By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Changes to college baseball’s metal bats already mean less offense for the game this season.
Now Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco heads into the 2011 season taking steps to protect one of his top offensive producers – first baseman Mike Snyder.
A junior from Centreville, Va., Snyder had 12 home runs and 40 RBIs last year, numbers that no doubt would have been higher had he not missed 16 games and been limited in others because of a shoulder that kept popping out of joint.
Off-season surgery to correct the problem was deemed successful, but Snyder re- injured it on the first weekend of January practice.
The Rebels open the season Friday at 3 against Wright State. Snyder has been cleared to swing, and he’ll do that as designated hitter. It’s not clear when or if he’ll get back on the field.
“We’ll play him when he’s ready. I have no doubt he’ll DH on opening day,” Bianco said. “As far as fielding, we’ll have to see how the rehab goes and what the doctors say about those issues.”
Having Snyder locked in as DH takes away some mixing and matching of the batting order that Bianco could do to shake things up with other athletes.
Snyder is among a handful of key returning players who give the Rebels a feeling of experience and veteran leadership on a roster that features more newcomers (20) than veterans (18).
Ole Miss went 39-24 last year, 16-14 in the SEC and was eliminated from the NCAA tournament at the Charlottesville Regional against No. 1 Virginia. The Rebels tanked at the end, going 6-11 in their last 17 games after putting itself in contention for the SEC championship with a 14-7 start through 21 conference games.
Outfielder Matt Smith, a fifth-year senior, is another key component on offense. Smith also had 12 home runs last year and led the team in hitting with a .347 average.
Production against the league was an issue down the stretch. Snyder, at .356, and the departed Tim Ferguson were the only regulars to hit better than .300 in SEC games.
Bianco will count on plenty of his newcomers to help correct things offensively.
“We feel like we have a good mix,” Smith said. “We’ve got a bunch of new faces, but we’ve got a lot of older guys back too. We think we’ll be talented and will have depth and versatility.”
Who’s playing where
The opening day lineup will have junior college transfer Zach Kirksey in left, sophomore Tanner Mathis in center and Smith in right.
The inexperience shows up on the left side of the infield with true freshman Preston Overbey at third and junior college transfer Blake Newalu at short.
Alex Yarbrough is back at second. Miles Hamblin will play first base and catcher. Smith will fill in at first too, keeping the base warm for Snyder’s hopeful return.
Bianco says Kirksey is the team’s strongest and fastest player. Other outfielders who will factor in early include Jordan King and Matt Tracy.
In his fist season after transferring from Meridian Community College, King appeared in only 13 games last year, batting just nine times.
Tracy was primarily a pitcher last year, though he did hit .207 in 29 at-bats.
“As I said to the players, the first lineup usually isn’t the last lineup, the first (pitching) rotation not the last rotation,” Bianco said. “We’ll be playing different people and looking at different combinations so that when we start conference play here against Alabama we’ll put the nine best on the field.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or email@example.com.