The Boys of Fall - Part II

Yesterday was a part I of II look at fall ball for the baseball Rebels. Today is the finale.

Third base is a position that will see a new face. Gone through graduation is Zach Miller, who took over the position the previous year and never missed a beat, making play after play at the hot corner.

Potentially the leading candidate is freshman Preston Overbey, a 42nd round draft choice of Tampa Bay in the June draft. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds and athleticism to go along with his power, Overbey should be a big help to this team for the next three years.

Also in the mix at third is freshman Casey Greene from DeSoto Central.

"The left side of the infield will be interesting to watch this fall," said Bianco, "with all those guys – (Alex) Yarbrough, (Gabe) Woods, (Blake) Newalu, (Austin) Anderson, (Preston) Overbey, and (Casey) Greene.

"Greene will play some third and some second. Overbey will play some third and some first. The other guys are middle guys who will probably second, short, and third, and we'll probably just rotate them every day and see who is going to be the best guy at short."

In the outfield, Matt Smith returns in right, but he could also see some playing time at first, as in the past, and maybe even some at third.

"We may move him around some for his back and his hamstring not to take the pressure," Bianco said. "He's so big, and there's so much pounding in the outfield because they do so much running. That 6-3, 230-pound frame, it's just a lot of pounding out there."

Since Matt Snyder won't be at first this fall as he recovers, Smith, Overbey, and freshman Jordan Poole will get looks there.

"I think Smith will play everywhere this fall," Bianco said, meaning first, third, and in the outfield.

Tanner Mathis

As far as Snyder's recovery from shoulder surgery, Bianco said he is on schedule.

"Everything seems to be fine," he said. "It just takes some time to heal and rehab. It's his non-throwing shoulder. He should be great by the start of the season."

A couple of other pitchers who had Tommy John surgery continue to progress. Jon Andy Scott will be ready for fall ball, while Blair Wright is about six months behind since his surgery was later. He should be ready for the season.

"Jon Andy looks good, looks strong," Bianco said. "For guys that haven't pitched in so long, they work for so long and get the strength back and get that normal feel back. But they haven't pitched in a while and it takes a while to get that feel back and the mechanics and the rhythm.

"Blair Wright is throwing again. It's been a long time for him. It will be very close for him (to be ready for the season). It will be right about that time."

So is this Matt Smith's team? That might be an accurate statement as the Georgian is back for a fifth year in the program.

He had 12 home runs in 2010 and led the Rebels in RBI with 54. His .348 batting average was also team-leading, and he had 14 doubles to also pace the squad in that department.

The other outfield spots are certainly up for grabs. The most experienced returnee is sophomore Tanner Mathis, who played in 40 games as a true frosh and was third on the team in batting average at .330.

Others that should make a move for playing time in the outfield are veteran Matt Tracy, redshirt freshman Brooks Oursler, freshman Jimel Judon, juco transfer Zach Kirksey, Jordan Poole, and Eric Sauls. Besides Smith, it should be an interesting watch to see who emerges out there.

Catcher should be a position of strength for the Rebels. Junior Taylor Hightower and senior Miles Hamblin return with loads of experience. Hightower caught in 48 games last spring, while Hamblin participated in 61 games, some at catcher, some at first base.

Just a ballplayer," Bianco said of Hamblin. "Just one of those guys you love to have in the lineup. He can do anything – play first, catch. Because Matt Snyder got hurt, that really hurt Miles' progression at catcher because it was just easier to put him at first and let Hightower catch. We'll put Miles behind the plate again this fall in the intrasquad games.

Matt Snyder

"Taylor's worked really hard this summer and he really wants it," Bianco continued. "He's been here all summer and caught all these guys in bullpens and really worked hard. Taylor's one of those guys as a coach you love, because he's just going to work his tail off every single day. Doesn't complain. Knows what he has to work on. He's just got to receive better. Too many missed balls. Offensively he was better than he was defensively, and at the beginning you thought it might have been the other way around."

Freshman Will Allen could also make a run at the catcher position in his first season. An extremely talented newcomer, the Gainesville, Fla., switch-hitter was a 37th-round pick by the Pirates in June.

"Will Allen had a tremendous summer with the Dulin's Dodgers (of Memphis)," Bianco said. "He's from Gainesville, Fla. Certainly he's the catcher of the future. But he's a guy that we think has a shot to come in and play as a freshman. And there are a couple of younger guys – Peyton Johnson from Madison Central and Austin Sullivan from Ft. Walton Beach."

Bianco said his staff has put in a tremendous amount of time and effort this summer to get the best players to play here.

"Carl (Lafferty) and Matt (Mossberg) both worked their tails off," he said. "We (as a program) were on the road more than we've ever been. For those guys summer is the hardest time of the year. It's tougher than the season. Rob (Francis) can't recruit on the road (by NCAA rule). But he ran all the camps. He is allowed by NCAA rule to do on-campus recruiting. And he does a great job with that. Just a guy who has been terrific in everything he's done here."

Former UM player Fuller Smith is back as director of baseball operations.

"Fuller is a guy who is one of my all-time favorites as a player," Bianco said. "Just very glad to have him back here. Great work ethic. Loves the program. Loves baseball. Wants to be a baseball coach.

"Like Lafferty and like Mossberg, here's a guy who left the program but worked our camps. So we were able to watch him, and we know he will do a terrific job. He's smart, an accounting major. He's sharp and has a great personality. Everybody loves Fuller. That position has become so important to the program. It's such a huge help to me. It's great for that person in that position, too. They learn a lot of things. They learn how the program's run. They learn everything."

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