Baseball Notebook

The anticipation for baseball season is nearly over as the Rebels begin spring practice Friday and are scheduled for intrasquad scrimmages Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. Go inside for thoughts on the Rebels and a few notes before official team practice begins.

Captains Chosen

The players have voted Evan Button and Fuller Smith as team captains for the upcoming season. Smith, a senior outfielder and Button, a junior infielder, were both utility players that moved around last season. Smith split time between outfield, designated hitter and being a capable left-handed bat off the bench. Button has played all four infield positions and outfield since coming to Oxford and is currently battling Sean Stuyverson for the right to replace Zack Cozart at shortstop.

I like the team captain picks because you won't be able to find two other players that want the team to succeed like Button and Smith. Both are fiery guys that compete hard everyday and have done an excellent job of handling adversity during their careers. Smith keeps things upbeat on and off the field and admirably excels in his unordinary role of team leader that may not see the field on a regularly scheduled basis. His team-first mentality should be a big positive for the younger guys and newcomers.

Button could have played at other schools and been the main star from day one, but instead the Missouri native eagerly waited behind Cozart and filled in at multiple positions during the first two seasons. He has a plus bat and can do anything defensively but pitch or catch. This is the year Button will play everyday, but it remains to be seen if he will be stationary at one position. Either way, he is also a great example for others to follow.

Random Thoughts

Come out to the scrimmages this weekend, and pay close attention to these position competitions.

The catcher position is a two-way race and is as tight as possible. Incumbent Brett Basham and JUCO transfer Kyle Henson went back and forth all fall and are entering the spring dead even. Henson has the reputation as the better stick, while Basham has the market cornered on excellent defense. The key to watch is Basham's offense. If he can be productive with quality at-bats, then I believe he will play. Mike Bianco is a former catcher and puts an emphasis on defense. Henson will need to standout with the bat if Basham matches his fall production.

I mentioned Stuyverson and Button earlier, and the two have separated themselves from others in the middle infield. Early on, both will fight toward the one position, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the loser get a hard look at second base if Zach Miller starts out slow. Miller slumped during the summer and fall after received Freshman All-America honors for a standout first season. Miller can make the spectacular play, so his offense and contact numbers are the most important variable. For Button and Stuyverson, defense may be the thing that separates them. Teams ranked in the top five nationally don't have many weaknesses, but defense in the middle infield may be one without Cozart. Both can produce offensively, so it will be an issue of who is more effective with the glove. As noted before, Button will most likely play another position if Stuyverson takes short.

Matt Mossberg was confident in saying Ole Miss has the best complete outfield nationally, and that statement will be on display quickly as five frontrunners look to fill three positions. The DH could also come from this group. I will go out on a small limb and say Jordan Henry is a given. The SEC Freshman of the Year will play somewhere in the outfield and hit leadoff in 2008. Past that, Logan Power, Michael Guerrero and Michael Hubbard are all similar players that can hit for power, hit for average, run and play spectacular defense. Fuller Smith is the wildcard because he possesses a bat but can't match the others' defensive skills. This competition is fun because the Rebels are in a no-lose situation. There is more depth available than any other of Bianco's teams. Choosing two of Guerrero, Hubbard and Power is impossible at this point. Also, all three plus Henry can play centerfield. Not many balls will find gaps with this crew roaming.

We know Lance Lynn is the Friday night guy. We hope Cody Satterwhite is the Saturday guy. After that, you can probably flip a coin. My money is on Nathan Baker. He threw solid games in the Sunday slot as a freshman and returns with the experience to deal with that role. His fall was decent, and given the past success, Baker will have an opportunity to lock it down. The next two options are Scott Bittle and Brett Bukvich. Bittle has a little momentum after relatively silencing Vandy during the SEC Tournament last season and seems comfortable starting games. Bukvich is still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, but the left-hander has started in the postseason and is arguably Ole Miss' most experienced arm. His array of pitches and ability to power his fastball gives teams that struggle with southpaws fits. Also, keep an eye on freshman Drew Pomeranz. He doesn't appear ready for that stage, but his raw talent is undeniable.

Another close race is first base. Matt Smith and Cullan Kight seem to be about even heading into practice, and neither has a ton of experience. Smith has none and has only played the position during last summer in a wood-bat league. However, both can hit for power, and Smith is an athlete that seems to adapt quickly to all positions. Kight may have trouble holding off Smith.

Baker and Basham are two players I feel good about this year. Baker had a little aw shucks about him as a freshman, but he seems more seasoned and confident this time around. He is a lefty that can hover above 90, so confidence can make him very dangerous. Basham was noticeably shook after losing his job late last season to Alex Kliman, but the catcher had a terrific summer in the Cape and is very comfortable in his own skin right now. Henson and himself are having fun with the battle, and I think the summer success may turn out to be what pushes Basham into an elite player. Although, it is a long season, and both guys will play. Having two catchers is a great thing with this uniform start date.

My opinion on a projected Opening Day lineup

C – Brett Basham

1B – Matt Smith

2B – Evan Button

SS – Sean Stuyverson

3B – Cody Overbeck

LF – Logan Power

CF – Michael Guerrero

RF – Jordan Henry

DH – Michael Hubbard

SP – Lance Lynn

SP – Cody Satterwhite

SP – Nathan Baker

Closer – Justin Cryer

Midweeks – Scott Bittle, Rory McKean, Phillip Irwin.

Notes: Miller's offense coming around puts him at second with Button at first or third. Overbeck could shift to DH or maybe get a look at first if Matt Smith starts slow. Fuller Smith could also go at DH depending on righty/lefty.


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