Fall Report: Arkansas
Wise college baseball writers should know by now to never discount Arkansas as long as coach Dave Van Horn and his staff are around. And while the Razorbacks wrap up fall workouts with plenty of holes to fill in the spring, conventional wisdom says they will put the pieces together in time to have yet another highly successful season.
Looking back at last year, not a ton was expected from the Hogs. They were picked to finish fifth in the SEC West Division and were not ranked in the D1Baseball Top 25 before the season. Additionally, the Hogs were leaking water in the middle of the season until they went on a ferocious run that included series wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, Kentucky, and most impressive of all, a road series win over then No. 1 Texas A&M near the end of April that catapulted them the rest of the season.
The Hogs took care of business in the Stillwater Regional in impressive fashion before winning the Fayetteville Super Regional over Missouri State despite being banged up on the mound to advance to the College World Series. Though the season didn’t end in spectacular fashion in Omaha, it was a success given preseason expectations.
Still, even with holes to fill with this team as fall concludes, think about where this team was this time last year. Did anyone see Andrew Benintendi, who hit in the 200s two years ago, doing what he did last season and catapulting into a high first-round pick? Probably not. The list of guys who stepped up in 2015 is lengthy, and chances are good the Razorbacks will have some key cogs rise to the occasion, again, when the 2016 season arrives.
“We’ve been scrimmaging more than we ever have. Our hitters are getting a lot more at-bats this fall, and we’ve got a nice crop of young pitchers who logged about 25 innings during fall workouts,” Van Horn said. “Now, we have to evaluate what we saw (this fall) and see where a lot of those guys can help us in the spring.
“We should be healthy to start the season,” he continued. “We will be a work in progress come spring. We’ll have five games and then we’ll head to the tournament in Houston. So, we’ll be tested pretty early in the season.”
Arkansas’ gaps at this point are clear. The Hogs will have the tough chore of replacing spark plugs and heartbeats of the team in Andrew Benintendi, Bobby Wernes, Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano, while on a lesser scale, also must replace righthander Trey Killian. But the pieces are in place — granted they can stay healthy — to be even better than last season.
On the mound, the Razorbacks must have Dominic Taccolini, Keaton McKinney and James Teague healthy. Taccolini had part of his ribs removed in the offseason because of a blood clot, McKinney had hip surgery and Teague had a stress reaction in last year’s super regional that shelved him for the Hogs’ trip to Omaha. Teague is back throwing and is progressing very well, while Van Horn is confident the other two will be back and healthy for the start of the season, with both Taccolini and McKinney making significant progress.
“We think and hope that McKinney will be ready to go at the start of the season, and Taccolini didn’t throw during the fall, either,” Van Horn said. “The one good thing is that Teague is back on the mound and he finished the fall looking pretty good. Those are obviously big keys for this team.”
Those players really standing out this fall are featured below, but this Arkansas team, once again, is very intriguing as another season nears.
As usual, don’t bet against Van Horn and his staff.
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