Even in his early days as a pitcher for Mike Bianco and the Ole Miss baseball team, Lance Lynn had unlimited big-league potential.

A big-bodied, innings-eater type, he wowed Rebel fans with sheer dominance on the mound. He started 15 of 18 appearances in his true freshman season, the second-most starts of any pitcher on the staff. As a sophomore, he finished the year ranked near the top of the SEC in several categories, including earned run average.

In 2008, his final season in a Rebel uniform, Lynn posted a 7-4 record as the team's Friday starter. He posted 110 strikeouts on the year, and shattered the career strikeout record with 332. He was the only Ole Miss pitcher to record more than 300 strikeouts in a career.

Two years later, and entrenched in the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals, Lynn is again making headlines. In his first full year in professional ball, he made it all the way to Triple-A, and was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

According to Baseball America, Lynn is currently the No. 3 prospect in the Cardinals' system. He was also pegged No. 3 in The Cardinal Nation/ Top 40 Prospect List.

"I had a good first year to build off of," Lynn said Monday when meeting with the media at Swayze Field. "That's what I plan on doing this year. I want to build off that and learn from last year and not make the same mistakes I made at times last year."

Lynn was one of 17 players to receive non-roster invitations to Spring Training last week. Pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla. on Feb. 17, with the first on-field workout a day later.

Going in, the plan is to secure a rotation spot for Triple-A Memphis – a quick move up for a pitcher not long removed from college.

"It's going to be exciting," said Lynn of the invite. "There are only 17 of us who got non-roster invites, so it's cool to be a part of those guys. There are a lot of older guys, too. I think I'm one of the youngest guys. It's just exciting to see what it's going to be like.

"(The Cardinals) aren't scared to move guys up if they're getting the job done," he continued. "They had Jess Todd from Arkansas, who was in Triple A after his first year and then he got traded last year. He was in the bigs last year in his second full year."

A right-hander from Brownsburg, Ind., Lynn was selected in the supplemental first round (39th overall) in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.

He debuted in low-A ball, but has since been fast-tracked to the majors. In May, Lynn joined Double-A Springfield and turned in an 11-4 record with a 2.92 ERA in 22 starts.

"The biggest jump level-wise is High-A to Double A," he said. "You get more prospects in Double-A. High-A has kind of the first-year draft guys like myself. When you get to Double-A, that's where they have their high prospects. Some organizations, that's where they keep most of their prospects. There are better hitters and better lineups 1-9."

Unlike college, Lynn is no longer reliant on bullying hitters with his fastball. Instead, he's learned to throw his secondary pitches in all counts. Last season, Lynn racked up 98 strikeouts in Springfield and nine strikeouts in six innings pitched in Memphis.

"I've done the same things, they just want me to use more pitches," said Lynn. "In college, I was just able to pitch off my fastball. Now I'm throwing all my pitches in all counts, so that's helped a lot."

Throughout his success, Lynn remains even keel. A shot at the highest level is obviously the goal, but not the current focus for a 22-year-old with a bright future ahead.

"I won't know anything until I get to Spring Training. Right now, I'm going into Spring Training looking to win a spot in the rotation in Memphis and go from there," he said.

The Road to Recovery

It's been a long road to recovery for former Ole Miss hurler Scott Bittle.

While selected in the fourth round by the Cardinals in last year's draft, the talented right-hander did not see action after signing due to a lingering shoulder injury. When healthy, Bittle was one of the best pitchers in college baseball.

Lynn has been in contact with Bittle over the past few days, and said his former teammate is well on his way to 100 percent.

"I saw Scott two days ago. He's on his way down to Florida to rehab right now," Lynn said. "Everything right now is healthy. He should be ready to go for Spring Training. I see him starting in High-A, and making a quick move up too if he stays healthy. He should be fine."

Tolbert Biding Time

Matt Tolbert is no stranger to call-ups.

As a member of the Minnesota Twins organization, the former Ole Miss standout has twice made appearances with the big-league squad, only to be sent down at various points in 2008 and 2009.

However, last season, Tolbert saw his most extensive action in the majors. He played in 71 games for the Twins, with 46 hits in 198 bats. Add it up, and Tolbert finished the year with a .232 batting average, .303 on-base percentage and .308 slugging percentage.

With a Spring Training invite in hand, Tolbert is currently in Oxford honing his craft. It's probably a good idea too, considering the 6-foot, 185-pounder figures heavily into the team's plans this season.

"I just came out (Monday) to catch some ground balls and stuff like that," he said. "I'm getting in the (batting) cage a little bit. I've got to report in about two weeks in Ft. Myers, Fla. I'm just out here getting back into the swing of things.

"I'm going to big-league Spring Training. I'll go down there and just try to make a good showing and see what happens."

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