Collegiate Baseball newspaper has the Hogs at No. 1 in the first poll of he year. The USA Today Coaches Poll has them No. 1, too. Pefect Pitch USA starts them at No. 2. Baseball America puts the Hogs at No. 3. Practice begins Friday at 2 p.m. and they are open.
"We have a lot of very good prospects and they are draft eligible," said the Arkansas coach. "We are loaded with upperclassmen. I told them we need to leave the egos at the door.
"We covered the No. 1 ranking in that meeting, too. There are three or four polls and we'll be five to seven, realistically, in all of them. It doesn't bother me too much with this team because their goals and expectations were already high. I would have been nervous with last year's team to start out at No. 1."
There is more good with the high ranking than bad. High rankings come with good finishes at the College World Series and the combination of high draft choices and good post-season play means better prospects on the recruiting trail.
"To be No. 1 in pre-season is huge," said Todd Butler, recruiting coordinator. "It just puts our name out there a little bit more. I think it's the first time we've had it in the history of the program and we like it.
"Going to Omaha helps recruiting. So do rankings. Our program is more recognizable when I'm on the road now. Trips to Omaha help. You look at this group of juniors that are so highly ranked, we got them right after our last Omaha trip. I am seeing the same kind of results from our last Omaha trip in what we are attracting in our next classes."
Junior Barrett Astin, a likely early pick in the draft, thinks the maturity of the team will prevent draft-itis from holding back the Hogs.
"We all have future dreams and the draft is part of that," Astin said. "But I also have a dream to win the College World Series. We don't have to talk about any of them, though. We all know we have unfinished business."
Suggs saw his draft stock jump when his fast ball reached the upper 90s in summer ball as he led his Cape Cod League team to the championship. But his leadership skill — along with others — is as impressive as his fast ball.
"A lot of people do have a hard time corralling the people who are projected high (in the draft)," Suggs said, "but the leadership we have in this locker room and the amount of quality people the coaches have recruited and we've brought in to keep each other accountable, it's not really an issue here. We know what we want to do and that's win a national championship. We're going out and working hard every day to achieve that."
Arkansas rode its arms to Omaha last spring and with the bulk of the best pitching staff in school history returning, the Razorbacks are hopeful for a repeat performance in 2013.
Junior Ryne Stanek heads up an impressive group of Arkansas pitchers the rest of the SEC knows all too well. Stanek, projected a top 5 overall pick in the next MLB Draft, recorded an 8-4 record with a 2.82 earned run average as a sophomore. He was most impressive in the post-season, going 2-0 in three starts with a 1.59 ERA.
Along with Suggs and Astin, Stanek will be joined by Brandon Moore, Barrett Astin, Randall Fant, Ty Wright and Trent Daniel from a staff that had the second-lowest earned run average in school history a year ago.
Arkansas' staff was brilliant in the postseason, recording a cumulative 1.92 ERA as the team came within one win of the national championship series. The bullpen recorded 26 consecutive scoreless innings at one point during the NCAA Tournament and relief pitchers finished the post-season with a 1.30 ERA in 41 2/3 innings.
Three-year starter DJ Baxendale and hard-throwing reliever Nolan Sanburn are gone off last year's team, but Arkansas added several pitchers in the off-season. Sophomore right-hander Chris Oliver, freshman right-hander Trey Killian and left-handed junior college transfer Jalen Beeks saw extensive action during the fall.
Cade Lynch might also boost the Hogs after sitting out of school in the fall to recover from compacted arteries in the upper area of his neck. He's in school and on the 35-man roster and Van Horn has been encouraged by his January progress after surgery over the Christmas break.
Fant, a senior, was the most impressive pitcher for the Razorsbacks during the team's fall series, throwing 17 shutout innings.
At the plate, Arkansas must replace departed three-year starter Matt Reynolds at third base. Reynolds, who led the team with a .323 batting average and 45 RBI last year, was selected in the second round of the MLB Draft by the New York Mets.
In addition, the Razorbacks lost a pair of four-year starters in the infield — shortstop Tim Carver and second baseman Bo Bigham. Both were instrumental in trips to Omaha during their freshman and senior seasons.
Dominic Ficociello moved to second base in the fall to make room for Eric Fisher at first base. Fisher redshirted last season and has one of the team's best bats to go along with a glove on par with Ficociello, thought to be one of the league's best defenders.
On the left side of the infield, Arkansas will likely start a pair of newcomers. Brett McAfee worked as starting shortstop all fall after transferring from Panola Junior College, while freshman Willie Schwanke, the Dallas Morning News Offensive Player of the Year as a high school senior, is likely to start at third, a position at which the Razorbacks have produced three consecutive all-Americans.
Brian Anderson helped down the stretch last year in right field, but he's likely to split time between third and shortstop.
In the outfield, Arkansas has several options. Seniors Matt Vinson and Jacob Morris have struggled to hit consistently throughout their careers, but their defensive play and speed are best on the team. Tyler Spoon, who redshirted last season, was the player of the year after hitting 10 home runs with a wood bat in the Alaskan summer baseball league, and Anderson could also get time in a corner spot where he was an every day starter by post-season play last year.
Joe Serrano, who became Arkansas' most consistent player at the plate in the postseason after a hamstring injury limited him during the regular season, could also play in the outfield if needed, but likely projects as the team's designated hitter. Serrano batted .333 last season and could be Arkansas' leadoff hitter.
Jake Wise returns behind the plate. The junior catcher looked much improved in all facets during the fall, leading the team during the fall series with a .450 batting average.
Arkansas catchers Jake Wise and Jean Ramirez get geared up for the Razorbacks' first day of practice.
Arkansas went straight to work for their first day of practice on a beautiful clear day at Baum Stadium.
Ryne Stanek makes a throw to first base while getting infield work done at the open of practice.
Dave Van Horn looked glad to finally get the season rolling on the Hogs' opening day of practice.
Arkasnas freshman Willie Schwanke gets some batting time in the cage.
Dominic Ficociello chases down teammate Matt Vinson while getting infield work done at the beginning of practice.
Photos by Marc F. Henning