2008 SEC Baseball Preview: Arkansas

If Arkansas can find some pitching, the defending SEC West champ might be just as strong in coach Dave Van Horn's sixth season.

The Hogs relied on their pitching last year in the form of stellar starters Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd and Duke Welker. All went high in the major league draft after spectacular junior seasons.

The losses in the middle of the batting order were heavy, too. The Hogs lost SEC home run leader Danny Hamblin along with catcher Brian Walker and outfielder Jake Dugger.

However, the returnees are solid and the incoming recruiting class is one of Van Horn's best. It appears that the Hogs are reloading, not rebuilding. Coaches thought the Hogs had flatter swings and fewer strikeouts after assessing fall camp.

Third baseman Logan Forsythe, who had a standout summer with the USA National squad, returns to lead the Hogs both on and off the field.

"Logan is one of the most improved players I have ever coached from when he arrived as a freshman to the start of his junior year," Van Horn said. "He has always had the heart and determination. As a sophomore he put it all together and became probably our toughest out at the plate because he really knew the strike zone and made pitchers pitch to him.

"Defensively, he is also one of the top third basemen I have ever coached. The thing about Logan is that he can play anywhere. He could be one of our best shortstops, if not the best second baseman, an outfielder or he could catch. He is just so valuable to our team, and then you throw in the fact that he is a leader."

Forsythe was solid in almost every offensive category with a .347 batting average, nine homers, 18 stolen bases and 55 RBI. Left fielder Casey Coon, the cleanup man most of the year, is also back after leading the team with 71 RBI. The Hogs return the bulk of their infield with shortstop Tim Smalling and second baseman Ben Tschepikow.

The Hogs are excited about freshman first baseman Andy Wilkins, a 6-2, 230-pound lefty with plenty of pop and lots of line drives. Brett Eibner is another standout freshman and is a two-way player. He's got a 94-mph fast ball and is a power-hitting outfielder, too.

The Hogs must replace their entire starting rotation, but the coaching staff thinks there are plenty of solid arms on the staff. Shaun Seibert, out with Tommy John surgery last year, looks good in rehab. Dallas Keuchel, Stephen Richards, Scott Limlocker, Evan Cox and Travis Hill are other returnees ready to step up. Among the newcomers, Mike Bolsinger, Cliff Springston and Eibner should provide plenty of innings.

"When you recruit a young guy on the mound you have to project a little bit," Van Horn said of the pitching. "To have a freshman, like Nick Schmidt, come in and dominate as a true freshman is rare. We have some guys that have been in our program for a year, been through the SEC and worked with Coach (Dave) Jorn, and we feel like those guys are going to be the mainstay of our pitching staff.

"We had some guys pitch really well in summer ball and again in the fall. We aren't there yet, but we feel like we have quality arms and maybe more depth on the mound."


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