Changes in outfield work well for Rebels

OXFORD – While consistent rains have made scheduling fall baseball practice problematic, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has seen enough to be pleased with two major position changes.
Tim Ferguson and Matt Smith have looked good in the outfield.
The Rebels are about mid-way through a 45-day window to get in 27 practices.
Ole Miss went 44-20 in 2008, sharing the SEC regular season championship with LSU and advancing to an NCAA super regional for the fourth time in five years.
One of Bianco’s goals for the fall has been to rebuild an outfield that lost full-time starters Logan Power and Jordan Henry and half of a platoon system between David Phillips and Jeremy Travis in right field. Phillips, a senior who batted .290 in 27 starts last season, is back.
Ferguson and Smith, both juniors, have been infielders throughout their college careers, though Smith played outfield in high school.
The outfield was well-stocked when Smith arrived four years ago. He broke into the everyday lineup at first base as a redshirt freshman in 2008.
Ferguson’s .358 batting average led the team last year, though he shared time at second base.
Bianco said the move to center field gives him a chance to use Ferguson’s speed and athleticism in the lineup everyday.
“These guys have both done terrific, and that’s not surprising,” Bianco said. “This is somewhat of an experiment, but not totally. We’re not searching. We think they will be a great fit.”
With Ferguson in the outfield, fifth-year senior Zach Miller moves back to second base.
That will likely put sophomore Mike Snyder at third base. Bianco says Snyder has improved enough defensively to handle third base. He was redshirted last year while his twin brother Matt contributed as a true freshman at designated hitter.
“We knew both of them could hit here,” Bianco said.
Matt Snyder is the favorite to replace Smith at first base.

Competitions are brewing
A competition is brewing at catcher between sophomore Taylor Hightower and junior college transfer Miles Hamblin.
Most positions aren’t locked in, necessarily, but the pitching is far less settled, especially since the loss of closer Jake Morgan to torn ligaments in his elbow.
Weather and other factors have kept Bianco from learning as much as he’d hoped about his staff by this point in time.
After a summer with USA Baseball, left-hander Drew Pomeranz has been rested this fall. Bianco said returnees Aaron Barrett and David Goforth have pitched well, but mononucleosis and meniscus surgery have sidelined Trent Rothlin and Matt Crouse, junior college transfers who are expected to compete for starting roles.
Senior middle reliever Rory McKean is back, and redshirt freshmen Brett Huber and Blair Wright are also in the mix for innings.
“Our pitching staff has been affected dramatically in a lot of different ways,” Bianco said. “We haven’t been able to decipher more than we knew this summer. We should look different within the next couple of weeks.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com.

Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal