miss with 11 victories, but mostly in a relief role.

Hetland is back after offseason surgery on his back/shoulder area. The junior righty joins a talented and deep staff that could be the team's strength this year. Fourth-year junior Will Kline and sophomore Lance Lynn, two starters the last half of the season (actually more than that for Lynn), also return to lead the pitching staff.

Elsewhere, junior Justin Henry is back at second base, while shortstop Zack Cozart returns for his third year following his gold medal summer. The duo gives Ole Miss a strong middle infield with experience.

Third base is up for grabs with the pro departure of Chris Coghlan, as are two outfield spots with openings left by now-pro-players Alex Presley and Mark Wright. Sophomore Logan Power finished the 2006 season strong, both in the outfield and at the plate.

A host of talented newcomers will be on the field today "officially" for the first time. We'll take a look at them and give you some info and insight concerning the new guys in the days ahead.

It's a new team and a new year, but the Rebels will try to continue the success of previous Ole Miss teams - winning squads which many of the current players have been a part of.

As for Ketchum, he just wants to lead and play – and win.

"It's a new situation for me," he said of being behind the plate some this fall. "There are a lot of things I've learned and a lot of things I'm still learning. I'm looking forward to the fall and seeing how things go. Whatever I need to do, I'll do. I'd rather play than sit. And I'd rather win than anything else."

After today's first fall practice, Scout Day, the time when professional scouts come to Oxford to check out the Rebels each fall, will now be Wednesday afternoon since it was rained out on Monday.

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