Time Will Tell

Fall ball is long since past. Most of the preseason practices are over. There was the annual preseason media conference Monday afternoon. And still we have a lot to learn about this year's Ole Miss baseball team.

As old and as veteran as this year's team is on paper, there is still more than a handful of unknowns. Mike Bianco has mentioned time and again that this is likely his oldest Rebel team in nine years.

Certainly having senior Kyle Henson, sophomore Drew Pomeranz, and sophomore Tim Ferguson out for the upcoming three games in Mobile adds to the mystery. Two of those three, specifically Pomeranz and Ferguson, will see significant field time this season.

The infield? Now there's a puzzle currently. Talented, veteran for the most part, but unclear.

How effective will Kevin Mort be, at either shortstop or at the plate? We'll know more after this weekend since he is the starter there; at least he is on Friday. And will Mort be there after Ferguson is back in the mix a week from Tuesday when Central Arkansas helps unveil the "new" Oxford-University Stadium?

How about Evan Button at third? He's been there before and has the skills. Will he stay there when Ferguson comes back? Or will he move to short? And where will Mort go if that happens? And what about Zach Miller, normally solid and certainly seasoned? He's at second, but will he be there for long? Or will there be some sort of platoon system among any or all of these guys?

And what about Logan Williams? Will he be at third? We kinda thought that was his spot, at least we did last summer. He'll be there some. That's another sign of the depth on this team.

First base? Matt Smith. End of story. (Or so it appears.)

More infield depth: Veteran Cullan Kight. The Snyder twins - Matt and Mike.

Obviously the guys who are playing this weekend will be on stage a bit, so to speak, to try to keep their spots. That won't be said out loud, but a good weekend in Mobile will help a player's cause. And obviously the opposite wouldn't be beneficial.

How about the outfield? Logan Power in left and Jordan Henry in center have nothing left to prove. In right? Jeremy Travis has emerged – at least for now – and Matt Mossberg, the former UM outfielder now outfield coach, says Travis is starting in right Friday because of a list of reasons. And it starts with his work ethic.

"He works his tail off on everything he does," Mossberg said of the senior from Spring, Texas, and Northeast Texas Community College. "He's the epitome of our program. He forced us to have him out there. He's earned it."

That's not to say Travis is a "for sure" from now on in the talented and deep outfield. Michael Hubbard, David Phillips, Taylor Hashman, and Cliff Vaughn are all right there as well. And they'll see some playing time, too.

Catcher? Brett Basham. Team captain (along with Matt Smith). Maybe the SEC's best catcher. Likely the most veteran. That position is pretty much Basham's for keeps, just like last year. But Taylor Hightower and Henson are also capable and, well, awaiting an opportunity. Henson will just have to wait a little longer.

Pitchers? Depth and talent aplenty. But this weekend we'll see two virtual unknown starters in Aaron Barrett and Chris Corrigan, both JUCO transfer juniors. And a starter in Phillip Irwin who has toiled and labored at Ole Miss through Tommy John surgery, recovery, rehab, and the patience that comes with all that while also being behind some talented guys.

Irwin had the surprise fall of the staff and continued that into preseason practices. Irwin stuck with it and finally it paid off. He takes the mound against host South Alabama on Sunday afternoon.

Will the Rebels be better defensively this year? There were some breakdowns last year.

Who will emerge as the long-ball hitters? Will the coaches' plan to run more and steal more bases be successful?

Will Scott Bittle be the nation's best closer as many have predicted?

OK, I'll stop there. Lots of questions. And there are more. The future holds all the answers. And that future becomes reality starting on Friday.

Just about every poll has the Rebels picked for another solid season. With the way they've been ranked by almost everybody – from 6th to 12th nationally – most seem to be predicting another NCAA Regional tourney for Oxford.

But that's a long time from now, and every game counts. Three of them are this weekend, and we'll know at least a little more about this team Sunday night.

All in all, one thing's for sure. It's about time to "Play Ball."

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