Van Horn: Avoid Complacency

The pitching is there, but Dave Van Horn wants to make sure that the Hogs are also good on defense and one through nine in the lineup.

To no one's surprise, Dave Van Horn began with pitching as he handled a fall review Tuesday of the Arkansas baseball program one week after the team's intrasquad series. The Hogs are loaded on the mound.

There's returnees Ryne Stanek, Brandon Moore, Colby Suggs, Barrett Astin and Randall Fant to name a few standout hurlers. There are some talented young ones like Trey Killian and Collin Poche, too.

Fant, senior lefty, was the surprise of the fall with a series of strong outings after developing a "cut slider" in the offseason. He was dominant, allowing Van Horn to suggest he'd start on the weekend and might allow for Moore, Suggs and Astin to stay in the bullpen if one of the newcomers steps up.



"College baseball is like the pro game any more in that the bullpen is so important," Van Horn said. "Astin might have the best stuff on the team, but if we would like to keep the bullpen strong."

It will be an experienced, mature team that tries to repeat a trip to the College World Series. Van Horn knows what must take place on the field to reach that goal.

"I want the team to be focused from day one and there is a lot of pitching for a trip to Omaha," he said. "But we don't want to be complacent. We don't want to be thinking we can just beat you with pitching. We want the best defense, we want a team that hits line drives and needs to be a force from one to nine at the plate."

There's some good young hitters to help accomplish that trick. Isaac Hellbusch, Tyler Spoon, Eric Fisher, Willie Schwanke, Brett McAfee and Blake Baxendale will join with returnees Jake Wise, Dominic Ficociello, Brian Anderson, Joe Serrano, Jacob Morris and Matt Vinson to provide the nucleus for the batting order.

Ficociello is looking for a turnaround year after slumping at the end of his sopmohore campaign, then struggling in the summer in the Cape Cod League.

"He didn't have a good summer," Van Horn said. "And it wasn't a tremendous sophomore year. He's confident and has a swagger and that can be his best friend or his worst enemy. Some close calls can go to the pitcher.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He was up and down in the fall. Sometimes he swings at the slider in the dirt or at other pitches out of the zone.

"But there were times when he was really good in the fall. He's a good player and he's really good in the locker room."

Ficociello will likely play second after Fisher handled first well in the fall.

"We know Dominic is an incredible first baseman, but he's also good at the other spots in the infield," Van Horn said. "He could play third, but he gambles a little there. He's very good at second. He turned the double play for us in the fall.

"I think playing second motivated him this fall. That's probably where he'll play at the next level, unless he'd put on 40 or 50 pounds.

"This is a big year for him personally. He could sign a nice contract. He's a pretty good hitter and I think we've got more around him where he doesn't have to try to do too much."

Wise has taken over behind the plate with tremendous leadership skills. He's become more of a verbal captain. Van Horn seems pleased.

"He's come 360 degrees," Van Horn said. "He was behind James McCann and he didn't say hardly a word. He was like that in the fall last year and a little better in the spring, but now he's like a coach on the field and that's what you need at catcher."

One of the big battles in the fall was at shortstop where the Hogs are replacing four-year starter Tim Carver.

"McAfee has range and quickness," Van Horn said. "He had Tommy John surgery in high school and that was still bothering him last year at junior college. But he's fine now. He's a freshman in an older body. Brian Anderson will battle him there at short."

Van Horn thinks there is more hitting in the lineup. Serrano and Spoon are likely the corner outfielders. Morris and Vinson, the veterans, will battle in centerfield. Anderson and Schwanke will get shots at third, but also could DH. Baxendale has impressed behind the plate and also is an impressive hitter. He also could DH.

"We had a very productive fall," Van Horn said. "We have quality young players and we found out that we have a solid work ethic on and off the field."

Baseball Notes

Dave Van Horn said there is nothing going to happen as soon as this spring, but perhaps college baseball is making a move towards the baseballs used on the major league level.

"It's out there, being discussed," Van Horn said. "Coaches have voted and that might send it to committees for more discussion."

Van Horn said he has no problem with the bats that have been used for the last couple of seasons that have reduced the velocity on balls put in play. Home runs are down and so is the scoring.

However, Van Horn said the game aches for the style of baseball -- with flatter seams -- that is used at the pro level.

"Rawlings makes them all, but our college baseball that is used in the NCAA and SEC -- but not by all leagues -- has high seams," Van Horn said. "It spins more and when you hit it and there is spin, there is friction and it doesn't go as far.

"We used the flat major league ball with Team USA and it went a lot further. It just carried better.

"You can get them. There are some junior college leagues that use them. They are just a little more expensive, maybe because they say Major League on them. I don't think Rawlings could make enough of them to have them to us for this season, but maybe next year. I'd like that."...

Van Horn said the team is working on bunting and two-strike hitting as individual practices heat up this fall, along with weight lifting.

"We also want them to work on hitting the top of the baseball to get line drives and ground balls," Van Horn said. "In this ball park, you can't hit it in the air."... Van Horn said he enjoyed watching Drew Smyly in two outings in the World Seiries. The former Arkansas lefty also got a victory over the Yankees in the league championship series.

"We've had players from our program in the last six World Series," Van Horn said. "I saw Drew go through the top of the order of the Yankees lineup to get the win in Yankees Stadium. That was exciting. Then he pitched in another stressful situation on the road at San Francisco."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories

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\r\n\"College baseball is like the pro game any more in that the bullpen is so important,\" Van Horn said. \"Astin might have the best stuff on the team, but if we would like to keep the bullpen strong.\"\r\n

\r\nIt will be an experienced, mature team that tries to repeat a trip to the College World Series. Van Horn knows what must take place on the field to reach that goal.\r\n

\r\n\"I want the team to be focused from day one and there is a lot of pitching for a trip to Omaha,\" he said. \"But we don't want to be complacent. We don't want to be thinking we can just beat you with pitching. We want the best defense, we want a team that hits line drives and needs to be a force from one to nine at the plate.\"\r\n

\r\nThere's some good young hitters to help accomplish that trick. Isaac Hellbusch, Tyler Spoon, Eric Fisher, Willie Schwanke, Brett McAfee and Blake Baxendale will join with returnees Jake Wise, Dominic Ficociello, Brian Anderson, Joe Serrano, Jacob Morris and Matt Vinson to provide the nucleus for the batting order.\r\n

\r\nFicociello is looking for a turnaround year after slumping at the end of his sopmohore campaign, then struggling in the summer in the Cape Cod League.\r\n

\r\n\"He didn't have a good summer,\" Van Horn said. \"And it wasn't a tremendous sophomore year. He's confident and has a swagger and that can be his best friend or his worst enemy. Some close calls can go to the pitcher.\r\n

\r\n\"He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He was up and down in the fall. Sometimes he swings at the slider in the dirt or at other pitches out of the zone.\r\n

\r\n\"But there were times when he was really good in the fall. He's a good player and he's really good in the locker room.\"\r\n

\r\nFicociello will likely play second after Fisher handled first well in the fall.\r\n

\r\n\"We know Dominic is an incredible first baseman, but he's also good at the other spots in the infield,\" Van Horn said. \"He could play third, but he gambles a little there. He's very good at second. He turned the double play for us in the fall.\r\n

\r\n\"I think playing second motivated him this fall. That's probably where he'll play at the next level, unless he'd put on 40 or 50 pounds.\r\n

\r\n\"This is a big year for him personally. He could sign a nice contract. He's a pretty good hitter and I think we've got more around him where he doesn't have to try to do too much.\"\r\n

\r\nWise has taken over behind the plate with tremendous leadership skills. He's become more of a verbal captain. Van Horn seems pleased.\r\n

\r\n\"He's come 360 degrees,\" Van Horn said. \"He was behind James McCann and he didn't say hardly a word. He was like that in the fall last year and a little better in the spring, but now he's like a coach on the field and that's what you need at catcher.\"\r\n

\r\nOne of the big battles in the fall was at shortstop where the Hogs are replacing four-year starter Tim Carver.\r\n

\r\n\"McAfee has range and quickness,\" Van Horn said. \"He had Tommy John surgery in high school and that was still bothering him last year at junior college. But he's fine now. He's a freshman in an older body. Brian Anderson will battle him there at short.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn thinks there is more hitting in the lineup. Serrano and Spoon are likely the corner outfielders. Morris and Vinson, the veterans, will battle in centerfield. Anderson and Schwanke will get shots at third, but also could DH. Baxendale has impressed behind the plate and also is an impressive hitter. He also could DH.\r\n

\r\n\"We had a very productive fall,\" Van Horn said. \"We have quality young players and we found out that we have a solid work ethic on and off the field.\"\r\n

\r\nBaseball Notes\r\n

\r\nDave Van Horn said there is nothing going to happen as soon as this spring, but perhaps college baseball is making a move towards the baseballs used on the major league level.\r\n

\r\n\"It's out there, being discussed,\" Van Horn said. \"Coaches have voted and that might send it to committees for more discussion.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn said he has no problem with the bats that have been used for the last couple of seasons that have reduced the velocity on balls put in play. Home runs are down and so is the scoring.\r\n

\r\nHowever, Van Horn said the game aches for the style of baseball -- with flatter seams -- that is used at the pro level.\r\n

\r\n\"Rawlings makes them all, but our college baseball that is used in the NCAA and SEC -- but not by all leagues -- has high seams,\" Van Horn said. \"It spins more and when you hit it and there is spin, there is friction and it doesn't go as far.\r\n

\r\n\"We used the flat major league ball with Team USA and it went a lot further. It just carried better.\r\n

\r\n\"You can get them. There are some junior college leagues that use them. They are just a little more expensive, maybe because they say Major League on them. I don't think Rawlings could make enough of them to have them to us for this season, but maybe next year. I'd like that.\"...\r\n

\r\nVan Horn said the team is working on bunting and two-strike hitting as individual practices heat up this fall, along with weight lifting.\r\n

\r\n\"We also want them to work on hitting the top of the baseball to get line drives and ground balls,\" Van Horn said. \"In this ball park, you can't hit it in the air.\"...\r\nVan Horn said he enjoyed watching Drew Smyly in two outings in the World Seiries. The former Arkansas lefty also got a victory over the Yankees in the league championship series.\r\n

\r\n\"We've had players from our program in the last six World Series,\" Van Horn said. \"I saw Drew go through the top of the order of the Yankees lineup to get the win in Yankees Stadium. That was exciting. 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