Zach Miller finally got his opportunity last season while the Rebels were in Minnesota and parlayed the opening into a starting spot at second base for the rest of the season. The Memphis native hit .368 and provided the Ole Miss lineup with stability during the conference portion of the schedule and the postseason.
However, last year's successful season doesn't guarantee anything for Miller's sophomore campaign. The Collegiate Baseball Foundation placed him on their Watch List for the Brooks Wallace Award, which goes to the nation's best player, but Miller isn't concerned with awards. He is concerned with playing time.
"Since I have been here, this is the most versatile team," Miller said. "We have so many guys that can move around the infield. It is definitely a challenge to work hard and do your job. It is just the way this program is. Everyone battles. I am battling for a spot too."
There are two spots in the middle infield and twice that many talented players fighting for those positions. The four-headed monster of Evan Button, Sean Stuyverson, Miller and Tim Ferguson is great for depth but bad for finding them all regular playing time.
So, Miller must prove himself all over again. Mike Bianco is aware of his ability, but the newcomers are hungry to take away his position.
"Coach Bianco knows what I am capable of, and hopefully I can do better than last year," Miller said. "Those guys aren't far behind. If you are here, then you can play."
While competition should bring out the best in all involved, Miller has to also shake off a sluggish summer and fall. He participated with the Thomasville Hi-Toms of the Coastal Plain Wood Bat League, but the experience was bittersweet.
The team took home the league title for the second consecutive year, but Miller appeared in only 29 of 56 games and struggled offensively with a .267 average. The hitting funk hung around for the majority of fall ball as well.
"Honestly, it (summer and fall) didn't go very well hitting wise," Miller said. "Defensively, it went good. There were some things I worked on over winter. There are always things to get better at.
"I think the focus and concentration wasn't there as much. Or where it should be. I know for a fact it will be there this spring. It was definitely a slow start that didn't come around."
Miller spent a good deal of last season in the two-hole, so upping his contact percentage is a must for this season. As a freshman, he struck out 42 times in 144 at-bats while only taking eight free passes. The summer was an improvement with 15 Ks in 95 plate appearances.
"As you get older, you try to figure out the weaknesses and straighten those up," Miller said. "But at the same time, you have to stay committed to the things you are doing well. That is what makes a person a better baseball player."
The few months of frustration have weighed on Miller, but he sees the spring as another opportunity and when it really counts. The competition is a good thing, and he knows he can compete and ultimately keep his spot. A little perspective goes a long way.
"It is all about not giving up and staying positive," Miller said. "We are playing a game where you fail seven out of ten times and are considered solid. It is a learning process, and I have realized that you aren't perfect."
Miller ready to fend off competition
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