The Razorbacks, which finished third during the 2012 College World Series, return five position player starters and a slew of quality pitchers, including three who are expected to be picked in the first three rounds of the 2013 Draft in RHP Ryne Stanek (8-4, 2.82 ERA, 83 K, 36 BB), RHP Colby Suggs (7-1, 1.38 ERA), and RHP Barrett Astin (11 SV, 3-5, 1.99 ERA). The only substantial pitching loss was RHP D.J. Baxendale (8-5, 3.11 ERA, 96 K, All-SEC).
Last season, Arkansas’ pitching staff ranked fifth in the nation with a 2.83 ERA and fourth in hits allowed per game at 7.53.
Catcher Jake Wise, a superb defensive player with a strong arm, is also expected to be chosen early in the 2013 Draft. He only allowed opponents 33 stolen bases last year in 50 attempts. Offensively, he hit 10 doubles and recorded 25 RBIs. Another outstanding position player back is 2B Dominic Ficociello (.290, 6 HR, 15 2B, 41 RBI) who was brilliant defensively last fall. He converted from being the Razorbacks’ starting first baseman last year.
Arkansas features three Louisville Slugger pre-season All-Americans in Stanek, Suggs and Ficociello.
Factor in an exceptional recruiting class of 18 newcomers which has a nice mix of freshmen and junior college transfers, and Arkansas should be superb in 2013.
“This is the deepest team we have had at Arkansas,” said Razorback Head Coach Dave Van Horn, now in his 11th season. He has led the Razorbacks to three appearances at the College World Series in 2004, 2009 and 2012.
Overall as a head coach, he has now led five teams to the College World Series, including two times when he was the head coach at Nebraska in 2001 and 2002. Van Horn feels his 2013 squad has all the talent and experience to make it to Omaha once again.
“We have had good teams the last four or five years. But this team pitching wise is deeper than all of them when you consider starting pitching, relievers and closers. Offensively, we are very athletic. We have a bunch of mature kids who have College World Series, Super Regional and Regional playoff experience.”
Van Horn feels that he has a great catcher to handle his remarkable collection of pitchers.
“Jake Wise is an outstanding defensive catcher with a strong arm. And he handles our pitchers very well. He also is improving on the offensive end as well.’
Van Horn said that the Razorbacks have great options at the end of games with his pitching staff.
“Barrett Astin saved 11 games for us last year (with a 1.99 ERA), and we are thinking of having him be a starter behind Ryne Stanek this season.
“Colby Suggs did a superb job for us last year (7-1, 1.38 ERA), and we could use him as our closer. Either way, we have experienced pitchers available to close out games who have had great success. We also have a couple of lefties who can throw 90 mph that we can utilize at the end of games”
Van Horn said his outfield defense should be exceptional.
“Joe Serrano should be our leftfielder, and he did a fine job during his freshman year last season despite suffering from injuries. But once he was healthy, he hit throughout the playoffs. Two players are battling for the centerfield spot in Jacob Morris and Matt Vinson. Jacob didn’t play during last year’s playoffs because he broke his finger bunting and had to have surgery. He is the best defensive centerfielder I have ever had, and he can really throw. Jacob is a big, strong guy who looks like a football player. Matt is a switch hitter and has also done a fine job as well. The rightfielder spot should go to Tyler Spoon who was redshirted last season. He played in the Alaska League last summer and led the league in home runs.”
Van Horn said the infielders are superb as well.
“We lost our starting shortstop and second baseman. But Brett McAfee has come on strong at shortstop with a plus arm and plus range. He has some power and can hit. Our second baseman is expected to be Dominic Ficociello (6-foot-4, 185-pound switch hitter). We moved Dominic there in the fall from first base, and he was outstanding. That allows us to put Eric Fisher, who redshirted last season, at first base. He is a lefthanded hitter and played in the California League last summer and showed tremendous power.”
Van Horn said his DH may be freshman Willie Schwanke if he doesn’t play third base. He said Schwanke has shown power as a hitter and is learning to hit the other way.
As a Louisville Slugger All-American third baseman and pitcher for Wakeland High School in Frisco, Tex. last season, he posted a 10-0 record with a 1.82 ERA with 93 strikeouts with a low 90s fastball. He hit .436 with 16 doubles, 4 triples, 4 homers and 39 RBIs.
“I feel we will have a tremendous offensive lineup to go with our experienced pitching.”
Van Horn is one of the top defensive coaches in the nation, and he worked his players extremely hard in the fall to become better.
“That is one area we worked harder on than any other. We want to play solid defense every game. If we can stay away from 4-5 out innings, we should have a very good season.
“We also need to stay healthy and continue to work hard. We definitely have a chance to get back to the College World Series. And if we get there, anything can happen.”
The Razorbacks finished second at the 1979 College World Series and third in 1985 and 2012.
Keep this in mind as well. A Southeastern Conference team has won three of the last four national baseball championships. An SEC ball club has also been in the title game for five consecutive years.
For a detailed rundown on the top 40 teams, see the Jan. 4, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball newspaper which also includes a complete look at every NCAA Division I Conference with pre-season rankings and a listing of top players in each league, including projected pitchers and players of the year.
In addition, this issue of Collegiate Baseball features a draft preview of all potential college players who may be picked in the first two rounds of the 2013 Free Agent Draft next spring and Louisville Slugger pre-season All-American teams.
The “Collegiate Baseball” Newspaper poll is the oldest college baseball poll. Its birth took place during the 1958 college baseball season.
NCAA Div. I Pre-Season Poll
|Rank School (’12 Final Record)||Points|
|1. Arkansas (46-22)||496|
|2. North Carolina (46-16)||495|
|3. Vanderbilt (35-28)||494|
|4. Louisiana St. (47-18)||487|
|5. UCLA (48-16)||484|
|6. Oregon (46-19)||482|
|7. South Carolina (49-20)||481|
|8. Kentucky (45-18)||478|
|9. Stanford (41-18)||476|
|10. Oregon St. (40-20)||473|
|11. N.C. State (43-20)||470|
|12. San Diego (40-17)||467|
|13. Mississippi St. (40-24)||464|
|14. Oklahoma (42-25)||462|
|15. Texas Christian (40-22)||460|
|16. Arizona St. (36-20)||458|
|17. Georgia Tech. (38-26)||456|
|18. Arizona (48-17)||454|
|19. Florida St. (50-17)||452|
|20. Rice (41-19)||450|
|21. Texas (30-22)||448|
|22. Louisville (41-22)||446|
|23. Cal. St. Fullerton (36-21)||445|
|24. Florida (47-20)||443|
|25. Mississippi (37-26)||437|
|26. Texas A&M (43-18)||434|
|27. Clemson (35-28)||429|
|28. Miami, Fla. (36-23)||427|
|29. Georgia (31-26)||423|
|30. U.C. Irvine (31-25)||420|
|31. Missouri St. (40-22)||418|
|32. Wichita St. (35-25)||415|
|33. New Mexico (37-24)||413|
|34. Kent St. (47-20)||411|
|35. Virginia (39-19-1)||408|
|36. Southern Mississippi (32-24)||405|
|37. East Carolina (36-24-1)||403|
|38. Coastal Carolina (42-19)||400|
|39. Dallas Baptist (41-19)||397|
|40. Pepperdine (36-23)||395|
|Other Teams Receiving Votes: Central Florida, Baylor, Oklahoma St., Long Beach St., Cal Poly, U.C. Santa Barbara, Tulane, St. John’s, South Florida, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Florida Atlantic, College of Charleston, Fresno St., Indiana St., Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Nevada, San Diego St., Nevada-Las Vegas, South Alabama, Florida International, Gonzaga, Texas St., New Mexico St., Western Carolina, Appalachian St., Georgia Southern, Sam Houston St., Southeastern Louisiana, Southern California, Washington, California, Washington St., Oral Roberts, Austin Peay St., Stony Brook, S.C. Upstate, Kennesaw St., Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast, St. Louis, Rhode Island, Virginia Commonwealth, Liberty, Campbell, High Point, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan St., Ohio St., Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, N.C. Wilmington, Hofstra, James Madison, Valparaiso, Manhattan, Canisius, Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Bethune-Cookman, Southern, Bryant, Monmouth, Belmont.|