Bahn: Hitting A Focus For Van Horn, Razorbacks This Offseason

by Chris Bahn  on Tuesday, Jun. 14, 2011 9:30 am  

Catcher James McCann was one of the few Razorbacks to consistently perform at the plate this year. McCann was recently drafted by the Detroit Tigers and Arkansas must lean on others to help improve a SEC-worst .270 team batting average. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

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Modified bats figured to cut Arkansas’ power down this season. So did the loss of three gifted hitters taken in the top five rounds of last year’s draft, including two who went in the first 54 picks.

But a SEC-worst .270, the lowest average for the Razorbacks in more than three decades? This wasn’t what Dave Van Horn had in mind when he willingly acknowledged prior to the year that the team’s hitting would likely dip.

Van Horn was realistic about the situation. A team doesn’t lose Zack Cox, Brett Eibner and Andy Wilkins and not see a decline in hitting. What Arkansas did, however, was much worse than he could have imagined.

Listening to Van Horn talk about the team’s struggles, it was clear he was frustrated. But Van Horn made sure to defend hitting coach Todd Butler, who would work with players until midnight some nights as they searched for offensive production.

“The time was put in,” Van Horn said. “It finally comes down to can you hit or not hit? Don’t point your finger or blame anybody. Or if you do, point it at me because maybe I shouldn’t have recruited you.”

There were some highlights at the plate. Not every Razorback struggled, but there was only so much the (relatively) consistent hitters could do.

Freshman Dominic Ficociello was the team’s most productive hitter. He batted a team-high .335 and led the Razorbacks in doubles (15) and runs batted (50), while tying a freshman record with 75 hits. Catcher James McCann (.306) and outfielder Jared McKinney (.301) were the only other players that batted higher than .295.

Far too often the team got runners on base, only to strand them there. A lack of consistent hitting was reflected in the team’s early postseason exit and .500 record in SEC play.

McKinney hit .533 and drove in two runs with three doubles and a triple in the NCAA Tempe Regional. But that production didn’t happen often enough for McKinney, who recently signed with the Houston Astros. McCann is expected to sign with the Detroit Tigers, leaving the offense even fewer options for 2012.

Senior Kyle Robinson hit .286. Junior Collin Kuhn batted .282 and is also expected to leave.

Still, Van Horn foresees the offensive struggles improving. There are thoughts of moving some of the team’s infielders into the outfield to get additional pop into the lineup. A summer spent playing in the Cape Cod League should help Matt Reynolds, who batted just .243 this year. Other Razorbacks will spend the summer working on their bats in leagues and on their own time.

“We’ll get nine guys on the field next year that can get an offense to match up with that pitching,” Van Horn said. “That’s going to be the key for us.”



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