FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn has plenty to sort out during his team’s fall practice schedule, which began Friday afternoon.
It includes a question that wasn’t exactly expected at the end of the 2013 season.
Who will earn the starting job at second base?
Arkansas will test plenty of players at the position over the next few weeks as it replaces Jordan Farris, who was dismissed from the team before the fall semester for an unspecified violation of team rules. Farris started 26 games as a freshman and was projected to become a lineup regular before being dismissed by Van Horn.
The good news: Van Horn believes there are plenty of options to fill the spot.
“We’ve had more infield depth here than we’ve had in awhile,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn first pointed to a pair of junior college transfers — Michael Bernal (New Mexico Junior College) and Bobby Wernes (Neosho Community College) — as players who could potentially earn the job. He also said veteran outfielders Brian Anderson and Joe Serrano have worked at the position and will be in the mix.
Serrano (.295, HR, 18 RBI in 2013) has been an outfielder/designated hitter throughout his Arkansas career. Anderson (.325, 4 HR, 38 RBI) started much of 2013 in the infield, but moved to the outfield because of throwing accuracy issues.
“I’ve had Anderson working out there all summer and he’s been doing a tremendous job,” Van Horn said. “He’s been looking really good. As a matter of fact, Joe Serrano has been working hard and he would like to play there as well. He was a pretty good draft choice out of high school playing short and second.”
Van Horn said outfielder Tyler Spoon (.288, 4 HR, 49 RBI) could move to the infield as well and compete at third base. Outgoing senior Jacob Mahan started at third most of last year next to returning shortstop Brett McAfee (.263, HR, 18 RBI).
Building a steady infield will be just part of Arkansas’ goal this fall. The Razorbacks also are working to replace the bulk of a pitching staff that notched the lowest ERA in school history (1.89) and he first sub-2.00 ERA since LeMoyne College in 1992.
Trey Killian, Colin Poche, Chris Oliver, Michael Gunn, Landon Simpson and Jalen Beeks return from the 2013 staff. Van Horn said Arkansas will spend the fall trying to figure out where each pitcher fits best on the staff in 2013. But the Razorbacks also need immediate contributions from junior college transfers and freshmen.
“We have to fined a freshman pitcher that can come in and help us, a couple of them, and maybe in starting roles,” said Van Horn, who mentioned freshman Dominic Taccolini as a candidate this fall.
Catcher Jake Wise has progressed enough in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery to get live at-bats this fall. Blake Baxendale — who missed 2013 because of Tommy John surgery — should be available as well although Van Horn said the redshirt freshman will miss some time after a scooter accident on campus.
“Baxendale will be catching, maybe not in the first two scrimmages, but after that,” said Van Horn, who will lean on freshmen catchers Carson Shaddy and Alex Gosser early this fall. “But it’s not because of the arm. It’s because he got hit by a truck basically. The guy ran off. Nobody saw what happened. He was beat up.”
Van Horn said the Razorbacks are “energized” to “see what we’ve got” a year removed from having a veteran roster back from a College World Series team. Van Horn said it should lead to plenty of teaching and evaluating the next few weeks as Arkansas prepares to close the fall with its annual Red-White series.
Arkansas will scrimmage Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and again Sunday at 2:15 p.m. in Baum Stadium. All baseball practices and scrimmages are open to the public.
Dates and times for the fall-ending Red-White series will be announced later.
“Last fall we know who was going to pitch and we know probably seven of nine position players that were going to play,” Van Horn said. “We wanted to get better last year in fall ball, obviously, but we just didn’t want to get anybody hurt.
“This fall is going to be pretty intense trying to teach guys how we want them to play.”