Despite some big performances in the Fall World Series, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said his team is behind where it needs to be after the 45-practice fall schedule ended Thursday.
Weather played a large factor in the Hogs' struggles with a wet and rainy October in Northwest Arkansas.
"It was just an OK fall to be honest," Van Horn said. "The rain slowed us down and threw us behind as far as pitching and guys getting live innings and scrimmaging. It seemed like the six weeks we had out there we had bad timing with the weather. We had to move a lot of practices in and shorten practices. Last fall was tremendous; we had good weather for five or six weeks and you could really see a jump.
"But we know what we need to work on. We'll get our work in from now until Christmas and are really going to have to make some strides between now and the first ballgame to catch up and get to where we need to be when we open the season. I think we're just a little bit behind where I'd like to be."
That's not to say the seventh-year Razorback skipper didn't see improvement this year. A lot of that came from freshmen as Derrick Bleeker and Matt Reynolds came up big at the plate in the Cardinal-Black Series and new right-hander DJ Baxendale had the best performance of any pitcher with seven strikeouts in a 7.1.-inning, shutout in Game 3 of the best of five series.
"It's always nice to see the young guys come on a little bit," Van Horn said. "A lot of times they get here and they're nervous, and they don't know how to handle the rigors of the long practices, strength and conditioning, plus going to school. A lot of times it takes a month to get them comfortable and I think that's what you saw a little bit in the last couple of weeks with the younger guys, especially Derrick Bleeker, who came on and showed that he can swing the bat. He's a very good defender and we're also planning on pitching some for us.
"He was one of about three freshmen that came on and played really well in the Cardinal-Black series. Reynolds played outstanding and hit the ball well and Baxendale had his best outing on the mound of the fall with seven shutout innings. So that was good to see."
Bleeker finished the series 6-for-16 with three home runs, a double, a triple and six RBIs. The Longmont, Colo., product had been considered just a pitching prospect heading into the series.
"We've got a lot of good hitters," Van Horn said. "If he swings the bat the way he did in the series he will be a DH, but if you take the whole fall there are some guys that out-hit him by a lot. Travis Sample (5-for-13, three RBIs) has a chance to start in left field or a chance to be the DH. Kyle Robinson didn't have a great series, but he had a good fall offensively. I could go on and on. DH is where we'll just go with the hot hitter."
Speaking of hot hitters, Reynolds finished the series 5-for-16 with a home run and four runs scored. The freshman from Tulsa is pushing redshirt sophomore Tim Carver for playing time at short stop, Van Horn said.
"That's probably been the best battle of the fall," Van Horn said. "Carver was very consistent with the bat all fall – probably the most improved offensive returner. I think he ended up leading our team in hitting all fall and only struck out twice in 60 or 70 at-bats, so that was very impressive. He plays good defense, too.
"I think Matt Reynolds came in and showed how talented he is. He can really field and throw. He missed his senior year (of high school) with back problems and didn't play summer ball until the very end in August when got to play in five games. That's all he played in a nine month period. He came in slow with the bat in the first half of the fall but he really picked it up after that. His defense is what stood out to me and I think the coaches saw that. He can really field and he's got a great arm that's very accurate. That's going to be a battle."
Good news for Carver is that if he does end up losing out at short, he could still end up on the field, Van Horn said.
"The good thing about Carver is that Tim can play anywhere," Van Horn said. "He can play third, he can play second, he can play in the outfield – he's just a baseball player. He's going to be very valuable to this team whether he's starting at short or DH'ing. It's just good to have Tim on the club."
Coming off a College World Series run in 2009, expectations are high for Arkansas this off-season.
"We've definitely got the talent," pitcher Drew Smyly said. "I think we need to work a little bit on our leadership and teamwork. We lost (Ben) Tschepikow and (Scott) Lyons, and those were two good leaders for us last year. But Andy Wilkins is stepping up and Brett Eibner is stepping up, so I think we'll be fine."
Van Horn said the Hogs need to find players to fill the spots in the outfield.
"Eibner is there in center field and (freshman Matt) Vinson has a great opportunity to start," Van Horn said. "Then you have (Jarrod) McKinney and Robinson, just to name a few.
"Then you have Collin Kuhn, who needs to take it to the game a little more. He does a great job in practice, in batting practice and defensively his skills are outstanding out there – he can really run and catch the ball. There are some guys, so it's going to be a battle. We'll give some guys a shot and whoever can play good defense, but also brings some offense will be the guys that are going to play."
Weather dampens Hogs' fall
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