Feb. 11, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco met with members of the media on Monday to talk about the 2013 season and the Rebels' upcoming season-opening series against No. 14 TCU that begins on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.
“It’s obviously an exciting time of the year for us, with opening day less than a week away. The kids have been going at it since late August when they stepped on campus. We had a tremendous fall and a really good early spring. They’re ready to play somebody in a different uniform, somebody that doesn’t say Ole Miss across their chest. Unfortunately for us, it happens to be TCU. They’re a team that seems to be ranked in the top 10 and a tremendous ball club. I know our guys are just excited to be out on the field against somebody else.
This will be the first team since 2010, with Drew Pomeranz, that will return an SEC weekend starter. It’s got a little bit of a different feel than we’ve had the last couple of years. We return our all-time save leader in Brett Huber on the mound. Six starters were here last year and participated in a regional final. For years, I’ve never put a lot of emphasis on guys that return, until last year after the season. I realized when we were competing in the NCAA Tournament at Texas A&M, that we only had four guys on that team that had ever been to postseason before. When you take into account that we had been to postseason nine out of the last 10 years, we had just missed one year of the NCAA tournament. Our roster, starting lineups and attrition flips over so quickly. You look at guys like Bobby Wahl, Will Allen and Andrew Mistone that got you to where you are in postseason, and they had never experienced postseason before. It was kind of a shocker to me. When we got back from the (Texas) A&M regional, we had (Alex) Yarbrough, (Matt) Snyder, (Brett) Huber and (Tanner) Mathis. Those were the only four guys that had ever been in postseason. This year, we’ll have over 20 guys that have been to postseason. That makes a huge difference.
Another difference is last year’s team lacked an identity. This year’s team certainly has that identity. When you look around, we pitched OK, hit OK and fielded really great. From a media standpoint, it’s not one of those things that’s mentioned a lot. This year’s team you look at who we return. You return two of the SEC starters in Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers, even Chris Ellis who will throw on game three, who pitched last year and had some very good outings in Southeastern Conference play. We return Brett Huber at the back end of the bullpen. Along with that, we have a lot of guys that pitched last year. You look at those three guys and that closer, but you also look at (Josh) Laxer, (Tanner) Bailey, (Aaron) Greenwood, (Hawtin) Buchanan and (Sam) Smith. All guys that pitched last year that pitched in their first year last year and gained valuable experience. Even some new left handed pitching in Jeremy Massie, Austin Blunt and Matt Denny, two junior college kids and one kid from Jackson Academy here in Mississippi. Of course we have two outstanding freshmen in Brady Bramlett and Jacob Waguespack.
At this point, the thing that’s gone under the radar is the offense. We all talk about how pitching, defense and bats kind of change the game. You have to pitch and you have to play defense in college baseball to win. Our offense, that was second in the Southeastern Conference last year, returns six of the starting nine players. When you look, we’ll be as athletic as we’ve been in quite some time. In the starting outfield on Friday will be Tanner Mathis in left (field), Auston Bousfield in center (field) and either Will Jamison and Preston Overbey in right field. If Jamison starts, it will probably be one of the fastest outfields in the country and certainly one of the fastest that we’ve put out there in quite some time. We return Andrew Mistone at third base, who I believe played there all last year with only two errors and actually made both of them in one game. So he played 62 of the 63 games errorless. Austin Anderson will be back at short stop. We have a new started at second base, Lance Wilson. At first base, we’ll either start Sikes Orvis or Will Allen, likely one of those guys will DH if they don’t start at first. Behind the plate we’ll have junior college transfer Stuart Turner.
Stuart comes to us from LSU-Eunice. Physically as talented as any catcher we’ve ever had. He’s had a sensational fall, defensively, receiving and throwing. We’re excited about how he’s grown as an offensive player and a guy that’s going to bat in the middle of the lineup.
Seven of those guys that will start on opening day, played here last year. We have as much experience as I can remember, on both sides of the ball. We have as many pitchers, especially key components to the pitching staff returning, especially when you talk about Mike Mayers, Bobby Wahl and Brett Huber. We feel this is as good of a club as we’ve had in quite some time. We’re excited to get started. John Gatlin, who could have been an opening day starter possibly at second base or designated hitter, dove for a ball last week and dislocated his shoulder. He will be out indefinitely, certainly for the first couple of weeks of the season. We’ll have to see how the rehab goes. We’re hopeful that it will be maybe in early March.”
Coach Bianco on run production:
“When you lose players like in Alex Yarbrough or Matt Snyder, guys that have been in your program and have great offensive careers, Zach Kirksey who had a tremendous senior year, those are three key components to our offense last year that we lost. Just like they matured through the years, we have other guys that are currently doing that, like Auston Bousfield. Bousfield reminds me a lot of what Alex did. He played a lot as a true freshman, actually hit about 10 or 15 points higher than Alex Yarbrough did as a freshman. They’ve gained valuable experience. When I look at guys like Will Allen, that hit a .305 or .306 last year, he’s just had a tremendous fall. He’s ready for one of those breakout type years. Austin Anderson that really swung the bat fairly well last year, but has had a tremendous fall again for us. (Andrew) Mistone, a senior, a lot of those JUCO kids play better as seniors. Of course, Preston Overbey had a tremendous fall. Will Jamison has matured a lot as a hitter. We return Tanner Mathis, one we probably didn’t expect to come back for his senior year. At the end, he was arguably the best hitter on the team at the end of the season last year. A lot of components offensively, not just batting average, we’ll run better. We’ll be able to handle the bat better than we did last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit as many home runs. We lose a couple of boppers in Kirksey and Snyder, but I think Yarbrough only hit a couple of home runs last year. When you look at guys like Will Allen and (Preston) Overbey, Bousfield’s going to hit some home runs, as well as (Stuart) Turner. We’re going to be all right in that category. I think we’re going to score more runs than last year. We certainly need to. That was one of the things last year, we had trouble pushing runs across. We did a lot of great things offensively, but at the end we have to be able to score a few more runs.”
Bobby Wahl on returning as a Friday night starter:
“Last year, I learned a lot as a sophomore, the grind of the SEC and the grind of the whole season. Taking that into this year is going to be big for me. The experience factor of it is going to be huge for me, Mike (Mayers) and a lot of those guys. We’re excited for it.”
On Stuart Turner:
“So much is made up of those position players as far as their batting average. One of the things that stood out immediately about Stuart is his defensive prowess. We wanted him to come in and give us some depth at catching. When he got here and you watched him receive and throw, it didn’t take long to see that this kid is really special. Usually, the defense comes faster than the offense, but he had a tremendous fall in the numbers that he put up when you watch him in BP. Another thing is his personality. He’s very grounded and he’s confident. Pull the talent and the wins aside, this is a neat group of kids. A lot of them have been together for a couple of years now. Sometimes it’s easier on certain teams to find your niche. I think this is one of those teams that some of the new guys felt a little more welcomed. You talk about team chemistry and nobody really knows how to define or explain that. This has been a special group and a group that’s been together for a while. When you look at some of the new guys, like Christian Helsel, Cameron Dishon, Brady Bramlett, Jacob Waguespack and guys like that, they’re going to benefit from this group that’s a pretty tight knit group.”
Brett Huber on his preseason:
“The fall went well. We had a throwing program. I threw some bullpens. I felt good at the end of the fall, but I didn’t pitch in any of the intersquads. Since I’ve been back I feel the strongest I’ve ever been before the season has actually gotten here. My fast ball and slider feel really good and my change up is coming along. I’m excited to go this year.”
Coach Bianco on Brett Huber:
“I’m proud of Brett. Obviously he’s had a lot of success in his career here. Last year was one of those years where when he was healthy and able to pitch, he was really good. There were times last year, with the bone chips in the elbow, that he wasn’t able. That’s tough. It’s tough for a kid, but it’s tough for a team because you’re not sure when you’re closer is going to be ready to pitch that day until you wake up and get to the field and you start to play catch. I’m proud of the way he handled it last year. He had the surgery this summer and got the bone chips removed. He’s terrific, a terrific leader. He’s worked hard. It’s great for the younger guys to watch guys like Brett go about their business, just the maturity. This spring, we’ve thrown him more in the closing role. We’ve kind of prepared him just to come out and throw his inning like he would in a closer role. He’s never looked better.”
Coach Bianco on Chris Ellis:
“You never know when these talented freshmen come in when it will be their time to hop up on the stage and grab their diploma. When are they going to graduate? When are they going to be the guys that you expected? Chris went through that freshman year like a lot of freshman did. He had some really good outings against some really good competition, and he had some outings that probably he’d like to take back. He went and played summer ball. Really towards the end of summer ball, in the last couple of outings, he seemed to take another step more steps forward. Since Chris got back, he’s different. You can tell just by the way he walks around. He doesn’t look like a freshman anymore or even a sophomore that’s trying to find himself still. He walks around like an SEC starter. Certainly he’s always had the stuff. The stuff has always been in him, you just don’t know when it’s going to come out. You watch Bobby (Wahl) as a true freshman and you didn’t know. All of a sudden we kind of pushed him into that closer role. As a freshman about mid-season, he kind of blossomed in the Cape and became a superstar from then on. It happens to different guys at different points in their career. It certainly looks like he’s taking a huge step forward. He’s looking like the guy we always thought he’d be.”
On the schedule:
“Kind of like recruiting classes, everybody is going to talk about how competitive their schedule is and how good it is. Certainly when you open up with a program like TCU, a lot of people don’t understand it. A few years ago they added a week to the season on the front end. When you looked at your schedule, everyone had that open weekend. When we had the opening, Jim Schlossnagle called and we decided we’d start it up again. We didn’t realize we’d actually be playing them in a regional last year, obviously. We started with them, finished with them and we start with them again. Hopefully we’ll be done with them for a while after that. It’s certainly a big challenge. The kids are excited. I know the fans will be excited. It kind of adds something to that opening weekend. You’re always excited to put the uniform on for the first time, but to know that you’re going to have a team in here that’s ranked in the top 10, somebody that’s obviously a really good team and somebody that went to the College World Series a few years ago, it will be a huge challenge for us. We go to FIU. We go to Miami. We always like to go one weekend on the road. To play down in Miami and Florida, where a lot of players are from, and a lot of the commitments that we have are. We like to play in the state of Florida. Another team that’s used to postseason. Turtle Thomas has done a terrific job down there. Of course the Southeastern Conference schedule, 10 weekends and 30 grueling games. We have two trips to Jackson against Southern Miss and Mississippi State and another road game against Southern Miss on our way to Baton Rouge. This is probably about as difficult of a schedule as we’ve had.”
Tanner Mathis on lineup:
“The biggest thing is batters one through nine, there’s no easy out. Even 10, 11 and 12, from what I’ve seen in the fall and spring, everybody grinds for their at bats. Everybody does exactly what Coach Godwin wants us to do as far as the two strike approach and everything goes. It just boils down to us getting on base and having the middle and the end knocking us around and getting us in.”
Coach Bianco on Tanner Bailey:
“He’s been terrific. He had a really good fall. He’s been terrific in his two outings this early spring. He’ll be out of the bullpen with those three guys starting. One of the things that we’ll have that we haven’t had in quite some time, is some depth in that bullpen. Last year that was kind of the thing that we lacked. We actually had to move one of the starters to put him into the bullpen especially when Brett wasn’t at 100 percent. This year, when you look at him, (Josh) Laxer and some of the other guys, our bullpen gets a pretty big boost, guys that have experience. Tanner (Bailey) has been here three years, but was redshirted his first year with the arm injury. He’s another guy that’s pitched in postseason and another guy that has pitched these wars in the Southeastern Conference. He’s an older guy that not only adds depth to that bullpen, but certainly has some great experience and leadership that will help some of the younger guys.”
Bobby Wahl on TCU:
“They’re a really talented team. They return most of their starters. They’re a very well coached team and very discipline. They’re a top 10 team. Obviously pitching against them a couple of times last year, it helps going in there and knowing what that offense is capable of and knowing your opponent. They’re very talented, and I just have to be ready to go on Friday.”
Tanner Mathis on TCU pitchers:
“All three of their pitchers are very good, just like our three. They’re capable of throwing the ball in the low-mid 80s and the one guy in the upper 90s. We just have to stick with our game plan. If we do that I think we’ll be very successful.”