The Rebels are coming off another Super Regional season, their fourth in five years. The outlook for another successful season in 2010 is solid. But fall ball will help sort some things out, let the coaches get to know the team, and allow them to better plan for preseason practice.
In some instances they've already begun making plans. Moving from the infield to the outfield this fall will be first baseman Matt Smith, probably to right, and second baseman Tim Ferguson, likely to center. It's not necessarily an experiment, because it is thought they will stay there. Fall ball will help with that decision and others. David Phillips and Taylor Hashman will be out there as well. Newcomer Tanner Mathis joins the outfielders.
Zach Miller, so solid at third base last spring, is likely moving back to familiar ground at second. Mike Snyder will get a shot at third along with newcomers Alex Yarbrough and Evan Frazar. Kevin Mort remains at short. Matt Snyder will likely play at first where Matt Smith was. Taylor Hightower and juco transfer Miles Hamblin will be behind the plate.
Junior pitcher Drew Pomeranz appears to be the only lock as far as a weekend starter. Aaron Barrett and Kyle Barbeck return, and the fall is obviously important to both. Neither pitched close to his potential last season.
Juco newcomers Trent Rothlin, Eric Callender, and freshman Jordan Cooper will figure heavily into the pitching mix. Rory McKean, David Goforth, Jake Morgan, Matt Tracy, and Brett Huber return.
Two new players are already out with injury. Juco transfer pitcher Jon Andy Scott will have Tommy John surgery for a second time and is out of action for the school year. And juco transfer pitcher Matt Crouse will have a knee scoped and should be back for at least some of fall ball.
There are plenty of other aspects of the team to follow through the fall. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said every year is different.
"I think last year we had a better feel for the pitching staff because of the returners," he said. "Pomeranz, Bittle, Morgan, McKean, Baker, and all those guys. This year we probably feel we have a better handle, if that's the right way to say it, as far as the position players because we return a lot of them.
"The pitching staff is going to be very talented. We just don't know which ones are going to be the guys yet. It's good to return your Friday night starter in Drew Pomeranz, and it's good to return your ace reliever in Jake Morgan. And then some other guys that pitched strong out of the bullpen, like David Goforth and Rory McKean. The question marks become who throws on Saturday and Sunday, and who throws in the middle of the week. Right now we don't know that. Certainly there are a lot of options."
One huge positive for the program this summer has been the large number of former players who have made noise in the pros – significant noise.
David Dellucci, the lone current major leaguer from the pre-Bianco era, was joined in the Big Show by Seth Smith, Chris Coghlan, and Matt Maloney. Smith and Coghlan were headliners quite often and continue to do some special things this month.
Matt Tolbert and T.J. Beam in AAA have been in the bigs, while Stephen Head has been close in AAA for a while and Lance Lynn is in AAA as well.
"It's nice to see that," Bianco said, mentioning that having it come to fruition takes some time. "Once they get through our program, then it's almost like it takes them another four or five years to get through the minor league system. It's a tough road. Seth is in his first full season (left Ole Miss after the 2004 season), and Chris is in his first full season (left Ole Miss after the 2006 season). Over the next few years, hopefully that will continue (for former Ole Miss players)."
In AA are Zack Cozart, Mark Holliman, Tommy Baumgardner, and Cody Satterwhite. In High-A are Alex Presley, Justin Henry, and Cody Overbeck. In Low A are Michael Guerrero and Craig Rodriguez.
Short Season A ball finds recent Rebels Jordan Henry, Evan Button, Kyle Henson, Phillip Irwin, Nathan Baker, and Chris Corrigan. In the rookie leagues are Brett Basham, Will Kline (although he left UM in 2007), Brett Bukvich, and Scott Bittle (rehabbing but has had no surgery; getting ready for spring training).
That's 27 mostly recent Rebels in the pros.
"You look at how many there are, and you see some that have made it up there and some who are on the verge," Bianco said. "You hope the guys up there (in the majors) stay up there, and you hope the others move on up."
Bianco said the success of former Reb players in the pros helps his program in a number of ways.
"They (recruits) all aspire to play pro ball," he said. "Having guys in the big leagues doing well and with so many playing pro baseball. Having 11 guys drafted last year, most in the Southeastern Conference. It's all positive for us."
Bianco also said that while the old stadium was not a negative at all, the new one certainly has already proven its worth in many ways.
"There's nobody that walks into this stadium that's not impressed," he said. "That includes recruits and fans, to opposing fans and opposing teams. Everybody seems to be in awe."
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