Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Van Horn needs more from outfielders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MICHAEL WOODS --06/19/2012-- Arkansas hitter Matt Vinson takes batting practice in Omaha, Neb.
FAYETTEVILLE If Razorbacks outfielders Jacob Morris and Matt Vinson can hit enough to start, Arkansas’ opponents won’t have much outfield ground to hit.
According to their teammates and coaches, Morris and Vinson cover more ground than the morning dew.
“From a pitcher’s standpoint, you’re really happy that they’re out there,” Arkansas junior right-hander Barrett Astin said. “If you make a bad pitch and someone gaps one, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to run it down for you. They’re both great athletes. They’re the fastest people on this team.”
Vinson, a senior three-year letterman from Alma, has played all three outfield spots and gained national renown. His wall-climbing catch against Alabama last season at Baum Stadium - when he grabbed the top of the left-field fence with his bare hand while extending his glove to rob the Crimson Tide of a two-run home run - was ESPN’s top highlight of the night.
And even he is not Arkansas’ best of the best.
“Vinson is a very good outfielder and he’s a good center fielder,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Morris is a great center fielder. I mean, he may be the best in the country. He could be in the big leagues in center field right now. That’s how good he is with his arm and his jumps and his speed and his range. He’s the total package.”
Van Horn would love to play them both and did at the outset of last season.
However, Morris, now a fourth year junior, hit only .236 and struck out 50 times in 140 at-bats.
Switch-hitter Vinson hit only .217 and struck out 37 times in 120 at-bats.
Unable to afford two holes in the lineup, Van Horn soon started one or the other until Morris’ season ended with a broken index finger against Auburn.
Vinson was Arkansas’ center fielder through NCAA regionals and the College World Series. His offense picked up. He had a hit every game for Arkansas’ four CWS games, including the RBI single that decided a 2-1 victory over South Carolina.
“Right now I think Vinson is a little better offensively than Morris,” Van Horn said at last week’s outset of preseason practice. “Time will tell.”
Obviously, Van Horn would prefer that they both can start together, or at least hit enough to be used in a rotation with sophomore left fielder Joe Serrano (who batted .333 last season) and promising redshirt freshman Tyler Spoon of Van Buren.
“If Vinson really hits and Morris really hits, Morris will play center and Vinson will play one of the other positions,” Van Horn said.
But not if they are combining to whiff 87 times in 260 at-bats like last year.
“We feel like we will be able to stay in the lineup this year, me and Morris both,” Vinson said. “We have been working hard on making contact and not striking out as much. If we have me, him, Spoon and Serrano in and out, we will have a good outfield.”
Sports, Pages 16 on 01/30/2013