Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Hogs’ Fant ready, willing, able for senior year
Arkansas starting pitcher Randall Fant throws from the mound against Baylor in the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game, Monday, June 11, 2012, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn wasn’t sure what to expect from Randall Fant this fall when the left-handed pitcher from Texarkana, Texas, returned to campus for his senior season.
Like many juniors, Fant expected to sign professionally last summer after being picked in the 29th round by the Cleveland Indians, but he didn’t receive a satisfactory offer. Fant was the 893rd pick overall, 245 spots lower than when the Boston Red Sox took him in the 21st round at No. 648 when he was a high school senior.
“I was really worried about how he’d be coming back this year as far as had he gotten over it?” Van Horn said. “Was his heart and head going to be into it? Or was he just going to be at the point where he was thinking, ‘What am I still doing here? I was going to sign. I almost signed out of high school. I’ve been here three years. I’m about the same guy that came in here.’ ”
But Fant, who has an 8-9 record and 3.82 ERA in 3 previous seasons with the Razorbacks, didn’t look like the same guy in fall practice.
In Arkansas’ intrasquad series to complete practice, Fant didn’t allow a run in two starts covering 15 innings. He held hitters to a .122 batting average on 6 hits — 5 singles and 1 double — and had 9 strikeouts with 2 walks.
“His fall overall was outstanding, it wasn’t just the series,” Van Horn said. “That just finished it up. Pretty much from his first start he was good.”
Van Horn said the key to Fant’s success was developing a cut slider to go along with his fastball and changeup.
“He’s always had a tremendous changeup. Other teams know it’s coming, and they still have trouble hitting it if he locates it a little bit,” Van Horn said. “His fastball is good enough because of the great changeup, but fastball location has been a little bit of problem.
“Now he’s developed a third pitch, a cutter/slider, and it’s just taken off. I’ve heard the hitters talking about how it’s the pitch he’s been getting a lot of guys out on, because they’re looking for that changeup and it makes the fastball look harder than it is.”
Van Horn said Fant’s fall helped solidify his spot in the weekend rotation going into the season. He’s been in and out of the weekend rotation the previous two seasons, but has struggled with consistency and rarely gotten as far as the fifth inning.
“He’s been up and down,” Van Horn said. “He’s been a guy we’ve started, but we’ve started him with the mindset — because of who we’ve had in the bullpen — just give us three innings, four maybe.
“From what I saw this fall, he jumped it up to where he can give us six or seven innings. Maybe not right out of the chute in February and March, but it’s in there. We’ve seen it. That’s what that third pitch did for him.”
Van Horn said he also could detect an attitude change in Fant after accepting the fact he would be returning for his senior season and needs to make the most of it.
“He just seems a little different to me this fall, his demeanor,” Van Horn said. “I see him bouncing around and smiling and acting like he’s having fun. I’ve even heard a lot of the players saying, ‘Randall’s like a different guy.’
“It’s been really good to see. Hopefully, he can keep it up.”
Sports, Pages 25 on 10/31/2012