State of the Hogs: Van Horn wants more from older hitters

Arkansas left fielder Luke Bonfield connects against Miami (Ohio) Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, during the first inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn told the Swatter's Club on Monday that it's time for older players like Luke Bonfield, Eric Cole and Chad Spanberger to get the bats going.

The three are projected starters with low batting averages. Bonfield has surged a little of late and is at .244. Cole is hitting .211. Spanberger is at .143 with 10 strikeouts in 28 at-bats.

“I think Luke is coming around,” Van Horn said. “But he's hit only one home run and if he doesn't finish the season with double-digit home runs I'll be shocked. He's been a little bit of a tough luck hitter so far.”

Spanberger has one home run after displaying big power numbers in the summer and fall. He's fallen back into his pattern of last year with big strikeout numbers and a .250 slugging percentage, the lowest of any regular in the Arkansas lineup.

“Spanberger, he doesn't smile anymore," Van Horn said. "He's going to get a chance to play tomorrow. He had a good summer, good fall and here we are with the same old stuff. He's frustrated. He's worked hard. He and Eric have both worked hard. It's not lack of effort.

“Eric, he's a switch hitter who can run and he's at .211. He's hitting them in the air. He needs to hit them on the ground and there are too many pitches he's taking."

The five-game road trip to Ruston, La., and Frisco, Texas, produced only a 2-3 record, but Van Horn said it might have been good in other ways.

“We learned about our leadership,” said Van Horn, who noted the dugout demeanor when the team fell behind 10-1 at Louisiana Tech before rallying for a 13-10 victory last Wednesday.

“We have pretty good leadership. We saw some things that were really good, some fire. I saw something from Jordan McFarland. He hit that home run that took out a window in the apartments and when he rounded third he was mad. I hadn't seen that come out of him. That was good to see.”

McFarland is a freshman getting a lot of time at first base with an injury to Jared Gates and Spanberger's slow start. Gates had surgery after breaking the hamate bone in his hand.

“You can see things that tell you (McFarland) isn't real comfortable there yet,” Van Horn said. “He came here with the thought that he could play outfield and infield, first or third. He's not going to play third. We know that. Really, all he wants to do is hit. He's got to learn a position, too.”

Van Horn likes what he sees of his defense. Center fielder Dominic Fletcher has had a couple of mistakes, giving ground too quickly. But he's also made plays.

“He didn't get to a ball in the alley at Tech, but he's been pretty good,” Van Horn said. “He backed up on a ball there that was hit by a smaller guy and that was a mistake. But he's done pretty well out there.”

As far as second base, Van Horn expects to put Carson Shaddy there for the most part. Freshman Jaxon Williams got some time last week, but Van Horn said, “He's not ready yet. I think that's going to be Carson's spot.”

Van Horn said a mistake that cost the Hogs the last run in the 3-0 loss to Arizona was not by catcher Grant Koch, but by pitcher Kevin Kopps. The Wildcats scored on a double steal with two outs in the eighth inning.

“We had a called play,” Van Horn said. “The pitcher just ducked. The ball is supposed to go straight back to him. Grant didn't make that mistake. The pitcher just went blank. He won't do that again. It made it 3-0 and that's a huge run.”

On the pitching front there was news Monday that Isaiah Campbell and Cody Scroggins are not healthy. Scroggins was injured on the last pitch he threw against Louisiana Tech last Wednesday. Campbell has pitched only once this season after entering the season as the projected staff ace.

Van Horn said he could have more news on Campbell and Scroggins later this week. It's possible, he said, that Campbell could be shut down for the season. The trouble is the triceps muscle of his pitching arm.

Campbell's injury follows season-ending surgery to Keaton McKinney. Both were probably slated to start on the weekend. Van Horn said there's a trickle-down effect.

“It's huge," Van Horn said. "It pushes guys further up who are not ready.”

There is some good news with the pitching staff. Youngsters Evan Lee and Kopps have shown ability. Van Horn hopes one of the veterans might benefit from a change in roles. Dominic Taccolini will start on Tuesday against Louisiana-Monroe at 3 p.m.

“We'll get him back in a familiar role,” Van Horn said. “He's had good stuff. He just needs to throw more strikes."

On a scheduling front, Van Horn said the trip to Ruston was beneficial. He wants to play home-and-home with the Bulldogs if possible. Louisiana Tech plans to return to Fayetteville in 2019.

“It was a good atmosphere, good environment,” he said. “They have field turf and they have that at Vandy and maybe some other schools are getting that. We will probably go back. It's good for us. It gets us ready for conference play.”

Van Horn said the Hogs would probably go to the Frisco Classic again in 2021. Other SEC teams are committed to play in the event the next two seasons and the Hogs have commitments at Southern Cal in 2019 and in a Houston tournament in 2020.

As far as the Frisco tournament, Van Horn sensed that the long evening Saturday when the Hogs went to batting practice four hours before the eventual starting time effected the team's play on Sunday.

“Maybe we should have just had one game at Ruston,” he said. “Maybe I learned something and it was my fault. But we just didn't have energy on Sunday. Give Oklahoma State credit. They played well. But it didn't go well for us on Sunday.”