Ficociello in middle of Hogs’ plans

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Arkansas infielder Dominic Ficociello was drafted in the 12th round by the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas infielder Dominic Ficociello was drafted in the 12th round by the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.

— Like those two old comfortable chairs flanking the middle of your living room, it was easy to take Bo Bigham and Tim Carver for granted.

Just like home plate and hot dogs, Bigham and Carver have been fixtures at Baum Stadium ever since 2010. They have anchored the middle of Arkansas’ defense, with Bigham at second base and Carver handling shortstop.

But you won’t see either of them on the field when Arkansas opens its season Feb. 15 against Western Illinois. Both completed their eligibility with last June’s run at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Now, if Arkansas hopes to return to Omaha this June, Coach Dave Van Horn will rely on the SEC’s best first baseman at second base and a junior college transfer at shortstop.

Van Horn warned boosters at Monday’s Swatters Club meeting that junior second baseman Dominic Ficociello won’t commit just six errors like he did last year when he was named to the SEC’s all-defensive team as a first baseman.

“You guys got to see him play firstbase, obviously a different glove and different angle,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t miss hardly any balls in two years over there. At second base, he will miss some balls. You are handling the ball a lot more and know where you have to be on bunt coverages and the relay, who is covering the bag and pickoffs. There is a lotmore thinking going on out there.

“So far he has done a great job from the day we got back in the fall. I am excited watching him continue to develop.”

The second baseman and shortstop not only have to do their jobs, but they must do them in conjunction with each other. So Ficociello, a former shortstop in high school, will have to mesh with shortstop Brett McAfee, a junior college transfer who has been drafted twice by the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I think they have really jelled well,” Van Horn said. “They playcatch together every day and get to know each other. [McAfee] is a tremendous athlete. His quickness is pretty special.”

McAfee’s arm has required special attention. His 2012 season at Panola (Texas) Junior College ended after 16 games because of injury.

“His arm is still coming on,” Van Horn said. “It’s been a while since that surgery, but that can be moremental than anything. I have seen him have some really good days.”

If sophomore Brian Anderson can handle third and slick-fielding Eric Fisher succeeds Ficociello at first, it likely would mean freshman Willie Schwanke can’t lay a glove on a position.

No problem. Designated hitter seems special ordered for Schwanke, who batted .477 and .420 in high school at Frisco, Texas.

“I see his bat in the lineup all thetime,” said Van Horn, who added that Schwanke will play some at third.

Van Horn also foresees the lefthanded power of a free swinger minus the frequent strikeouts.

“He is a very advanced hitter for his age,” Van Horn said. “He’s got a lot of power, and he knows the strike zone. A lot of young hitters swing at a lot of stuff out of the zone and get themselves out. Willie doesn’t do that.”

Sports, Pages 14 on 02/06/2013