By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The class of Ole Miss baseball newcomers is loaded with pitchers who will fill key roles in 2012, but the most important role won’t likely be cast to a freshman or junior college transfer.
As the Rebels continue through fall drills, sophomore Bobby Wahl appears on pace to be the Friday starting pitcher.
In the spring Ole Miss will try to bounce back from a 30-25, 13-17 SEC campaign in which the Rebels had a run of eight consecutive postseason trips snapped.
A year ago it was Wahl who arrived as a freshman with big expectations after having been named the prep player of the year for both the Washington, D.C., metro area and the state of Virginia following his senior season at Springfield, Va.
An elbow injury dealt him at a setback last February. Wahl had his moments as a freshman but was less dominant for Ole Miss than he proved to be during the summer when he was named to the Cape Cod League all-star team as a closer with a sub-2.00 earned run average.
“He looks strong, he looks confident, and he looks like he’s ready to become the ace,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Wahl pitched primarily from the bullpen as a freshman and was 0-2 with four saves in 18 appearances over 30 innings.
The injury caused Wahl, a right-hander, to cut his teeth during conference play as opposed to gaining experience during the non-conference season.
“There were games he did well, but at times he didn’t finish the way he would have liked,” Bianco said. “That’s why the summer was so important for him to have success against some really good competition in the Cape Cod League.”
Bianco believes Wahl can make an easy transition from reliever to starter.
“We think it’s in him, and so far we’ve seen that in his pitching two or three innings at a time.”
Ole Miss must replace all three of its weekend starters. Also gone is closer Jake Morgan who was limited by injury but did not allow an earned run in his 25 innings over 11 appearances. He had six saves.
Bianco said he is hoping to see a handful of returning pitchers take steps forward, noting R.J. Hively, Mike Mayers and Brett Huber specifically. All pitched from the bullpen in 2011. Within the group, Huber’s 3.60 ERA was best, but his numbers were down from two years ago when he was named freshman All-America.
Newcomer pitchers Hawtin Buchanan, Josh Laxer, Chris Ellis, Dylan Chavez and Aaron Greenwood will contend for innings and could find spots in the weekend rotation. Chavez, a left-hander, and Greenwood are junior college transfers.
“They’ve really done well,” Bianco said. “There have been a lot more positives with the newcomers, especially this class. It’s pitching dominated, and it’s been great to see a lot of new faces doing well on the mound.”
Ole Miss opens its season Feb. 17 at TCU and opens a 12-game homestand on Feb. 21. League play begins March 16 at home against Auburn.
Fans hoping for a glimpse of Ole Miss baseball can get that on Oct. 15 with the Red-Blue game at 1 p.m., a scrimmage with equally divided teams. Admission is free, and the Bullpen Club will host a yard sale featuring Ole Miss jerseys and other apparel. The football kickoff against Alabama is set for 5 p.m.