OXFORD – As fall baseball concludes this weekend with intrasquad games, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has a better idea of what he can expect in the spring from his pitching staff.
Pitching helped the Rebels share the SEC regular season championship and reach the NCAA super regionals last year.
But pitching also took the hardest hit in the Major League Baseball draft and was hit hard again in October with the announcement that closer Jake Morgan would miss the coming season after surgery to repair ligament damage in his right elbow.
With those losses, rain, illness and some injuries further slowed the evaluation process.
“We felt good about the end of fall, more than the way it began,” Bianco said. “We were able to get together most of the guys we think will pitch for us this spring and watch them.”
The two who most stood out were sophomore right-hander David Goforth and junior left-hander Matt Tracy.
Goforth excelled as a hard-throwing relief pitcher last year. His emergence in fall ball isn’t surprising. The emergence of Tracy, who pitched only five innings in four non-SEC appearances, might be.
“Matt had much better command. He’s a left-hander throwing in the mid-80s, and command is something he has to have to have success. He had not been consistent in that area throughout his career, but for six weeks of fall he was.”
Goforth made 25 relief appearances, posting a 1-1 record with a 2.80 earned run average and three saves in 351/3 innings.
Bianco’s goal for Goforth in fall practice was to help him transition from reliever to a possible starter.
Goforth ‘Great stuff’
“One of the things we were able to do with David was extend his innings. He hasn’t been a starter since he’s been here,” Bianco said. “He had a ton of strikeouts and didn’t give up a lot of hits. He really had great stuff.”
While junior Drew Pomeranz will anchor the pitching staff, others need to show great “stuff” to help the Rebels compete in the SEC.
Going into spring ball in January, junior college transfers Matt Crouse, a lefty, and Trent Rothlin, a right, right-hander Aaron Barrett and Tracy are candidates to fill starting roles after Pomeranz. Bianco will identify his starters first and put together a bullpen plan afterward.
Position players were a less complex issue through the fall. Bianco said veterans Matt Smith and Tim Ferguson transitioned well to the outfield and were consistent for six weeks.
The surprise of fall practice was true freshman Tanner Mathis, a left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder, a two-time all-state selection from Lake Charles, La.
Bianco compared him to outfielder Jordan Henry, who left after last season to begin a pro career.
“If we started today he would probably be our leadoff hitter,” Bianco said. “I’m not sure if he’d be in left or center, but he can handle the bat, take pitches and he’s a very good hitter. He’s a guy we think will be a big addition to our lineup.”
The Rebels went 44-20 overall last year, 20-10 in the SEC.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal