Brett Basham and Kyle Henson are gone from the program now, and Hightower is the only game experienced catcher returning. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder readily admits he's a better catcher having been a part of the program last season with those two players.
"Last year was definitely a good learning experience," he said. "Basham and Henson were great to learn under. This year I feel I'm a little more prepared. So I'm really excited."
Hightower will likely end up being the Rebels' No. 1 catcher, although there is excellent competition from junior college transfer Miles Hamblin. Hightower says the competition makes both of them better.
"Hamblin's been great," he said. "We hang out a lot. He's very talented and can swing it and can catch and throw. We're pretty similar in some aspects behind the plate. He's got a little stronger arm than I do, and I've got a little quicker feet. He's very talented and can play multiple positions. There's a lot of competition (at catcher), and it's all in the parameters of respect. But in an intrasquad if I throw out two, he wants to throw out three. Then I want to throw out four. So it's definitely good competition back there."
Hightower played in 14 games as a freshman, starting just two. He hit .476 with a double, two RBI and five runs scored, and tallied a .500 on base percentage and a .524 slugging percentage. His two starts came against Austin Peay and Jackson State.
Even with the limited action, Hightower says he's ready to be the guy.
"Getting the few at-bats that I did, I felt I was locked in," he said. "Even though it wasn't a huge number of at-bats, just through our BP and traveling every day I feel I was more prepared than maybe some other freshmen."
A switch-hitter who originally was a right-handed hitter, Hightower continues to work to become better from the left side. He says he's comfortable at the plate from either.
"Last year it was a day by day thing, and some days were tougher than others," he said of hitting left-handed. "Now I feel way more consistent. It's a fun thing. It's an exciting thing to do. Not a lot of people can say they learned how to hit left-handed in a couple of years. I'm still learning it, though, but I'm comfortable with it now."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said he feels good about where Hightower is, even with the limited action of last year.
"There were a lot of expectations for him out of high school," he said. "But there were two seniors here last year. On top of that they were two seniors who played great. It left playing time for (Hightower) at a minimum. One of the regrets I had last year was we weren't able to get him more innings on the field and behind the plate. But with a guy of his caliber, I don't think it will matter. He's ready."
Now that he's the lead guy to take over where Basham and Henson left off, Hightower said he still owes those two a lot as far as what he's learned and how far he's come since arriving in Oxford.
"Mainly the nuisances of our system here," he said. "Learning how to handle our pitchers, and how to work with Coach (Bianco). And to make sure we're conveying the right message to the pitchers, because we're pretty much the channel through which (Bianco) communicates. Just how to carry yourself. How to prepare for big atmospheres. They helped me out with all that stuff, and of course with the mechanical aspects of catching."
One thing should now be certain to all as the season opener nears. Taylor Hightower is prepared and ready.
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