Pitchers Campbell, Knight surge during fall baseball

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2016
Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell delivers against Creighton Tuesday, April 19, 2016, during the second inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell delivers against Creighton Tuesday, April 19, 2016, during the second inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas may have a dynamic duo of starting pitchers in 2017, but it might not feature the two some fans expected.

Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn said Thursday that sophomores Isaiah Campbell (6-4, 230) and Blaine Knight (6-3, 165) surged to the top of the rotation during fall baseball.

“With Isaiah Campbell and Blaine Knight, I feel like those two pitched well enough this fall that it would be hard not to start them, if we started this week,” Van Horn said.

“… Just because of their stuff more than anything. They both were pretty electric this fall. They're both bigger and better through some development.”

Campbell was 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA last season while starting six of the 13 games he appeared in, pitching a total of 31 2/3 innings - fifth most on the team - and fanning 31 batters.

“I think Campbell went out this summer and just did a tremendous job playing in the California Collegiate Summer League. Made the all-star team. I think he was the league leader in wins, had really good numbers.

“So I think his confidence took off. He took a month off, got back in here, has rested and throwing the ball 95 mph pretty consistently. He might have gone a couple of miles an hour harder than that in the Fall World Series. A couple of pitches up to 96-97. I don't expect him to pitch there, but I do believe if he's in shape and he's healthy, he should be able to pitch 93, 95, 96.”

Knight started seven of the 18 games that he appeared in while going 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA, the lowest on the team among pitchers with over 10 appearances.

He threw 48 1/3 innings, allowing just 57 hits, 16 earned runs and 14 walks while striking out 46 batters.

“We sent him home to rest and lift weights and eat and gain some weight and some strength and he did it,” Van Horn said. "... It's not all about velocity. Campbell can pitch. He's got good secondary stuff and Blaine does as well.

“(Knight) was 94, 95, 96 a lot this fall. With a pretty good slider. Get that change up rolling a little bit. I think what stood out, what separated those guys is they throw a lot of strikes. They can throw secondary pitches for strikes. They can throw breaking pitches, off-speed pitches when they're behind in the count.

“They just kind of show you that they look like they're going to be ready to pitch in the SEC.”

Arkansas outfielder Luke Bonfield agrees.

“Blaine’s stuff moves more side-to-side and Isaiah, he throws in the high 90s and his ball is straight downhill so you have no chance of hitting it if he locates it at the knees," Bonfield said. "You have to make him get the ball up. It has been impressive. They are top of the line SEC guys.”

Campbell was clocked at up to 97 miles per hour this summer, but is likely to pitch mostly in the 93-95 range per Van Horn.

“This summer I just got after it really good in the weight room, just getting stronger and faster and getting my body in better shape so I could throw harder and keep it up for a whole game,” Campbell said.

It appears he has benefitted greatly from working with new Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson.

“Since this (fall) season started, Coach Johnson has helped a lot with his circuits we do getting our legs stronger and our arm prepared. That is definitely a big key to my gain in velocity,” Campbell said.

“He (Johnson) is great, love him. He is just big into velocity and having confidence in everything you do. If you are confident in all your pitches, you are going to be a great pitcher.”

Van Horn mentioned transfer Trevor Stephen and Barrett Loeseke as possible closing candidates.

“As far as a true closer, I don't know who that is yet,” Van Horn said. “We have a transfer Trevor Stephen who has a big arm, a mid-90s arm. Maybe a little more. We thought might be a closer type, but we kind of like him starting. We started him a couple of times and he was able to go five and six innings. He throws a lot of strikes for a big kid, 6-5, 230. So I don't know exactly.

“Barrett Loeske may be our closer. He was up to 94, 95 in our little Cardinal and White World Series at the end of the fall. There's a couple of others in there. I think those roles will evolve.”

Pitchers Keaton McKinney and Dominic Taccolini had subpar years last season after both coming off injuries.

“We have those two pitchers that have a lot of experience that are coming off of what they would probably tell you were sub-par years for them,” Van Horn said. “They’re ready to really contribute. I think McKinney could get a starting job. I think Taccolini could as well. But he also might be a middle reliever. Could maybe close some games.

“Both of them might do a little of both early, until we get it figured out. So, unfortunately we can't just continue to practice and practice until Christmas, especially with this great weather. We might be able to answer those questions a little bit more. We'll have those answered, hopefully by the time we start conference play anyway.”

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