Stuart Turner quickly emerged in the fall as the likely starter at catcher for Ole Miss this spring. That trend never changed.
By: Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com
Returnees Will Allen and Austin Knight give the Rebels quite a trio of solid and reliable catchers for 2013. But it was Turner, arriving from junior college, who was impressive and moved to the head of the class.
Former Rebel catcher now assistant coach Carl Lafferty doesn’t shy away from his assessment of the strong, athletic, 6-foot-2, 220-pound LSU-Eunice product.
“He’s as good defensively as anybody that’s played at Ole Miss,” said Lafferty, who arrived at Ole Miss out of high school from Pine Bluff, Ark., in the fall of 1997. “As a catcher myself here, I say that very confidently. Very good build. Very athletic. Very flexible. Tremendous arm strength and quickness. He really receives well. He’s a very intelligent kid. Defensively there’s really no holes in his game.”
Offensively? There was more room for development, it seems. Lafferty and assistant coach Cliff Godwin say there has been progress in that regard.
“If you look at his numbers in junior college, he didn’t strike out a lot,” Lafferty said. “He’s a guy that makes pretty consistent contact. And with the raw power he has, you have to believe he’s going to put together a great year for us offensively.”
“He’s come along offensively,” Godwin said. “Stuart’s got great hand-eye coordination. Sometimes he would make soft contact, just because he could get to the pitch. We’ve talked to him about driving the baseball. We simplified his stance a little in the fall, and he’s really gotten comfortable with it. He hit two home runs in the preseason, and we’re looking for a lot of doubles and some home runs out of that guy.”
What they also are looking for is a player who can take care of business behind the plate, which Turner’s teammate, Tanner Bailey, said he’s done a good job of this fall and preseason.
“Stu is definitely one of the best catchers I’ve thrown to,” said Bailey, a senior in the program. “He’s got a great arm, he’s quick, and he knows how to control the game. He’s going to really keep runners in check at first and second trying to steal. He’ll make our jobs as pitchers a lot easier.”
Bailey said the Rebels couldn’t run on Turner in the fall or preseason.
“Even our fastest guys, the ones who run 6.4 or 6.5 60s, like Auston Bousfield and Cameron Dishon, they struggled (to steal) and would think twice about going,” Bailey said.
Turner, who was coached last season by former Rebel catcher Brett Basham in junior college, said he’s made additional improvement since his arrival in Oxford.
“I feel I’ve gotten a lot stronger with the bat,” he said. “Working with Coach Godwin, he’s a tremendous coach. Just the little things of hitting, I feel I’m more consistent with the bat, stay inside the ball, drive it, use my legs a little bit more. It will pay dividends for me in the long run.”
The Rebels are looking for some guys to step up and hit home runs as well as singles and doubles. Godwin mentioned earlier there are six to seven players that he believes have the potential to hit as many as six to ten home runs. Turner is one of those.
“I’ve always been a doubles kind of guy,” Turner said. “I’ve been told I need to hit for more power, being as big as I am. Coach Godwin’s really worked with me on that. He’s simplified the swing for me and got me using my legs. I think it’s going to pay off for me.”
Turner’s strength appears to be his arm, as mentioned. It’s difficult for an opposing runner to make it from one station to another.
“Growing up and playing catcher my whole life, I know defense is an important part of the game, and I took pride in it,” he said. “I still take very much pride in it. I’ve just worked hard to become a better hitter to be a more complete player and to help this team out.”
Turner said this Rebel pitching staff he catches can be special.
“Obviously returning your Friday and Saturday guys who are tremendous pitchers is huge,” he said of Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers. “I didn’t get to catch them in the fall (since those two rested their arms), but I can already see (this preseason) what they can do. The younger guys stepping in, like the sophomores who pitched a lot as freshmen, are also doing well. It’s a very deep staff, and I feel we have a lot of guys who will come in and fill the zone and compete their butts off.”
Turner said his main objective since he arrived has been to be prepared by the time the season got here. Now it’s here, and he believes he and the team are ready for TCU.
“Just being at this level, it’s different. You have to be more consistent day in and day out,” he said. “You have to prepare better. I’ve always taken pride in preparing. I believe it will be a really good weekend, and I’ve been looking forward to it.”