This is the second of a three-part series previewing the 2010 Razorback Baseball season.
In part one of this series, we took a quick look back at 2009 and examined the lofty preseason expectations of this year’s team.
Like a lot of good teams, success on the field starts with the guy behind the plate. It was no surprise that James McCann was voted by his teammates as one of the three Razorback captains for 2010. As a freshman, McCann (.242, 1 HR, 11 RBIs) took over full-time catching duties midway through last season, and became one of the catalysts that spurred the Hogs to Omaha.
Hog fans may not recognize the 6-3 McCann right away, since he’s gained 25-30 pounds of muscle since last season, and is now up to 225. His arm is strong and accurate — definitely a weapon that will throw to any base at any time. Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn have indicated they may let McCann call pitches at times throughout the year…something they have not done in recent years.
Backing up McCann will be junior college transfer Monk Kreder. Originally signed by Texas Tech, by way of Howard Community College, Kreder (6-1, 230) has impressed with his bat in the early going and, according to Van Horn, is a power hitter. He will get a chance to play at DH when not behind the plate. Senior catcher Tom Hauskey (.308 avg in 2009) has shown to be a good pinch hitter, and will likely fill that role again in 2010.
Not too hard to fill out a lineup card when your corner infielders are All-Americans. Andy Wilkins (.319, 19 HRs, 58 RBIs) and Zack Cox (.266, 13 HRs, 39 RBIs) lead this group and are looking to improve on their stellar 2009 campaigns. Cox set the freshman record for home runs in a season (13) last year. 6-5 freshman Derrick Bleeker from Longmont, Colorado will back up both.
Second base has been nailed down by last year’s late season star Bo Bigham. Bigham (.280, 1 HR, 6 RBIs) subbed late in the year after injuries to the starters, and showed speed, athletic ability, great fielding and clutch hitting. Bigham is likely to leadoff for the Hogs.
The real battle is at shortstop where freshman Matt Reynolds and sophomore Tim Carver are vying. “Carver was our best offensive player in the fall,” Van Horn recently said. Reynolds, the highly recruited Tulsa Bishop Kelley star, has good power and a great arm from the hole. Both should see action.
For the third straight season, Brett Eibner will man the center field spot when he’s not on the mound blowing hitters away. Eibner, who hit one of the most memorable home runs in Razorback history against Virginia in the CWS, also joins Wilkins and Cox on the Baseball America All-American team.
Hitting below .200 for most of the 2009 season, Brett finally found his stroke down the stretch and finished at .231, with 12 HRs, 34 RBIs. He’s a better hitter than that and, when he’s not pitching (5-5, 5.00 ERA, 72 IP, 67 Ks), must improve at the plate for the Hogs to reach their ultimate goal.
Collin Kuhn in left and Jarrod McKinney in right look to get most of the playing time to start the season, but freshman Matt Vinson is raising some eyebrows early on. Van Horn recently said Vinson, the multi-sport star from Alma, “may be the best athlete on our team.”
Kuhn (.256, 2 HRs, 11 SB) has great speed, and will man center when Eibner pitches. McKinney (.197 avg in 2009), who showed flashes as a freshman, looks like a football player. And, in fact, had a chance to play that sport for Texas Tech before signing to play baseball with the Hogs. He has to improve at the plate to remain in the Hogs outfield rotation.
According to Van Horn, look for backup catcher Monk Kreder to get a lot of at bats in this slot. Junior outfielder Travis Sample (.263, 2 HRs, 16 RBIs) could figure here as well.
In our final preview installment later this week, we’ll take a look at the pitchers and make a few predictions for 2010.