Van Horn: Hitting to Improve

Arkansas returns talented pitching and will get a boost in the hitting with the new class. Head coach Dave Van Horn "backs" his recruiting coordinator with a new title after Texas made a bid to hire him away.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn held his season review Monday, but much of it was a look forward with a strong belief that better hitting is on the way.

The Razorbacks made it to the final game of bracket play at the College World Series before ending the 2012 season on back-to-back losses to South Carolina. That put the Hogs at 46-22, the most wins since the 1990 team won 47 in the pre-Southeastern Conference days.

Arkansas finished in the top six in all major polls, including third by the coaches, writers and Collegiate Baseball polls. The team ERA of 2.83 ranked second in school history. The Hogs went 14-9 in one-run game thanks to a fantastic bullpen.

The Hogs hit .271 this season, including .214 in the 10 NCAA tournament games. They hit .273 in SEC games, against perhaps the nation's best overall pitching.

The batting -- or lack of -- was hit on several times during Van Horn's media visit at Baum Stadium on Monday morning. He said it was just a case of facing great pitching and loading up their allotment of 11.7 scholarships to match that pitching.

"Realistically, the guys in our (position) lineup were not on baseball scholarships the last two years," Van Horn said. "They were on academic scholarships or walk-ons.

"I think you will see that in the next two years that we hit better. We've put more money in hitting. We'll have two or three freshmen start in our lineup and some in the middle of the order. These guys can swing the bats. They'll hit. If you can hit, you can hit at any level."

Van Horn said he worked to keep hitting coach Todd Butler from leaving for a nice offer from Texas in the last week. Butler is also the recruiting coordinator. After Butler's two-day trip to Austin last week, Van Horn named Butler the team's associate head coach after a visit with Jeff Long, the athletics director.

"I'm backing Todd up," Van Horn said. "He knows how to coach hitting. You can talk to guys like Zack Cox, Brett Eibner and Logan Forsythe, guys in pro ball who have been here and they will tell you that Todd is the best they've worked with.

"Hitting is about talent. Across the country, hitting coaches are taking a beating. About the only team that hit this year was Arizona and they were in thin air and were on a rock hard surface. They were pounding it through the infield.

"Florida State had some hitting, but when they got up against great pitching, they got knocked down, too."

Van Horn knew Texas was coming after Butler for quite some time.

"Texas really wanted Todd," he said. "I've known it for the last month. I knew what was going on there.

"Normally, you don't go from an assistant to an assistant, but Texas is Texas. He didn't want to go. We discussed it. So when he got back, I went to talk to our AD and it went great.

"We worked it out. He's our associate head coach. Todd is going to be a head coach in a couple of years.

"Everyone in this part of the country will tell you that Todd is a brilliant recruiter. He brought in our pitching. He's important to our recruiting. He just left to be on the road for 10 days. He makes a difference. Our players really like him."

Van Horn said the low offensive numbers couldn't be helped while the scholarship numbers were slanted to pitching.

"I think you'll see our offense come back over the next two years because we've put more into hitting," he said. "It just runs in cycles like that. You can't help it. You can only coach them up so much. Todd took it personally, but it was not his fault."

Some of the young hitters like Joe Serrano and Brian Anderson will help the hitting next year as they become seasoned this summer in tough leagues. And there is help on the way in Blake Baxendale, Willie Schwanke and Brett McAfee. Baxendale could catch, play first base or be a regular at designated hitter. Schwanke can play several spots, including third, and also pitch. McAfee is a fleet shortstop who has been drafted twice despite Tommy John surgery.

"Schwanke is a two-way player and lefthanded hitter," Van Horn said. "He was one of the top hitters in his classification in high school. He throws 90. Baxendale can hit. He'll be in the lineup."

The Hogs will have heavy losses. Ace DJ Baxendale signed, along with leading hitter Matt Reynolds. Nolan Sanburn has not signed, but is close. Recruits Ty Buttrey and Shiloh McCall have signed and the Hogs will also lose D'Vone McClure.

But things are looking good to get pitcher Teddy "TJ" Stankiewicz to campus. He was drafted but is far apart on money and indicates he's coming to school.

The pitching should be dynamic again led by Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Brandon Moore and Colby Suggs. Van Horn said Astin will probably move into the starting rotation and that Moore might get a shot at a weekend starting slot, too.

"Brandon has started before, but he's done better as a reliever," Van Horn said. "I think Suggs will be the closer. I don't want to take everything out of the bullpen."

Van Horn thinks some young pitchers are ready to make a move. Chris Oliver has already thrown a no-hitter this summer against good competition.

The catching looks good again with Jake Wise returning after a solid postseason. He'll battle with Baxendale for that spot. John Clay Reeves bowed out of that competition over the weekend.

"He wants to go to junior college where he can play every day," Van Horn said. "We have a redshirt catcher (in Jean Rameriz) and with Baxendale, we have a good situation there. I think Blake will get better with more work with Brian Walker. He's got a good arm."

Van Horn doesn't think infielder David Masters will return. He'll go to junior college to get at bats after struggling at the plate at Arkansas. Outfielder Jacob Morris has not signed a pro contract, but has indicated that he'd like to move on to that level.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories

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\r\nThe Hogs hit .271 this season, including .214 in the 10 NCAA tournament games. They hit .273 in SEC games, against perhaps the nation's best overall pitching.\r\n

\r\nThe batting -- or lack of -- was hit on several times during Van Horn's media visit at Baum Stadium on Monday morning. He said it was just a case of facing great pitching and loading up their allotment of 11.7 scholarships to match that pitching.\r\n

\r\n\"Realistically, the guys in our (position) lineup were not on baseball scholarships the last two years,\" Van Horn said. \"They were on academic scholarships or walk-ons.\r\n

\r\n\"I think you will see that in the next two years that we hit better. We've put more money in hitting. We'll have two or three freshmen start in our lineup and some in the middle of the order. These guys can swing the bats. They'll hit. If you can hit, you can hit at any level.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn said he worked to keep hitting coach Todd Butler from leaving for a nice offer from Texas in the last week. Butler is also the recruiting coordinator. After Butler's two-day trip to Austin last week, Van Horn named Butler the team's associate head coach after a visit with Jeff Long, the athletics director.\r\n

\r\n\"I'm backing Todd up,\" Van Horn said. \"He knows how to coach hitting. You can talk to guys like Zack Cox, Brett Eibner and Logan Forsythe, guys in pro ball who have been here and they will tell you that Todd is the best they've worked with.\r\n

\r\n\"Hitting is about talent. Across the country, hitting coaches are taking a beating. About the only team that hit this year was Arizona and they were in thin air and were on a rock hard surface. They were pounding it through the infield.\r\n

\r\n\"Florida State had some hitting, but when they got up against great pitching, they got knocked down, too.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn knew Texas was coming after Butler for quite some time.\r\n

\r\n\"Texas really wanted Todd,\" he said. \"I've known it for the last month. I knew what was going on there.\r\n

\r\n\"Normally, you don't go from an assistant to an assistant, but Texas is Texas. He didn't want to go. We discussed it. So when he got back, I went to talk to our AD and it went great.\r\n

\r\n\"We worked it out. He's our associate head coach. Todd is going to be a head coach in a couple of years.\r\n

\r\n\"Everyone in this part of the country will tell you that Todd is a brilliant recruiter. He brought in our pitching. He's important to our recruiting. He just left to be on the road for 10 days. He makes a difference. Our players really like him.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn said the low offensive numbers couldn't be helped while the scholarship numbers were slanted to pitching.\r\n

\r\n\"I think you'll see our offense come back over the next two years because we've put more into hitting,\" he said. \"It just runs in cycles like that. You can't help it. You can only coach them up so much. Todd took it personally, but it was not his fault.\"\r\n

\r\nSome of the young hitters like Joe Serrano and Brian Anderson will help the hitting next year as they become seasoned this summer in tough leagues. And there is help on the way in Blake Baxendale, Willie Schwanke and Brett McAfee. Baxendale could catch, play first base or be a regular at designated hitter. Schwanke can play several spots, including third, and also pitch. McAfee is a fleet shortstop who has been drafted twice despite Tommy John surgery.\r\n

\r\n\"Schwanke is a two-way player and lefthanded hitter,\" Van Horn said. \"He was one of the top hitters in his classification in high school. He throws 90. Baxendale can hit. He'll be in the lineup.\"\r\n

\r\nThe Hogs will have heavy losses. Ace DJ Baxendale signed, along with leading hitter Matt Reynolds. Nolan Sanburn has not signed, but is close. Recruits Ty Buttrey and Shiloh McCall have signed and the Hogs will also lose D'Vone McClure.\r\n

\r\nBut things are looking good to get pitcher Teddy \"TJ\" Stankiewicz to campus. He was drafted but is far apart on money and indicates he's coming to school.\r\n

\r\nThe pitching should be dynamic again led by Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Brandon Moore and Colby Suggs. Van Horn said Astin will probably move into the starting rotation and that Moore might get a shot at a weekend starting slot, too.\r\n

\r\n\"Brandon has started before, but he's done better as a reliever,\" Van Horn said. \"I think Suggs will be the closer. I don't want to take everything out of the bullpen.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn thinks some young pitchers are ready to make a move. Chris Oliver has already thrown a no-hitter this summer against good competition.\r\n

\r\nThe catching looks good again with Jake Wise returning after a solid postseason. He'll battle with Baxendale for that spot. John Clay Reeves bowed out of that competition over the weekend.\r\n

\r\n\"He wants to go to junior college where he can play every day,\" Van Horn said. \"We have a redshirt catcher (in Jean Rameriz) and with Baxendale, we have a good situation there. I think Blake will get better with more work with Brian Walker. He's got a good arm.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn doesn't think infielder David Masters will return. He'll go to junior college to get at bats after struggling at the plate at Arkansas. 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