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Hawgs Illustrated: Give us an overview of your second Arkansas baseball team.
Dave Van Horn: I am a lot more comfortable this year than last year. First, I was really excited last year and there was a lot going on. Coach DeBriyn had stepped down and I had returned to my alma mater. I was leaving a program (at Nebraska) that was winning their league. This year, I am a more in tune with what is going on, and just more comfortable. I'll have a better year. As far as the players, we know them and they know us. We have some who have been around us to explain things to the new ones that just got here. We are still learning the new ones, though. We have some who are afraid of the coaches. We want them to loosen up a little bit.
HI: How will your pitching be this year?
Van Horn: I'll start with Charley Boyce and Jay Sawatski. Boyce is better than last year and Sawatski is a lot better than last year. Those are the two who will get the ball for our Friday and Saturday games. We have a couple who are bidding for that third starting spot and we do have a lot more (pitching) depth than last year. We have a good mix between right and lefthanders. We don't have a lot of Division I experience, but we have some ability.
HI: Can you go through your probable lineup if you were going to play a game today?
Van Horn: At catcher, ritht now you could flip a coin between Brady Toops and Blake Parker. Toops will probably start the first game, but Blake will be in there during the first weekend, too. I'll let you see them and then let you judge the difference as far as talent.
At first base, we have Haas Pratt and Clay Goodwin. Haas has changed his body. He lost about 12 pounds and he's helped his lateral quickness and speed. He had to do that to cover more ground. There were some balls that he just didn't get to last year. He's going to be in the lineup, but maybe as DH. He'll start out there and it will be either his position to win or lose. If he loses it, then Clay Goodwin can play there. Clay finished the year strong last year and didn't fade like some. He played first base in the summer and could play there for us.
Second base, well, this is a position, boy, that could be a dogfight. Honestly, I don't know. Devin Day was a shortstop, but he may play second for us. He is excellent. Casey Rowlett is right there, too. And, we also have Bubbs Merrill, a round guy who is about 5-7, 190 who was Nebraska's utility man last year. He'll play somewhere. Devin has had a tremendous first two weeks of practice after a bad fall.
At shortstop, that's going to be Scott Hode. He's really practiced well. If we need him there, Day can play shortstop, too. But that's probably Hode's spot. Hode has made probably the biggest jump of anyone on our team. He probably should be hitting three or four for us, but we are going to keep him down in the lineup for some pop there. He's much stronger and the ball really jumps off his bat now. He hit three or four home runs in our coach-pitch session this week.
At third base, we have Goodwin or (freshman) Danny Hamblin. Goodwin is more game ready. He's played in the (SEC). Hamblin has better range and has some real pop. He was the player of the year in the Dallas Metroplex last year. We haven't seen him hit the home runs like he did in high school, but he's been a little better defensively than we thought.
Our outfield will be very competitive, a real dogfight all year.
In left field, Matt Fry, a transfer who just got herefrom California, will be one candidate. He's lefthanded and was a leadoff man in junior college. He's got a leadoff eye, but not quite as much speed as we had thought. We also have Kern Watts there. He can really steal some bases and knows the strike zone.
Casey Rowlett is going to play center field. He has a great, great arm. He's only 5-8, but he runs well and plays hard. We also are working Stephen Robinson there. He is our fastest in the 60. He needs to be more consistent with the bat.
In right field, it will be Blake Parker if he is not catching. He played outfield all summer. We played him there for the first time yesterday after working him at catcher in the fall. Blake has made a tremendous jump since last summer. He's fulltime baseball and that has helped. He didn't have football in the fall for the first time and you can see the difference now. He's a tough out. He makes contact and the ball just jumps off his bat. He's going to be a three or four-hole hitter for us. He's going to play. It could be at catcher. It could be in right, or as a DH. But he will play. We've got another one in right, and that's Jake Dugger, who was the Nebraska player of the year last year (in high school). He hit .360 in the fall and has gap power. He's been bothered by a hand injury, but he is a good one.
HI: That covers the team position by position. What about the leadoff spot? Last year, you went with Nick Pitts there, and he's not really a leadoff man.
Van Horn: You guys probably know it already, but Nick was about my favorite player. But he wasn't a leadoff man, you are right. We just didn't have one. We want to be a team that has a true leadoff man and we went out and signed about four or five with that capability. We are going about the process of developing one right now.
One thing I will say, is that we will try to be a team that steals some bases this year. We were pathetic there last year, about the worst in the league. We will be a team that tries to score from second and we will be a team that bunts and does some running. That's the way I like to play and we will have the ability to do that this year.
HI: What about the bullpen?
Van Horn: Caton Hall is a guy that we are looking at as a closer. Right now, he's not eligible. He has some work to do with a correspondence course to finish. But he is able to practice. He had a bad start in the class room in the fall, and we sent him away for awhile. Funny, his grades went up at that point. He's going to be one of our main guys out of the bull pen. He has great movement on his pitches.
I also like Zach Butler in the pen. He's a transfer and was the MVP of his junior college. He threw too much and he had a bit of a tender arm when he got here in the fall. We've rested him and we'll see how he is this spring. He's got tremendous movement and we will just tell him to throw it somewhere over the plate.
HI: What about some other pitching candidates?
Van Horn: A guy we really like is a big kid named Josh Smith. He's 6-2 and about 235. He turned down money a couple of times. He can really bring it. In the fall, he had a couple of tough outings, then the third time out, no one could touch him. He developed a tender arm and we don't know how it's going to be this spring. I'll say he's one that will throw some pitches and will probably go 2-2 and 3-2 a lot. You just have to leave him out there and let him bring it. He has some power. He's the one we want to develop into that third starter, but we'll have to see.
We have quite a few others that could be that third starter. Clint Brannon could be it. He's much better this year. He's kind of on a mission. We dropped his delivery down from the side a bit and it's given him more movement.