Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn doesn't think the Hogs got hit too badly by the major league draft -- if they get Searcy pitcher Dillon Howard.
Van Horn expects to lose drafted juniors James McCann, Collin Kuhn and Jarrod McKinney from the baseball team. He was more hopeful that pitchers Geoffrey Davenport and Trent Daniel would return, but Daniel indicated that he would explore signing options while playing this summer in the Cape Cod League.
McKinney was drafted by the Houston Astros. He said he hadn't made up his mind but that "it might be time for him to make room for young talent." Davenport is coming off "Tommy John surgery" in April and it will be 10 months before he can pitch again.
As far as signees that were drafted, Van Horn expects to lose No. 13 overall pick Brandon Nimmo from Wyoming and No. 44 selection Michael Fulmer, but second round pick Dillon Howard from Searcy (No. 67 to the Indians) might be better served by coming to college after dropping out of the first round in a surprise. Among other high draft picks, Van Horn seemed most nervous about the Yankees taking Greg Bird in the fifth round.
"The Yankees will try to sign him," Van Horn said. "If it was someone else in that round, I wouldn't worry as much. But the Yankees will do everything they can to sign him. They'll probably send Joe Torre into his living room and really put some pressure on him. He's going to have a tough decision."
Bird would be a candidate to start at first base for the Hogs next year as a freshman. Van Horn said he would likely move Dominic Ficociello to third to open a spot for Bird.
As far as next year, Van Horn said the Hogs have to bring their hitting up to the level of the pitching from this past season. To do that, he said all outfield spots are open. He also said Matt Reynolds, the starter at third, would have to compete for a different spot, perhaps shortstop, catcher or outifield.
One probable starter in the outfield is sophomore transfer Jimmy Bosco. He sat out this year after a stellar freshman campaign at California and will give the Hogs some pop from the left side.
Van Horn dreamed about a starting rotation for next season that would include DJ Baxendale, Ryne Stanek and possibly Howard. He said Howard is that good.
"He can be a weekend starter in the SEC," Van Horn said. "He's going to ge offered a lot of money, over $1 million. But he can make a lot more than that if he comes to school for two years. I tell them that David Price (from Vanderbilt) turned down $1 million and ended up getting $8 million. Not everyone is a David Price, but some of these high school players will be that.
"I think Howard sees himself as a Razorback. He sees himself living the dream of being a starting pitcher in Baum Stadium and taking the Razorbacks to Omaha.
"You look around the SEC and you see guys who passed (the money) up and came to college. North Carolina has one every year. Florida has had those. I hope he comes here and grows up. We need him."
Van Horn also had concerns about the status of 12th round pick Joe Serrano from the Phoenix area.
"I've been told the Reds are going to try hard to sign him," Van Horn said. "I really like him. I signed him. I think he can really hit. I think he can come in and play."
Van Horn had hopes of getting Fulmer to school when they offered him as a junior, but he "blew up" in the fall.
"He threw 90 as a junior, but he got bigger this fall and he was throwing 95 this spring," Van Horn said. "We knew then that it was going to be tough. I wasn't surprised that he went so high because we knew he blew up. He just kept getting bigger and stronger in the last year."
Van Hon doesn't expect McKinney to return after talking with him this week in the "exit" meeting.
"It's time for McKinney to go out and play professional ball," Van Horn said. "He is that kind of athlete. He could have played Division I football. He's got ability. He played well late in the year but he's still learning. He really was swinging the bat the last two weeks. I'm happy for him."
Van Horn said the incoming class is heavy with infielders and that was by design. He thinks the best athletes and hitters play in the infield. His plan was to sign as many good hitting infielders as possible, then convert some to the outfield.
"That's what you do in football, sign as many quarterbacks and then move them to other positions," he said. "That's what we tried to do."
The hitting must improve from the .270 team batting average of 2011. The pitching was superb and carried the team to a 40-22 record. Van Horn said the lack of offensive production starts with him.
"If you want to point fingers, look at me," he said. "I picked them."
Did the Hogs beat expectations by winning the SEC West with a 15-15 mark?
"Probably, but I have a hard time seeing it that way," he said. "I thought (pitching coach) Dave Jorn did a great job of figuring out roles for our pitchers. But it's hard to win 40 with this young a squad no matter who you play.
"If you talk to (hitting coach Todd) Butler, he didn't like the way we swung the bats. But he worked with them from sun-up to sun down. We'd fly home and he'd be in the batting cage at midnight helping anyone who wanted it. Our guys put in the time.
"But it comes down to either you can hit or you can't hit. Point at me. If they can't hit, I shouldn't have recruited them.
"I do think it's time to be accountable. I told our players that. We are going to convert infielders to outfielders and put nine players on the field to match our pitching. I feel like we will hit better than .270. With all of this pitching back, we better be good next year."
The goal is clear.
"I told our older players this year, we know we are going to Omaha next year," he said. "I asked them, 'What about this year?' Now you can be good and not get there. But I think we will be right in the middle of the SEC race. Florida is going to be real good. LSU will be back. They were about one or two weeks away this year and they have good pitching back.
"I just think it's time for everyone to go to work and not point fingers. We aren't making any changes. We've been to the NCAA tournament nine straight years and that's tough to do. I do think our players are tough."
One of the big chores will be to replace McCann, the first pick by the Detroit Tigers. No doubt, he'll sign and skip his final season with the Hogs.
McCann said he's excited about the future and will miss his new home. He's said several times that he may have grown up in Santa Barbara, Calif., but Fayetteville is his new home.
"That won't ever change," he said. "I'm always going to be a Razorback from now on. If I could go back and pick my college again, I'd pick Arkansas every time."
Van Horn said there were several candidates to fill McCann's shoes behind the plate. It will start with returnee Jake Wise.
"He's a better hitter than he showed," Van Horn said. "But we'll have others fight for that job."
Signees John Ramirez of Fort Worth, Texas, and John Clay Reeves of Monroe, La., will compete with Wise, and possibly Reynolds.
"Ramirez thought he would be drafted," Van Horn said. "One scout told me he'd go seven through 10, another 10 through 13. So he was disappointed. Now he's ready to come to school. He's a very good hitter. Reeves can run and hit with power."
Van Horn Wants Howard
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