Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: It's all about Cole on baseball media day
Arkansas outfielder Eric Cole bats during a scrimmage Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Most just refer to the home of the Arkansas baseball team as Baum Stadium. That it's also George Cole Field gets lost more times than not.
To be more specific, it's Charlie Baum Stadium at George Cole Field. I think with the way things are falling in place for the Razorbacks, it's a good time to emphasize Cole.
I'm not really writing about the field, but the players on the field. Specifically, I wanted to point out that Eric Cole and Cole Turney were among the focal points at baseball media day Saturday.
I was going to get to Kole Ramage, too, but the way he spells his name was like one of his tough off-speed pitches. Sorry, but I didn't get to Kole.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn set the table for the Cole story with his comments to a packed media room to start the morning. To set the stage, he was talking about two players both out during the fall with injuries.
Eric Cole is the junior from Southlake, Texas, who has the dubious distinction of becoming an every day player last year despite a .126 slump through non-conference play. Cole hit .315 in SEC games, raising his average to .282 overall.
Cole missed fall with a stress fracture in his back. He's full speed now with no problems.
Cole Turney is the true freshman from Richmond, Texas. The 6-0, 225-pound lefty was the top-rated hitter in Texas before tearing up a shoulder during his senior season. He committed to former UA assistant Tony Vitello as a sophomore, although Van Horn never thought he'd make it to campus.
“When he committed, we all said, 'Great, but he's not ever coming to school,'" Van Horn said.
Then, injuries - he also has battled an ankle problem - scared off the scouts.
"He couldn't throw last year and the ankle was a problem,” Van Horn said. “Until then, he was going to be a late first-rounder.
“We got his (labrum) fixed and he's still not throwing yet, but he can sure swing that bat. His first batting practice the other day after getting cleared, he hit one in the middle of the batter's eye in center. He could grab our DH spot.”
Eric Cole might be the leadoff man. At least, he was the leadoff man Friday – over and over.
Van Horn wanted to give him extra at-bats after sitting out the fall. Van Horn said he hit six times, but Cole said it was seven.
“I'll take it,” Cole said. “I was glad to hit. He said he wanted to get me caught up. He had me lead off four straight innings.”
Cole had a single, double and home run in a grand day. Van Horn reminded that Cole had three of the team's five hits in a losing effort in the Friday night game against Missouri State in the NCAA tournament.
“Yeah, that game still bothers me,” Van Horn said, slipping briefly into a mad face.
There is hardly anything to make him mad these days. This may be his best 35-man roster in his 16 seasons at Arkansas. It will be difficult to pick the top 27 for SEC games.
The veterans are good, but the freshmen are turning heads. Turney's time in the batting cage is must see for the entire squad. It's like last year when lefty power man Chad Spanberger took swings. Turney seems to hit the all the way to Foghorns across the road in right field.
“It's wow stuff,” said Grant Koch, the starting catcher.
“I honestly do stop to watch Turney. It's the same kind of stuff that you saw from Spanberger. The ball jumps off his bat. He's more compact, a different body type than Chad. But it's the same results.”
Pitcher Blaine Knight was disappointed to miss Turney's first time in the cage earlier this week.
“I was inside getting a bullpen,” he said. “But we all heard about it. I'm told he has the same kind of power that Chad had. When we'd play on the road in SEC games, every one in the park would be on the top step in BP to watch Chad.
“I'm looking forward to seeing it as we move along to games. That's when you have time to watch BP.
“All the hitters are talking about Turney. When someone has that kind of power, you stop and watch.”
Eric Cole said the same thing.
“You start comparing someone to Spanberger, that's saying something,” Cole said. “But I think Turney is more advanced from where Spanberger was as a freshman.”
That's heady stuff. Turney was humbled when told all of that Saturday morning.
“The main thing, I'm just glad to be back out there,” he said. “It was awfully tough to sit and watch in the fall after having surgery.
“I never saw Spanberger in person, but I watched him a lot on TV last year. He was fantastic.”
Turney is just starting to throw. He won't cut loose from the outfield until deep in the season and isn't likely to do anything but DH as a freshman.
“I'm out there shagging balls and doing some drills, but I can't throw,” he said. “I'm just glad to be swinging the bat again and feeling good.”
It took him a little bit to get back in shape.
“I'm 225 (pounds) now and I think that's my playing weight,” he said. “I didn't get to do anything for six weeks after the surgery and I got up to 230. I needed to lose a little bit.”
As far as Van Horn's comments about Turney destined to be drafted and sign, he said, “I don't think that was true. I wanted this kind of an atmosphere, like a family. It would have taken an awful lot for me not to be at school. I wanted to be here. This is a great situation. I've never been in a locker room with this kind of talent.”
Eric Cole's weight is headed the other direction. He was 175 pounds when he came to school and has packed on 30 pounds in the last two and a half years.
“I'm at 205 right now, so much stronger,” he said. “It's helped me in a lot of ways. My arm is stronger.”
Van Horn said Cole might have been the Hogs' toughest out down the stretch last season. It helps that he's good from both sides, a solid switch hitter. He's got some power, too.
“I think he's got more power this year,” Van Horn said. “And he can really run, steal a base for us.”
Cole still thanks his coach for sticking with him through a tough stretch to open last season.
“I made a couple of adjustments at the plate and that helped,” Cole said. “I am glad Coach Van Horn still had confidence to put me on the field when I was hitting .126. I guess he had seen something in me before that to keep playing me.”
Well, the field has his name.
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