Baseball season is right around the corner, and the Ole Miss Rebels opened spring practice this past Friday as they prepare for their season-opening series against TCU Feb. 15-17 in Oxford.
Ole Miss enters the season ranked No. 13 in the country, according to Baseball America. Despite just beginning team practices, head coach Mike Bianco is pleased with what he has seen so far.
“It went well,” Bianco said of the two intrasquads Friday and Saturday. “We had a little bit of everything. We pitched well at times and certain guys pitched pretty well. I thought we swung it really well for the first weekend considering the pitchers they were facing.
“I thought defensively, especially on Friday, we played really well. I think any time you play intrasquads or scrimmages against yourself, somebody is doing well and somebody is not, but this had a little bit of everything. I thought it was a good weekend.”
Filling the holes
Ole Miss will be forced to fill big shoes with the losses of Alex Yarbrough and Matt Snyder to the pros, but Bianco isn’t too worried just yet.
“It’s been the same question,” Bianco said. “Second base and first base and (designated hitter), which way we go with (junior Will) Allen, (sophomore Sikes) Orvis, and (junior) Preston (Overby). They are important questions, but I don’t think they are critical to have answered by Feb. 15. You want to make sure you solidify some type of rotation.”
Yarbrough led the team with a .380 average at the plate, while Snyder added power with 12 home runs and a team-leading 63 RBIs.
Rotation looking strong
Ole Miss will return its top two pitchers, junior right-hander Bobby Wahl, who was named a preseason All-American, and fellow junior right-hander Mike Mayers. This past season, Wahl led the Rebels as the Friday starter with seven wins in 99 innings of work. Wahl also recorded a team-high 104 strikeouts. Mayers won six games this past season, which ranked second on the team, in 92.2 innings of work as the Saturday starter.
The duo appear to be the Friday and Saturday starters, but Ole Miss will be forced to fill the Sunday role after losing R.J. Hively from this past season. However, Bianco feels sophomore right-hander Chris Ellis has made strides to take the spot.
“Through the fall Chris Ellis kind of separated himself from a lot of the guys,” Bianco said. “But other guys like (sophomore right-hander Josh) Laxer have pitched really well. (Left-handed junior college transfer) Austin Blunt, who didn’t pitch this fall, looked really good. So we have as much depth on this staff as we’ve had in quite some time. So, I think we’ll have several options, but in the fall Chris kind of separated himself.”
Both Wahl and Mayers have also noticed the development of a lot of guys on the pitching staff.
“Honestly all the pitchers have, all the freshman look great,” Wahl said. “Chris Ellis looks great. Josh Laxer, Aaron Greenwood, they all had big roles last year, but now from that year of experience, they can go into those roles and really know what they’re doing. I think we have an experienced staff and a talented staff, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
Mayers agreed that this staff has the potential to be something special.
“Chris Ellis had the huge fall, but I think for the most part everyone has,” Mayers said. “(Sophomore right-hander) Scott Weathersby is a guy who hasn’t pitched here yet, but he is going to play a huge role coming out of the bullpen. Josh Laxer hit 94 the other day; that’s going to be another huge guy.
“Everybody is going to have a huge role this year. We’ve got a lot of depth and I think that is going to be a real good thing.”
Coming together as a team
The team has been in high spirits so far preparing for the season and the players have noticed that this is one of the closest-knit teams they have been a part of.
“I’d say the chemistry, and I’ve played on some good teams here, this team is special,” senior outfielder Tanner Mathis said. “Some teams you have all the talent, but you don’t have what it takes to get there, and I think chemistry is a big part of getting there.”
Mayers said he could feel something different in the locker room as far as team chemistry this season.
“The feel in the locker room, this is my third year, and it’s got a different feel,” Mayers said. “It really, truly is a family. I think everybody just enjoys coming out here every day. It doesn’t matter what we are doing for the day, whether we are taking ground balls or intrasquading. We just enjoy being out here.”
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