Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn likes to be creative to get the most out of his team in fall camp. Now that he has a new indoor workout facility, it's gotten easy to push the Razorbacks to their limits.
Van Horn met with the media Tuesday to cover the early work of fall baseball practices. He said several players have mentioned they've "never worked this hard" in their baseball careers. That's music to his ears.
"I do think some of our guys are tired," Van Horn said. "We've been able to really stretch things as far as workouts with the new building. We can get more things done at the same time. Some of the junior college players tell me they have never been through anything this tough."
Van Horn had promised last winter when the Hogs were sidelined by snow that the new building, opened this summer, would be utilized as much in good weather as in bad. All of that has come true in the last six weeks.
Van Horn knows the Hogs will have to play tough because of the schedule that was announced Tuesday. With an eye towards the SEC schedule that starts with national champ Vanderbilt on the road, then LSU and Ole Miss, Van Horn knows the Hogs will have to be ready in a hurry.
"It's tough," he said. "The SEC sends you the schedule to see if there are any issues. You look at it and see if there are problems as far as final exams or anything. I just said, 'OK, it is what it is and said fine.' Hey, you may catch a break when you play a team at the start of the schedule.
"I know Vanderbilt is a little different in the surface they play. I know them pretty well. I had four of their players this summer with Team USA. You better be prepared when you go there because it is different and you could get bushwhacked, but I think we'll be ready."
What he's seen over the first seven weeks of school has excited Van Horn.
"We've got great competition with the older guys and the newcomers," Van Horn said. "It's probably the most competition we've had as far as position players. We've got a good bunch of new infielders. They are not just numbers. They can play. They are infielders.
"I think we've got some live arms. Guys are a little tired right now after pitching this summer and what we've given them. But I think we'll be OK there."
There have been some injuries. Freshman Luke Bonfield is out with ankle surgery. He'll return in one month. Sophomore Clark Eagan returned to practice Monday after knee surgery. Ace pitcher Trey Killian is being rested after a bout with tendinitis. Pitcher James Teague has been slowed with a rib injury. Blake Baxendale sustained a concussion when a ground ball hit him in the cheek.
However, there are good signs on the injury front. Shortstop Brett McAfee, out most of last year with a back injury, has been pain free throughout the fall.
"McAfee is up to 190," Van Horn said. "He's in a heckuva battle at short with Michael Bernal. We've really got those kinds of battles everywhere."
Freshman Chad Spanberger has sparkled with some tape measure home runs. The lefty first baseman is battling with Eagan, Baxendale and freshman Blake Wiggins at first base.
"Spanberger has hit four home runs in scrimmages, two yesterday," Van Horn said. "It doesn't matter which way the wind is blowing when he hits them, they are going out."
The competition is deep at catcher where the Hogs are replacing Jake Wise. Returnee Alex Gosser is battling freshman Nathan Rodriguez and junior college transfer Tucker Pennell, among others.
"We've got five guys there," Van Horn said. "Rodriguez throws and catches as well as any freshmen we've had. Pennell is throwing everyone out, too. Gosser has had a pretty good fall."
The talk of fall ball has been the new baseballs, a version with flatter seams that goes further because of reduced back spin.
"The old ball looked bigger because of those seams," Van Horn said. "This one is the same size, but it just has flatter seams. The pitchers like it too. They don't have as much trouble with blisters. We've had none. The two-seam pitches you can put a little more run on it. It probably goes a little faster and if you can spin a curve ball, it's not going to matter."
Van Horn sees plenty of class on the mound, as usual. Sophomore Zach Jackson sparkled in Sunday's scrimmage. Jackson was 180 when he signed two years ago and is now at 215.
"We didn't touch him for five innings," Van Horn said. "It was a great outing. He was locating everything on Sunday. If that guys shows up in the spring, he will be hard on everyone. He's got a big league breaker. If it's on, you won't hit it. He had good command with his fast ball Sunday. He located everything. He's gained 35 pounds since he's been here and it's all good weight."
Freshman Keaton McKinney has sparkled with his out pitch, a nasty changeup. The 6-5, 230-pounder has shown the ability to throw that pitch "on any count." Van Horn said his fast ball has been clocked at 90.
Van Horn praised the fielding work of junior college infielders Max Hogan and Rick Nomura.
"Hogan can play third or second," he said. "Nomura is a switch hitting second baseman. Those guys bring a lot of energy."
Van Horn: Hogs Utilizing New Building
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