With the Arkansas baseball team beginning the 2014 season with a sweep of Appalachian State last weekend, we got our first real glimpse of what the Razorbacks could wind up looking like as the season progresses.
The positives from the weekend were pretty apparent. Brian Anderson is the real deal. He tore the cover off the ball, racking up seven hits in 14 at-bats, and showed off tremendous speed on several occasions. And yes, it's easy to say he's the real deal when playing the likes of App State, but he also did the small things. He hustled, produced in the three-hole, and didn't have an off-game, which could be easy to have when not playing a high profile opponent.
Hitting was also a positive the first two games of the set, pounding out 13 hits and 12 runs in game one and 11 hits and 7 runs in game two, overcoming errors. The middle of the lineup hit very well. The usual suspects, Spoon and Anderson, produced runs (Anderson, Spoon, and even Serrano) and played very solid. KJ Wilkerson was a surprise, also, hitting for power the opposite way. Eric Fisher hit well, too.
Arkansas didn't come ready to hit the ball Sunday, but still found a way to win by taking what was given to them (6 HBP, 7 BB). As van Horn put it after the game Sunday, "we won three different ways."
There were also some negatives, however, and Anderson was among them on the defensive side. He had a pair of errors and Arkansas committed four errors in the second game alone, allowing App State to make a game of it, but I believe he'll settle down. He's still trying to make the transition from 3B/SS/OF to second base.
Jake Wise, I believe, was still hampered by offseason surgeries. But I'll get to that later.
Here is what I'm buying and selling based on Arkansas' Opening Weekend sweep of App State:
Buy: Pitching staff’s potential
Head coach Dave van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn used a majority of their arms over the weekend in the sweep. On Friday, Arkansas started junior Jalen Beeks, who gave up only three hits in six innings of work. The bullpen then closed the door behind him, allowing just one hit and striking out four in the final three innings.
On Saturday, another junior got the start on the mound. Chris Oliver pitched very well, allowing just one hit and striking out five in five innings of work. Landon Simpson struggled a bit in one-plus innings pitched, but Michael Gunn closed out strong, giving up a hit in two and one-third innings pitched.
And on Sunday, the bullpen shined. After relieving starter Alex Phillips, the Arkansas pen retired the Mountaineer lineup from the fifth to the eighth inning, allowing Arkansas to add runs and secure the series sweep. The pitching staff compiled a 2.67 earned run average in the opening series and struck out 28.
Sell: Arkansas’ pitching miscues
Arkansas’ pitching staff was uncharacteristically wild in its first series of the 2014 season. It didn’t wind up being a major factor in the series, though. It potentially could, but it’s unlikely.
The Razorback staff hit a total of seven Appalachian State batters over the three game set. They also threw a pair of wild pitches, one from Beeks and Oliver in each of their starts.
Nerves were definitely a factor for true freshman Dominic Taccolini. He plunked each of his first two batters he faced, which just so happened to be the first batters of his career. Chris Oliver also hit a pair of App State hitters, and Zach Jackson, Michael Gunn, and Jackson Lowery each hit one.
Again, Opening Weekend nerves likely had a lot to do with the pitching miscues. But to be fair, Arkansas was not as wild as Appalachian State’s staff. The Mountaineer staff hit a total of 12 Razorbacks in the series.
As the season progresses, these issues will be resolved. You shouldn’t expect to continue to see this staff have the same control issues again.
Buy: Freshman Andrew Benintendi
The freshman centerfielder made an impression on the Razorback faithful and his coaching staff in his first career games, but did it in unorthodox ways.
Benintendi was slotted as the Arkansas leadoff man in all three games vs Appalachian State, a tall order for a true freshman. But he handled the pressure like a veteran.
Despite going 0-for-6 at the plate, Benintendi still found ways to get on base and be productive. He played the role of a true leadoff man, compiling a .538 on-base percentage and a pair of RBI. So how did he manage a high OBP if he didn’t record even a single hit?
Benintendi found his way on base by taking the App State pitchers deep into counts and drawing walks. He was also a pitch magnet, and was plunked on three occasions. And once the speedy freshman was on base, he made a huge impact. He swiped a base and scored four times.
Benintendi showed the potential to be the epitome of a fantastic leadoff man in his first college series. Arkansas fans should be excited about Benintendi.
Sell: Jake Wise being fully game-ready
The senior captain didn't make much of an impact in the first series of the new season. Friday night, Wise got a break after Arkansas racked up its big lead, and allowed for Blake Baxendale to get some time and experience behind the plate.
But Wise caught each inning the final two games. And while he got on base via walks and a hit by pitch, he didn't factor in much to the wins. He went 0-for-7 at the plate and struck out once. He also uncharacteristically allowed a passed ball.
Wise is typically a wall behind the plate, but several pitches actually got by him over the weekend, and you have to wonder if he's completely game ready after his offseason injuries and surgeries. We also didn't get a chance to see him hose a baserunner at second or third. App State didn't attempt to swipe a bag on him in the series, so we still don't know about his arm strength.
But with Wise still trying to get back to 100 percent behind the plate, I think you'll see Baxendale, or even Carson Shaddy go a game behind the plate per series in the near future, especially in the non-conference portion of the schedule to give them experience in case Wise experiences more issues with his hernia or elbow down the road.
I love having Wise behind the plate. I think he's one of the better defensive catchers in the SEC, but if it means playing Baxendale early and having Wise healthy for league play, I'm all for it.
I don't think he's completely game-ready.
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