There's great stuff going on at Baum Stadium these days. The massive new video board is getting the finishing touches and will be ready in time for the Feb. 19 season opener.
In doing research this week for the annual Baseball Preview for Hawgs Illustrated, I couldn't help but ask if there was finally going to be radar gun numbers on display. There was a time when I felt both head coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn were against putting the radar readings in the stadium.
One of the things I always did out of curiosity was to take my field glasses to the baseball stadium to look down from the press box into the seats behind home plate where the professional scouts sat with their guns. I love to see those numbers.
“We'll have the radar numbers,” Van Horn smiled. “I've actually been fine with it for awhile. It's great for the fans and I think they will learn some things about pitchers if they'll watch the numbers.”
Jorn seems OK with it, too. He just wants to make sure none of his guys injure their necks looking back at the scoreboard.
“I just think it's not as important as some do,” Jorn said of lighting up the gun with 95 mph pitches.
“I have preached this forever. Pitch selection and pitch execution are more important than velocity. I've seen it too often. A pitcher gets his velocity up, but doesn't execute pitches. I do think putting those numbers up are more for the fans.”
Jorn would ask fans to use it to learn who can really pitch. For instance, it would have been interesting to watch the numbers change during the Dallas Keuchel days with the Hogs.
“Dallas could get it up there at 91 or 92 if he needed to and maybe even higher than that,” Jorn said. “But what he did was change the velo on almost every pitch.
“The really good pitchers are not hitting that same number on every pitch. You can be effective in the high 80s, if you change speeds and have command.
“I'll tell fans to figure out the guys who can do that, change those speeds. That's pitching.”
Van Horn said pretty much the same thing. He remembers his days at Nebraska on a trip to Fresno State where the radar numbers were displayed. He had a flame thrower for game one, then a crafty lefty for game two.
“We a lefthander who threw about 83,” Van Horn said. “You could tell the Fresno guys were excited to get him. But, he went from 83 to 82, to 79, then with a change-up at 77. Never the same speed.”
There were nothing but goose eggs on the scoreboard for Fresno next to that unexciting velocity number from the radar gun.
“At the end of six innings, you could look over in their dugout and see their frustration,” Van Horn said. “Someone who can change those speeds, they can slice you up. Fans will be able to tell those who can pitch.”
The Hogs have high hopes for their pitching staff. Obviously, Zach Jackson is the ace. Last year's All-SEC closer, Jackson will light up the gun. He routinely hits 95 mph. But he has three major league pitches with a curve and change to match the heater.
There is good news in that Keaton McKinney, James Teague and Dominic Taccolini are all 100 percent heading into the season. McKinney and Taccolini are both coming off surgeries. All three were shut down for injuries as the Hogs hit postseason play last year. Taccolini had some elbow tenderness over the Christmas break, but Jorn said that was corrected with an adjustment in his change-up. McKinney did pitch in the College World Series after missing some starts in May.
There is much excitement over the freshman pitching class. Springdale Har-Ber lefty Weston Rogers has shown great ability to throw strikes and has good stuff. Ty Harris, Anthony Dahl, Isaiah Campbell, Kacey Murphy and Barrett Loseke. There are three lefties in that group. Junior college transfer Hunter Hart has also been impressive. Doug Willey, senior transfer doing post-graduate work, has also shown consistent command of the strike zone.
“We feel good about the freshmen and the new guys,” Van Horn said. “Rogers has thrown a lot of strikes and has a lot of composure. He has three pitches.
“We have a lot of good arms, but a lot of inexperience. They've been pretty good with no one in the seats. When you play games and people are there, sometimes it makes a difference. We'll see.”
They'll see early. While McKinney, Teague and Taccolini are healthy, they'll have to build up their pitch counts after being on the shelf for so long. None pitched in the summer or fall.
“We are going to be smart with those three and bring them along,” Van Horn said. “Normally, they'd be the guys to eat up some innings. It's probably a blessing in disguise because we need to look at these younger guys.”
There is the thought that it won't be like last year when some youngsters got looks, but couldn't throw strikes, producing some long games. There were lots of walks, plenty of wild pitches and frustration for a coaching staff that has always produced strike throwers.
Jorn doesn't see that now. He said the fall results were good. He generally lets newcomers strut their stuff early and waits until after the intra squad games to make changes in the late fall.
“It really wasn't a lot, but they all were receptive,” Jorn said. “They were willing. I just don't like to confuse them when they first get here.
“The main thing I try to help them with is rhythm and extension. They were open to instruction.”
Now it's time to check them out on the radar numbers on the Baum Stadium scoreboard.