FAYETTEVILLE- Arkansas baseball head coach Dave Van Horn met with members of the media on Friday afternoon to discuss the opening of spring practice. A partial transcript of his press conference follows.
Opening statement…"Obviously we are really excited about starting up spring practice. It actually feels like spring. We are real fortunate. We are going to have three good days in a row to get in some really quality work. We have three weeks exactly until we open up (the regular season). Right now we’re scheduled to go three and a half hours today. We’ll go four on Saturday which is the limit you can go in one day and we’ll probably go right around three hours on Sunday. We’re starting a little earlier on Sunday. Normally Sunday we try to give them an opportunity to go to church in the morning, but with the situation of the weather coming in, we’ll probably start at ten. Also we have a meet and greet signing at the mall from three to five on Sunday that also pushes things forward a little bit. Everyone seems to be pretty healthy for the most part. I think the guys came back in tremendous shape and we found that out. We challenged them before they left for the holidays, and basically five weeks away from us, to get in shape even better than when they left because we were going to get them out there and we did. We put it on them pretty hard as far as conditioning the first week and they handled it. No complaining, no problems, no pulled hamstrings, our guys really did a good job. So I think we’re a little bit ahead of schedule as far as I’m concerned. I think the other coaches are concerned with the guys having their arms in shape, their bodies in shape, and then for us to be able to jump right into it today and pick up right where we left off in the fall. And that’s what I tell them, this isn’t the first practice of the year, this is number 27 or 28 or whatever and that’s the mindset that we need to have, that we’re not starting over. We’re excited."
On being in an underdog role entering the season…"With the four star players that we lost in (Brett) Eibner, (Andy) Wilkins, (Drew) Smyly and Zack Cox, you’re talking four guys taken in the first couple of rounds that made a lot of money. They won a lot of games for us here, they all did a great job in the classroom but it was time for them to go. It was their opportunity to cash in, so to say, and we’re excited for them. The perception of us across the league and nationally is that we are in a little bit of a rebuilding year and who knows, we may be. I hope not. We are going to have to develop some pitching. We do have some core quality returning players with catching and middle infielders. Collin Kuhn coming back was huge for us in the outfield and at the top of our batting order. We have more arms than we’ve had in the past but they’re young. They all have good arms, they’re all 88-92 mile an hour arms but they’re all 18-20 years old for the most part, except for DJ (Baxendale) and (Geoffrey) Davenport. So we are young on the mound but our jobs as coaches is don’t leave them in for too long, go to the next guy. We’re going to work on that. That’s what early practice is about and early games, is trying to get that rotation in as much order as we can before we open up at Auburn in conference in March."
On Matt Vinson and his off-season surgery…"For those of you who didn’t know, Matt Vinson tore a labrum in his left shoulder, not his throwing arm, diving back to a base playing fall ball and had to have surgery. He looks good and he’s throwing well, because it’s obviously not that arm. The question was his swing from one side. He’s a switch hitter but he’s been swinging it good. He’s pretty much full go. Matt Reynolds had a tear in a ligament in his thumb, in his throwing hand thumb and we got that fixed. Dr. Cox and Dr. Arnold got him ready. He’s already ready to go. We didn’t think he was going to be full form, full go, until probably mid-February and he’s way ahead of schedule. Then (Jarrod) McKinney with knee surgery, he’s ten months out. He still has a little limp but he’s fine. I think now it’s just a matter of getting it going. He claims that it’s the cold weather and I told him that he’s not that old yet. He’ll feel that when he’s 50."
On Cade Lynch…He’s throwing, but he can’t run and do a lot of the drills with the team yet. He’s getting close. The main thing is so far he’s been pain free from the migraines. I’ve made this comment a couple times. It’s a good story. He pitched really well for us in the fall. All he could do was pitch and basically go sit down, go home and lay down. He was in a lot of discomfort and he’s been that way for a few years. As well as he threw for us without having the opportunity to condition with the pitchers and all that entails to being in shape and throwing many innings and to increase velocity, with this surgery we’re hoping he’ll be 100 percent healed and really take off."
On Collin Kuhn…"His leadership ability is outstanding. Collin is kind of a quiet kid but he earns a lot of respect in that locker room and on the field because he’s very tough. He broke the record for getting hit by a pitch last year and it almost became comical in the dugout when he got hit because he wouldn’t get out of the way of the pitch and we weren’t asking him to stay in there like that, especially when we’re up six or seven runs and he’s still doing it. So he just earns a lot of respect with toughness. As far as hitting in the lead-off spot, I like him there. We toyed with putting him in the three hole, but really to me, with this style of team, what’s the difference? I don’t think he’s going to hit 16 home runs again with these bats. It’d be awful tough. I’d rather him hit 30 doubles or steal 35 bases or whatever the case may be, just get on base and score, drive in runs a second or third time around. With Matt Reynolds and the way he’s come around offensively and the way he hit last fall and already so far in the drills, right now he’s probably going to be our third hole hitter and I feel good about that. He’s (Collin’s) our everyday centerfielder because he’s going to play every day, unless he’s hurt. He’s earned it so I really don’t want to mess around too much out there. If Jacob Morris is in the line-up, he’s an incredible athlete, outstanding defender, probably the strongest on the team. If he’s in the line-up, if that bat gets him in the line-up everyday then we might move Collin to left because Jacob is a more natural centerfielder with that closing speed. It’s very impressive and you’ll get a chance to see that. He will be a defensive replacement, so late in games we might move Collin to left. A lot of people don’t realize, left field may be the hardest position to play out there, the way the ball comes off the bat. It hooks from right handers, it slices from left handers. It’s a little different from center where you can get a read and just run them down, run down your mistakes. In left field you step in and the ball’s going over your head. You really have to be good and Collin is very good over there."
On players that redshirted last year and the impact they will have this season….We didn’t red shirt but a couple of guys. Franco Broyles was redshirted. He had shoulder surgery on his right shoulder, an injury he actually had when he came in here out of high school and he hurt it maybe before he was in high school. But he’s made a move with the bat and gotten stronger. He was very young when he came in here, actually the age of most seniors in high school last year so I honestly look at Franco as a true freshman, age wise. Other than that, I really didn’t redshirt too many guys that have a chance to get in that line-up."
On if the players have embraced the underdog role…I think amongst the team, and like probably every team in the SEC right now, they think they have the chance to be pretty good. We just need to know how we need to play. We’ve coached them offensively a little differently because of who we have. We’re not going to be hitting too many three-run homers. I think they are buying in and embracing the fact that this is their team now and Zack Cox isn’t here anymore or Wilkins or Eibner or those guys that have been here for two or three year playing everyday and getting all the headlines and hitting those three-run homers. It’s time for them to make their move and leave their mark on this program. My expectations are the same as the team. We need to get better every week. We feel good about our lineup. We’ve got more depth as far as who to play than we have the last couple of years. We had six or seven guys who could hit in the lineup and then after that, guys that weren’t doing it. If you look at who’s was hitting in the eight or nine hole, they were hitting 250-200, whatever the case may be. I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. We feel like 1-9 we have guys with a chance to hit for an average."
On DJ Baxendale…"If you look at him physically, he’s grown up a lot. He was a kid last year. He was a freshman and looked like a freshman. He had the mentality of a sophomore or junior. He was tough out there, very talented and he competed. He’s put on some more weight and just looks older, more mature. He’s really the leader of our pitching staff. He’s right there with Coach (Dave) Jorn leading those guys around and he pitched outstanding in the fall. We had to take it easy with him because he threw in summer ball. He’s so versatile. We could use him Friday night as a starter. We could bring him out of the pen all weekend. If he didn’t throw enough, we could start him on Sunday and I’ve said that a couple of times and I always mention Jay Sawatski because he was so effective doing that in 2004. Right now, DJ will open up for us on Friday against Delaware State."