Head Coach Dave Van Horn met with the media last week as spring practice began for the 2021 Diamond Hogs. Over the next couple weeks we will provide an in depth break down of each position.
Expectations were high in 2020 as Noland and Wicklander were 1A and 1B in the rotation with Noland getting the nod on Friday and Wicklander on Saturday during weekend Series.
Noland started off as you would expect a staff ace to pitch then ran into some trouble against Oklahoma in Houston. Noland’s velocity has stayed in the 88-90 range and he’s sharpened his secondary pitches to become more effective and less predictable. Heavy left-handed hitting lineups tend to do well against Noland because of his lack of a plus changeup.
The talent level on the staff is much deeper in 2021 so for Noland to remain a weekend starter, he has to be more consistent and keep the ball down. As I said last week, I expect him to be a long reliever that can get 3-4 innings without having to go through a lineup multiple times.
Wicklander has front line stuff with a fastball 91-93 with arm side run and sink and a plus changeup with good late downward action. His problem has been command and control. He walked 19 batters in 17 innings and his start in Houston last one inning. Coach Van Horn revealed that Wicklander went through a medical issue in the offseason but is 100 percent healthy now and having a good start to the season. If he can stay healthy and keep the pitch count down, he’s a weekend starter in the SEC.
The Other Guys
Caleb Bolden-R. Sophomore
Kevin Kopps-R. Junior
These guys have experience and have been on campus at least three seasons so they know how to pitch and that is big when you are playing for a national title. Bolden is another year Remove from Tommy John Surgery and his velocity has increased. His fastball sits in the 91 to 93 range any secondary stuff gets better with every outing. Bold and had a 1.13 ERA in 15 innings pitched in 2020. Ramage has been a Jack of all trades for the hogs in the past and will get a chance to start this season. Kopps has been a spot starter and long reliever in his time on the hill. Van Horn has said he’s pitching the best of his career with a low 90’s fastball and plus slider. I like having his experience out of the bullpen if a starter runs into trouble.
Bullpen to Starter?
Monk had a great fall and coach Van Horn said if he’s over the plate he’s one of the toughest pitchers to hit on the staff. The 6’3lefty has good arm side run on his fastball that can get up to 93. Vermillion was the closer last year Not allowing a run in seven innings pitched. In Van horn’s Friday press conference, he raved about Vermillion’s ability to dominate hitters for one inning. Can he be stretched out and have the same effectiveness?
The New Guys
Lael Lockhart-Senior Grad Transfer
This trio produced dominant performances in the Fall World Series and scrimmages and will likely become household names come May. Lockhart was the Friday night starter for Houston earning All Conference honors as a two way player. Van Horn has said on multiple occasions that he doesn’t mind handing him the ball and getting five or six innings. He’s proven and has a true four pitch mix.
Pallette made his debut last year but really took his game to the next level over the summer. He has a fast whipping arm action with a fastball clocked at 97. His 12-6 curveball may be the best on the staff with a spin rate of 3200 RPM. For reference, the highest spin rate in the big leagues in 2020 was 3343 by Garrett Richards of the Padres.
Adams began 2020 as the Sunday starter and had some success before the season ended. He’s a physical righty with a mid 90s fastball and slider has sharp late bite. He learned early that he just can’t rely on his fastball every pitch and really matured as a pitcher over the last year. He’s pitched in big games through high school and summer ball so the big stage shouldn’t affect him at all.
Wiggins has possibly the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the staff with an electric arm and athleticism that is unmatched. He has a 39 inch vertical leap and was All State in basketball in Oklahoma. Wiggins has been up to 97 and has more in the tank. He’s 6’6 with a frame that can carry 230 pounds of muscle. In his Fall Recap, Van Horn said, “If Wiggins once it bad enough, he can be as good as he wants to be.” The key for him to be a starter is if he can sustain his velocity over 5-6 innings. In high school and summer ball he worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen throwing 2-3 innings. Coach Matt Hobbs has raved about his mid 80s changeup as a plus out pitch.
In last Friday’s press conference, Kevin Kopps said as many as 15 pitchers could contribute quality innings for his season compared to 8-10 on average in previous seasons. The next two weeks will be key as Van Horn and Hobbs will put every pitcher in the fire to see how they perform. Van Horn did say it may take all of non conference play to figure out the weekend rotation when Alabama comes to Baum-Walker Stadium for the SEC opening series. With that being said, here’s what who expect to get the start in Arlington:
Next week we will break down the rest of the pitching staff and look at their battery mates behind the plate.
For more insider news on Razorback Baseball go check out Kevin on Twitter @CoachKBo21 and his podcast The Hawg Talk on all podcast platforms.