The Boys of Fall - Part I

Mike Bianco enters his 11th fall baseball practice at Ole Miss knowing there's a lot to be determined.

For perhaps the only time in his tenure, there is no returning ace of the staff. Normally there is somebody waiting in the wings or the ace himself returns.

But Drew Pomeranz was drafted in June as the 5th overall pick when the Cleveland Indians made him a part of their organization. Truthfully, all three weekend starters could be newcomers. Potential candidates are freshman RHP Bobby Wahl and junior college transfers RHP R.J. Hively and LHP Austin Wright. All were drafted in June.

"There's no doubt that some of the guys we were worried about (going pro), some or all are playing (this fall) to throw on the weekend as starters when you look at this class," Bianco said about the above pitchers. "There are some guys there that can start on the weekend, and that is why them coming here was so critical."

Pitching was one of the Rebels' downfalls this past season. Pomeranz, not only the cream of this year's UM pitching crop but arguably the best to pitch at Ole Miss in the Bianco era, had a 2.24 ERA to lead the team. Aaron Barrett, the second-game starter (4.34 ERA), has also departed, through graduation.

Jake Morgan

Jake Morgan, the terrific closer in 2009, is set to return from Tommy John surgery. Bianco said that lends itself to more depth in the pitching staff for sure.

"The questions then become what do you do with Brett Huber and what do you do with David Goforth?," Bianco said of the two Rebel veterans who have both closed. "We'll do what we do every fall (with all the pitchers). They'll all throw two innings, three innings, four, five, and we'll watch. The top three guys will start (in the spring), and the other guys will fill up the bullpen."

Huber, a sophomore this time around, returns with the top ERA from last season for pitchers who took the mound for any significant number of innings. The right-hander had 12 saves in 30 appearances and a 3.54 ERA.

Huber was called into significant relief action, mainly as the Rebels' closer, when Morgan was lost for the season, and when Goforth, the original likely candidate to fill the closer void left by Morgan, became a starter.

Goforth's numbers indicated he struggled mightily all season, and that for the most part is true. He had his moments where opposing hitters had a hard time hitting him, especially early in games. But making it through more than four or five innings was difficult. Goforth's ERA wound up 9.43 and his record 1-6 with 22 appearances including 11 starts in 56.1 innings pitched.

Bianco said they will work to help Goforth be a better pitcher this season.

"We're going to try to tweak a few things in his mechanics and his delivery," said Bianco of Goforth, who was drafted this summer but chose to return. "Some different grips and pressure and arm slots with the ball to try to get a little more movement, keep the ball down, try to get a little more sink to it, little more deception. We tried to do it during (last) year, but it's hard. When you get to the middle of the year, you can't over-extend them in the bullpen too much, because they've got to pitch on the weekends. In the fall there's a lot more freedom as far as how much work you can do and things you can do in the bullpen to make some changes like we will to him.

"Will it be an improved changeup or an improved breaking ball or consistency in the strike zone? Certainly we'll work on confidence. At the end of the year (Goforth's) confidence was really shaken, even though he had some good outings. He's had success here and has tremendous ability. We've got to help him have more success.

"We've seen that before with guys like Aaron Barrett and Scott Bittle. They struggled but then the next year they were much more effective. So that's what we're hoping for."

Also returning with at least 20 appearances last season are Trent Rothlin (4.62), Matt Tracy (5.85), Eric Callender (6.19), and Matt Crouse (3.74).

Scott Weathersby, a freshman RHP from Oak Grove, Austin Hartzog, a freshman RHP from Hillcrest, Mike Mayers, a freshman RHP from Grove City, Ohio, and Weston Hoekel, a freshman RHP from Jacksonville, Fla., are all in the mix to help this season on the mound.

Matt Smith

Matt Snyder returns and will likely be the Rebels' first baseman again. But he won't be there for fall ball. That's because he's recovering from shoulder surgery he had right after the Rebels returned from the NCAA Regional in Virginia. The junior should be ready for preseason practice in January.

Snyder was still able to contribute during the 2010 campaign, hitting 12 home runs with 40 RBI, playing in 42 games, mostly as the DH, especially during the second half of the year.

Alex Yarbrough is the leading candidate at second base, and that's because he had a stellar freshman season at the position. The Allen, Texas, product batted .283 with four home runs and 41 RBI. His defense was solid, although his 10 errors led the team. Still it was an important first season for Yarbrough.

"Alex did a great job last year," Bianco said. "We worked with Alex a lot, (assistant coach) Rob (Francis) worked with Alex a lot, and he did a good job. Because of the lack of depth, we just couldn't give him any relief. Or we couldn't take (Kevin) Mort out and let Alex play short. (Zach) Miller (at third), Mort and Yarbrough played like every inning of every game. This year will be different. A lot different."

Shortstop is a question mark. Gone through graduation is Mort, who manned the position with authority the past couple of seasons. There are quite a few candidates, especially among the newcomers.

Juco transfer Blake Newalu is one to watch, as well as freshmen Austin Anderson and Gabe Woods.

"That's the thing – who is going to be the best guy at shortstop?" Bianco said emphatically. "Certainly from a defensive standpoint, we have to find that guy."

Tomorrow: A continued look at fall baseball for the 2010-11 Rebels.

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