By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
It’s been almost four months since the Ole Miss Rebels hit the baseball diamond as a collective team.
That changes with the start of fall baseball. While Mike Bianco and his staff have been working with various players the past few weeks, fall ball is the first time for everyone to get together, and work towards the 2016 opener against FIU.
“This is the time of year that’s really exciting. You wait for a long time once the season ends. Of course over the summer there are a lot of camps and recruiting, but we’re all baseball coaches and we can’t wait to get back out on the field again,” Bianco said a few days before the first practice on Friday. “It feels like it’s been a long time. We got back out on the field really the second day of school and we’ve been doing what they call skill work where you work with small groups. The way we do it, we use the skill work portion for about four weeks and then we start the fourth Friday, which is Sept. 18 this year. That’s when they consider it official practice and then you have a 45-day window to get your practices in.”
Some of the things that the Rebels have done over the first month of school include bullpens for the pitchers, batting practice, bunting drills and then installing the system, on the mound, and in the field. All of it is done to give the players a better grasp of what they are trying to accomplish once they start practice. There are 11 new pitchers on the roster, but Bianco said everything has to be worked equally.
“You don’t want to neglect one phase of the game because you’re concentrating so much on another,” Bianco said. “This is the most pitchers that we’ve signed in one particular recruiting class and it wasn’t necessarily by design. It was were the needs were and what we needed in the program. But it’s been fun. There are some new faces, and some very talented guys and a great group to work with. I’ve watched the hitters but Coach (Stephen) Head and Coach (Mike) Clement have been with them the whole time. It’s been a fun four weeks, more energy in these last four weeks than I can remember in this length of time.”
Of the 16 signees for the 2016 team, 14 were on campus during the summer. That means strength coach Ben Fleming was able to introduce his style of workouts to the vast majority of the newcomers, Bianco said.
“They were able to get a feel what the workouts and the conditioning were all about so that when August came, we hit the ground running,” Bianco said. “Two years ago, with the addition of Coach Fleming, we really tried to get back to who we were as far as a toughness, and a competitive standpoint. We really pushed them. I think we did the same last year. There is a culture, a standard. We don’t have to be able to run a marathon so to speak or bench press or squat a certain weight. The strength and conditioning is something that we feel is a difference maker and something that we think can help us win baseball games.”
Brady Bramlett is back to lead the rotation, and Bianco said it was “huge” anytime a team returns an SEC starter.
“Especially someone who had a great year and somebody that was solid from week one until the end like Brady was. I always think as a coach that makes you feel good that you know you have one guy that has SEC experience and can kind of be the anchor for everyone else,” Bianco said. “(Christian) Trent doesn’t return, but it was a tough call. Part of him wanted to return and another part was he was three or six hours from graduating, so it was less than one semester of school left. In our hearts, there was a better shot of him leaving than him coming back. So we are certainly glad to have Brady back.”
There are seven returners from the 2015 team back in the field. Bianco said he consciously put a lot of pressure on players like Errol Robinson, Colby Bortles and JB Woodman when they were sophomores.
“We had a handful of freshmen that were integral parts of that 2014 team, so I put a lot of pressure on the returning veterans. We have seven of those nine back and a lot of those guys like Errol and like Colby, they have over 500 SEC at bats under their belt,” Bianco said. “That makes a big difference. When you look at us on paper, that’s one of the positives.”