Fall ball clears up only a few things

Fall baseball practice went very well and was again competitive for the Ole Miss Rebels. But many of the questions to be answered appear that they'll carry over into January; not all that unusual but more than usual, it seems.

Fall baseball practice is officially over but a lot of questions remain. It's always like that, but this year there may be more than usual left to answer.

One that appears to have gotten answered is catcher. Sophomore Brett Basham separated himself from the pack the past four weeks.

Other catchers in the mix for backup duty are C.J. Ketchum, in his first role behind the plate since junior high school, Dan Black, the talented freshman from Indiana who also could see time at third base or designated hitter, and four more freshmen – Ryan White, a redshirt who was here last year; Tyler McMullen, who also pitches; Scott Haltom; and Zach Rutland.

Besides Basham's emergence as the top catcher for the season of 2007, some other roles aren't as apparent. Like first base, for example.

Ketchum, the Rebels' first baseman last season, didn't see much time there this fall and was even in the outfield for a few innings late.

Freshman Andrew Clark, the Gatorade Player of the Year from Indiana last spring as a high school star, may be slightly ahead of the others at first base. But preseason practice in January is likely to decide the starting job among several players including Clark, dependable fourth-year junior Peyton Farr, and redshirt freshman Cullan Kight, who had a sensational last weekend of fall intrasquads at the plate.

Second base and shortstop appear to be, and not surprisingly so, Justin Henry's and Zack Cozart's respectively. Henry, the fourth-year junior who played there last season, and Cozart, the third-year junior who is an All-American candidate, will again be a solid middle infield.

Their backups are several and able – sophomore Evan Button, redshirt freshman Zach Miller, true freshman David Kindred, and third-year sophomore JoJo Tann.

At third base with All-American Chris Coghlan gone, it doesn't appear any one player has emerged for certain. The main two players for the spot appear to be third-year sophomore Cody Overbeck, who won the Keshel Cup as the best offensive player statistically for the fall, and redshirt freshman Devin Hicks, who was strong at the hot corner most of the fall.

That battle could involve others, like Button or Black. But for now it looks like Overbeck or Hicks at third. January will again be crucial to finalizing things there.

Logan Power, the third-year sophomore who played extensively last season, appears to be a lock for one of the outfield spots. Other than him, it's a guess among several, including veteran Jon-Jon Hancock; juco newcomer Fuller Smith, who had a terrific early fall but pulled a hamstring which set him back late; junior Alex Kliman, who was quite good offensively; true freshman Jordan Henry, whose speed and hustle were eye-opening this fall; and true freshmen Matt Smith and Chad Sage, who had their positive moments in the fall.

Bottom line in the OF: Lots of talented players to choose from as the Rebels search for the best combinations out there after the departure of veterans Alex Presley and Mark Wright to the pros.

Once again it was disappointing for the player himself and for the program that Kyle Mills, the national juco player of the year two years ago, wasn't able to go through practices. He continues to recover and rehab from a second surgery on his elbow (this one to clean up bone chips after the first surgery). The belief is that Mills will be ready for the season and can finally show the tremendous power we've all heard he has with the bat.

Pitching, with experience and depth, was never a real highlight for the fall, especially early. But the last couple of weeks several pitchers seemed to step up.

Newcomers Scott Bittle and Nathan Baker made some noise throughout the fall and could contribute heavily this spring. Baker didn't have his best stuff in his last appearance, but before that was sensational. Bittle was basically unhittable all fall, and several of the hitters said so.

Nick Hetland returned strong from injury and appears to be in position to help out this spring as well.

Cody Satterwhite was shut down early in fall practices to rehab and heal up some tendonitis in his shoulder. He should be 100 percent in the new year and will obviously be a big part of the Rebel's arsenal again. Juco transfer Michael Robbins from Southaven and Meridian CC was also limited this fall due to soreness, and we didn't get to see what he can do.

Will Kline, Craig Rodriguez, Lance Lynn, Brett Bukvich, and Jesse Simpson all got lots of innings and pitched well. They'll be a big part of the staff in 2007, just as they were in 2006.

Redshirt freshmen Wade Broyles and Rory McKean had some good outings, and newcomers Jake Morgan, Tyler McMullen, Kevin Parker, James Wiley, and Colby Wark showed signs that they can help this season. Thomas Flautt got in a lot of work, while Justin Cryer and Phillip Irwin didn't see live action this fall after Tommy John surgery a year ago.

Six of the Rebels' 20 pitchers on the current roster are left-handed: Baker, Bukvich, Parker, Robbins, Rodriguez, and Wiley. The others are listed as righties.

My evaluations after fall ball: Generally speaking, another very talented team for the Mike Bianco era with a lot of depth throughout, maybe more depth than usual. Bianco admitted it may have been more competitive than any fall since he's been here as far as clearing up who plays where for the spring.

In other words, there are a number of players who can play at various positions. And while fall ball gave the coaches a good look at most of them, they will continue to evaluate throughout the winter and into January and February.

Some fans want to know "if this is the year" the Rebels make it to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 1972, which was Ole Miss' fourth alltime appearance there.

The answer, while not completely known by anybody, goes something like this.

As long as this head coach and staff are here, and the commitment to the program is as strong as it's been from the administration, and recruits all over the country continue to see what it means to play baseball at Ole Miss because of all that plus the great fan support, then any year could be the year. When you continue to knock on the door, it will open.

The Rebels are knocking and have been for three years. They should knock again in the spring and summer of 2007. We saw that this fall.

(There will be some comments on the fall from Bianco and additional stories on the players in the days ahead on this website; also final fall stats.)

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