State of the Hogs: Shortstop

Newcomer Brett McAfee will get a shot at filling a hole at shortstop as Arkansas begins the baseball season. The athletic Longview product is glad to be healthy.

Dave Van Horn is an old middle infielder. He knows the value of a double-play combination, that mesh between shortstop and second baseman. The routine play is important to the Arkansas baseball coach.

So if there is anyone who appreciated Tim Carver and Bo Bigham the last four seasons, it's Van Horn. They are gone now, along with Matt Reynolds, the UA third baseman of the last three seasons.

There's plenty of highlight names returning for the team rated a consensus No. 1, but Van Horn knows that infield defense is one of the question marks when the Hogs open the season this weekend with three games against Western Illinois. Game time Friday is 3:05. First pitch Saturday is at 12:05 and the finale is set for 1:05.



"We've probably spent more time on defense in November, December and January than anything else," Van Horn said. "I hope it pays off."

Brett McAfee and Brian Anderson, a pair of sophomores, are the candidates at shortstop to replace Carver. Dominic Ficociello moves from first to take over for Bigham at second. Willie Schwanke, probably the designated hitter, is also in the mix at third and first.

"McAfee has more range than we've had at short in a long time," Van Horn said. "He's a tremendous athlete with great quickness.

"Anderson is probably going to play third, but he can play short and he'll get some games there, too.You will need two at short. Both of them are very good."

Anderson played right field down the stretch last year, but he's a natural infielder. He has one of the best arms on the team and is a candidate to pitch next year as a junior. He had a sore shoulder when he came to campus last year, but there are no problems now.

McAfee hasn't played much in two years. He missed his senior season at Longview, Texas after undergoing "Tommy John" surgery on his elbow as a prep junior. Still, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him as a high schooler, then again last June after an injury plagued year at Panola JC.

"I had this in high school," McAfee said, displaying the cardinal red scar on his right elbow. "And in junior college, it was my hamstring. I am looking forward to a healthy year finally."

McAfee remembers the first call he got from Todd Butler, the UA recruiting coordinator.

"Coach Butler phoned me, and that night I hurt my elbow," McAfee said. "But he kept calling even after I was hurt. That's the reason it's worked out. And he kept calling last year when I couldn't play because of my hamstring. Tampa drafted me again, but there wasn't enough money in it to give up playing here. I wanted to come here."

Butler laughed about that.

"He didn't always call me back," Butler said. "After he got hurt in high school, we called them at Panola and asked them to take him there. I did keep calling. We thought a lot of his ability.

"He's got a lot of tools. He had a great arm before the injury and it looks like he's gotten his confidence back. He's very talented."

McAfee said baseball was fun in the fall with his arm finally healthy.

"I pitched in high school and my arm had been bothering me for a couple of years before I finally tore it," he said. "This fall, it was finally right. It took a full year after (Tommy John) surgery, but this fall I was able to cut loose. That's the first time in a long time. It came out of my hand a little differently at first. But it felt great in the fall."

That doesn't mean everything was easy in the fall. The level of pitching he faced was new.

"To see our staff on a daily basis was a big adjustment," McAfee said. "It was a different velocity than what I was used to and all of these guys have a great secondary pitch.

"It started to come around to me after about the third week of falls scrimmages. Things slowed down and I relaxed a little bit."

Butler said he worried a bit about recruiting McAfee after just one year of junior college.

"They have a great coach at Panola, Todd Shelton," Butler said. "Usually, when you send a player to JC, you let them have them for two years. But I called Todd after that first year and asked if we could have him.

"I told him that Brett was the key to our team. We needed a shortstop. He's really talented. Todd was good to understand."

Still, Butler knows there are going to be tough days ahead for McAfee. SEC pitching is a couple of notches up from junior college ball.

"He's one of the best athletes we've had," Butler said. "His feet are really good. But he hasn't played much the last two years and then you think about the atmosphere we are going to put him in. He's going from having about 50 watch him in junior college to 10,000 with us some nights."

Van Horn is excited to see the transition begin. He said McAfee's mesh with Ficociello on the double play has gone well.

"They have gelled," Van Horn said. "They both have great range. Ficociello played really well for us at first and I think he's going to have a great year at second, too. There are a few more things to think about at second than first, but they look good to me."

Now it's time to see if they play good.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories

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\r\n\"We've probably spent more time on defense in November, December and January than anything else,\" Van Horn said. \"I hope it pays off.\"\r\n

\r\nBrett McAfee and Brian Anderson, a pair of sophomores, are the candidates at shortstop to replace Carver. Dominic Ficociello moves from first to take over for Bigham at second. Willie Schwanke, probably the designated hitter, is also in the mix at third and first.\r\n

\r\n\"McAfee has more range than we've had at short in a long time,\" Van Horn said. \"He's a tremendous athlete with great quickness.\r\n

\r\n\"Anderson is probably going to play third, but he can play short and he'll get some games there, too.You will need two at short. Both of them are very good.\"\r\n

\r\nAnderson played right field down the stretch last year, but he's a natural infielder. He has one of the best arms on the team and is a candidate to pitch next year as a junior. He had a sore shoulder when he came to campus last year, but there are no problems now.\r\n

\r\nMcAfee hasn't played much in two years. He missed his senior season at Longview, Texas after undergoing \"Tommy John\" surgery on his elbow as a prep junior. Still, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him as a high schooler, then again last June after an injury plagued year at Panola JC.\r\n

\r\n\"I had this in high school,\" McAfee said, displaying the cardinal red scar on his right elbow. \"And in junior college, it was my hamstring. I am looking forward to a healthy year finally.\"\r\n

\r\nMcAfee remembers the first call he got from Todd Butler, the UA recruiting coordinator.\r\n

\r\n\"Coach Butler phoned me, and that night I hurt my elbow,\" McAfee said. \"But he kept calling even after I was hurt. That's the reason it's worked out. And he kept calling last year when I couldn't play because of my hamstring. Tampa drafted me again, but there wasn't enough money in it to give up playing here. I wanted to come here.\"\r\n

\r\nButler laughed about that.\r\n

\r\n\"He didn't always call me back,\" Butler said. \"After he got hurt in high school, we called them at Panola and asked them to take him there. I did keep calling. We thought a lot of his ability.\r\n

\r\n\"He's got a lot of tools. He had a great arm before the injury and it looks like he's gotten his confidence back. He's very talented.\"\r\n

\r\nMcAfee said baseball was fun in the fall with his arm finally healthy.\r\n

\r\n\"I pitched in high school and my arm had been bothering me for a couple of years before I finally tore it,\" he said. \"This fall, it was finally right. It took a full year after (Tommy John) surgery, but this fall I was able to cut loose. That's the first time in a long time. It came out of my hand a little differently at first. But it felt great in the fall.\"\r\n

\r\nThat doesn't mean everything was easy in the fall. The level of pitching he faced was new.\r\n

\r\n\"To see our staff on a daily basis was a big adjustment,\" McAfee said. \"It was a different velocity than what I was used to and all of these guys have a great secondary pitch.\r\n

\r\n\"It started to come around to me after about the third week of falls scrimmages. Things slowed down and I relaxed a little bit.\"\r\n

\r\nButler said he worried a bit about recruiting McAfee after just one year of junior college.\r\n

\r\n\"They have a great coach at Panola, Todd Shelton,\" Butler said. \"Usually, when you send a player to JC, you let them have them for two years. But I called Todd after that first year and asked if we could have him.\r\n

\r\n\"I told him that Brett was the key to our team. We needed a shortstop. He's really talented. Todd was good to understand.\"\r\n

\r\nStill, Butler knows there are going to be tough days ahead for McAfee. SEC pitching is a couple of notches up from junior college ball.\r\n

\r\n\"He's one of the best athletes we've had,\" Butler said. \"His feet are really good. But he hasn't played much the last two years and then you think about the atmosphere we are going to put him in. He's going from having about 50 watch him in junior college to 10,000 with us some nights.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn is excited to see the transition begin. He said McAfee's mesh with Ficociello on the double play has gone well.\r\n

\r\n\"They have gelled,\" Van Horn said. \"They both have great range. Ficociello played really well for us at first and I think he's going to have a great year at second, too. There are a few more things to think about at second than first, but they look good to me.\"\r\n

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