Despite losing a big piece of the pitching rotation, head baseball coach Dave Van Horn said at Arkansas Media Day that he feels optimistic about his 2017 squad at the helm of his 15th season in Razorback red.
“You can’t get here quick enough,” Van Horn said of his team’s progression.
Van Horn also spoke about the introduction of pitching coach Wes Johnson, stating that the pitchers have responded to the new coach “as best as you can,” Van Horn said.
Johnson is entering his first season as the UA pitching coach replacing long-time pitching coach Dave Jorn who retired after his 14th season.
When it comes to pitching, the Diamond Hogs suffered a huge blow after losing Keaton McKinney to an elbow injury.
“Obviously (we’re) very disappointed that we lost him and hate it for him, hate it for the team,” Van Horn said.
One of the major challenges going forward for the Hogs this season is the bullpen depth, Van Horn said.
“Now we know it just means some guys have to step up,” Van Horn said.
The corners of the diamond are also going to be positions to watch in the time leading up to opening day. Junior Jared Gates, freshman Jordan McFarland and sophomore Chad Spanberger are the three contenders for the first base position.
Van Horn said the first base position contains a lot of depth.
“Two of those three could play at third if we needed them to,” Van Horn said.
Junior Carson Shaddy is looking to be the starting second baseman who, Van Horn said, is coming in with his arm feeling better than it has since he’s been at the University.
One player Van Horn mentioned to watch was freshman outfielder Dominic Fletcher, who was the No. 10-ranked prospect in all of California during his senior season of high school. One skill of note is his defensive ability and strong arm, Van Horn said.
“(He’s good at) any level, but especially the college one,” Van Horn said. “He’ll throw you out if you try to take an extra base and he’s really accurate.”
Sophomores Blaine Knight and Isaiah Campbell are projected to be the starting pitchers, but Van Horn showed confidence in Knight’s ability to close as well. Junior Luke Bonfield has a chance to be the left fielder while also filling in as a designated hitter.
Junior infielder Jared Gates, an Iowa Western Community College transfer, put up big numbers last season posting 50 extra base hits with eight home runs.
The Hogs enter this season with higher hopes after a strong 18-6 start last season, before struggling to a 26-29 finish.
Van Horn noted the team was ready to play and is more prepared going into the upcoming season.
Scrimmaging in both the fall and preseason is a major point of focus for the team, Van Horn said.
“They scrimmaged more than they ever had,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn acknowledged the Hogs are confident this season.
“I like the potential in this team,” Van Horn said.
The Diamond Hogs will begin regular season against Miami University at 3 p.m. Friday at Baum Stadium.