Nesbit put best foot forward off redshirt year

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Arkansas infielder Jacob Nesbit throws to the plate Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas infielder Jacob Nesbit throws to the plate Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Jacob Nesbit feels as if he put his best foot forward last fall and put the past behind him.

The No. 4 shortstop in the state of Texas out of Coppell High School near Dallas, Nesbit redshirted his first season at Arkansas and wound up watching the team make its run to the College World Series finals on TV more than 12 hours away from home.

Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said nerves played a role in Nesbit needing to take the year to improve his game, and Nesbit agreed. When he first arrived on campus, he wasn’t sure if redshirting was in his best interests. He believed in his ability to contribute right away, but things didn’t go his way, he said. His mindset then changed.

Nesbit, when Arkansas left for its series at Georgia once finals wrapped up in May, spent the summer playing for the Bismarck (N.D.) Larks in the Northwoods League, where he hit .266 in 65 games and finished with a pair of home runs and 28 RBI.

On July 16, he turned in something of a breakout performance, totaling four hits and driving in a season-high six runs in a 12-4 win.

“They play more games than any other league in the summer,” Van Horn said. “He played almost every day and did OK, and he came back here more confident and a little better. He got off to a good start and I think that really helped him. He hit the ball well, and he’s a good defender."

The time away from home and Fayetteville allowed Nesbit to come into his own.

“You’re really on your own, but it taught me to grow up pretty fast,” Nesbit said. “My whole freshman year and summer taught me to grow up pretty fast and figure myself out. That was cool. … I didn’t know anyone on the team, but we quickly became pretty good friends.”

While in North Dakota, he became close with Seton Hall pitcher Matt Ponsiglione and St. John’s infielder Carson Bartels. Bismarck is just like any other town, Nesbit said, and he considered his time there a good experience — so much so that he plans to go back again this summer.

Now gearing up for his redshirt freshman season, Nesbit is in position to factor in somewhere in the Arkansas infield, either at second base or third base.

Prior to this week, Nesbit had been in competition for playing time at second with Southeast Missouri State transfer Trevor Ezell. Now there is thought Nesbit could play third base in the series opener against Eastern Illinois while Jack Kenley, one of the team's top defenders, could play second.

The moves come while Ezell continues to rehab from an off-season shoulder surgery.

"I’m a little over seven months out now, but since we left for break and came back it’s progressing well these last few weeks, so I’m getting a lot more live-type reps. It’s starting to feel better," Ezell said. "It’s been fun between me and Nesbit all fall. He got to play all fall and I didn’t, but we work together a lot and take ground balls and try to help each other out and become better."

In his own way, Nesbit is familiar with injury keeping him away from the field.

As a junior at Coppell, Nesbit suffered a stress fracture in his L5 vertebrae as a result of overuse and minimal off days, forcing him to miss 5-6 weeks worth of games. He felt his back ache more and more. It began to feel sore prior to his junior season, but he never thought anything of it.

Then his back gave out. His road to recovery included therapy each day following practice involving exercises to strengthen his core. For nearly two months Nesbit was unable to run or participate in any sort of baseball activities with the Cowboys. His job was to rest.

“It started out tough, but as we started doing it every day it kept getting easier and easier and eventually it almost became second nature,” Nesbit said of his recovery process. “My mind told me to walk into the training room every day.

“It was definitely disappointing, but I was able to come back for the last game of district and playoffs.”

Arkansas sophomore right-hander Kole Ramage said he remembers well when Nesbit made his return to the field. Coppell and Southlake Carroll, Ramage’s alma mater, met late in the season. By that point, Nesbit and Ramage, playing at rival high schools, were familiar with one another having squared off all throughout their prep careers.

“I think it would be very tough,” Ramage said of Nesbit’s injury. “It would take a lot of discipline to go to therapy every day and everything like that. I think in his case he’s done a really good job getting back. … I remember all the times I faced him in high school. There’s always been a little bit of back and forth between us, but we room now so we’re best friends and stuff like that.”

And the matchups against Ramage?

“He got me a couple times and I got him a couple times,” Nesbit said with a grin. “It was a back and forth kind of thing, but it was always fun.”

Shortly after Ramage committed to play for the Razorbacks, Nesbit reached out to gauge Ramage's thoughts on potentially joining Arkansas' 2017 class, which also featured Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and catcher Casey Opitz, one of his best friends on the team.

“I was like, ‘It’s amazing. You’re going to love it,’” Ramage said at the time. “Almost immediately afterward, he announced he was going to come here, and as soon as that happened I kind of knew that since we were close with each other we were going to end up together in the same room.

“It’s worked out really well.”

In Nesbit’s mind, he did what he could to make a push for playing time this spring. He totaled a pair of hits and plated three runs in the Razorbacks' exhibition win over UALR in Little Rock in October, and finished with two more base hits in Game 2 of the team's Fall World Series. He felt more comfortable in the box, in the field and with the other guys in the clubhouse.

“I just think I can put pressure on the defense and get on base and be a nuisance for the other team,” Nesbit said. “I think that’s my strength, and I play sound defensively, so I think I could be a help with that.”

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