This is the first in a series of position breakdowns previewing the 2010 season of Ole Miss baseball. In the upcoming eleven days, One Man to Beat and I will do our best to acquaint you with our team. Today, I will discuss the Rebel outfield.
The man himself in his coaching glory.
The 2009 Rebels achieved regular season success not seen in Oxford in many years as they were the 2009 SEC Champs. This was added to the many accomplishments of current head coach Mike Bianco including a 2005 SEC West title, a 2006 SEC Tournament Championship, and four super regional appearances. A large part of the 2009 success was an outfield that was full of speed with Logan Power and Jordan Henry. Balls rarely fell in gaps, and they had a knack for making big plays. Power and Henry have both departed, and Mike Bianco will be looking for others to fill in.
Coach is not looking to unexperienced players to play the outfield; rather, he is moving experienced infielders to fill in the gaps.
For left field, he is looking to former 1B Matt Smith. Smith made an impressive redshirt freshman debut in 2008 and started 60 of 61 games. He was a bit shaky as an infielder and make a couple of bone-headed mistakes. However, he absolutely mashed the ball by hitting a freshman record 14 home-runs, driving in 40 RBIs, scoring 39 runs, and batting .283. The only flaw Matt had at the plate was an abysmal number of strikeouts as he had one of the highest totals in the country. In 2009, Smith was a much improved player. He all but eliminated the fielding errors. At the plate, he raised his BA 53 points to .336 with 15 doubles, 2 triples, and 8 home-runs. Mostly importantly, he cut down on the strikeouts. His biggest moment of the 2009 campaign was his extra inning, walk-off blast over the right field wall that got the Rebels to within one game of Omaha.
What can we expect from the 2010 edition of Matt Smith? I expect him to hit circa .330, 12-15 doubles, and smash at least 15 home-runs. I know these are high expectations, but he has improved greatly each year.
Another infielder who was moved is CF Tim Ferguson. Fergulicious (I know you've tried to forget that Ivory. I'm sorry) had an impressive 2009 campaign at the plate by hitting a team leading .358 with 4 triples, 6 doubles, and 2 dingers. The most interesting thing about his numbers is he rode the pine behind Evan Button at second base. Meaning, he was awesome at the plate in limited action. Bianco wouldn't use him because he was right handed, but I will give Bianco credit for not playing him due to mediocre fielding ability. I also laud Bianco for moving him to the outfield where his fielding won't necessarily be an issue.
What can we expect from the 2010 center fielder? One stat from 2009 that stuck out was the 18-for-19 on steals. WOW! I look for him to step into Jordan Henry's position quite nicely. I'd wager on Tim batting .340 with 5 triples, almost 10 doubles, and he'll probably end up with 20 steals on the year.
At this point in the article, you're wondering why I'm being so optimistic. It may be the snow in North MS. It may be that my extended time at church made me give thanks for all that Bianco has done. Mwahahaha. You've fallen into my trap.
Lastly, the position of right field. As I listened to Bianco's interview with Kellum at halftime of the Bama game on Saturday, I cringed when he mentioned the name of our right fielder: David Phillips. David is a senior in his second season with the Rebels. He had a successful junior college career and had limited success last season in Oxford. I would describe his relationship with Bianco to Ryan's relationship with Michael Scott in The Office. As the audience, we were hoping for him to be a temp and to be fired but for some reason Michael Scott/Bianco loves him so much he gives him much more than he deserves: an IPod for Christmas, a job, etc. The 2009 numbers aren't amazing as he hit .290 with 6 doubles and 2 long balls. That would be ok for your #9 hitter, but not so good for a RF who should be one of your better hitters. The worse part about David Phillips was his Super Regional performance when he went 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts in two games. What do I expect from the 2010 edition of David Phillips? Honestly, not much. It is possible that he would have a Fuller Smith-like senior year and bat .340. Realistically, Phillips will bat .300 with 3 HRs.
Now a look at possible DH candidates. First, we look to Taylor Hashman, who saw limited action in 2009. He started 19 games and batted .210 with 2 HRs. Unless he is much improved, I doubt he will be seriously in the mix. Another option that Bianco is excited about is Tanner Mathis. Mathis is a freshman southpaw from Louisiana who had a decorated high school career. This first team all-stater was also a pitcher, but Bianco is looking to use him solely in the outfield. Lastly, Alex Yarborough will also get a look in the DH slot. He would be an interesting addition to the line-up as he is a switch hitter.
LF Matt Smith
CF Tim Ferguson
RF David Phillips
DH Tanner Mathis
On Deck: Infield preview on February 11th.