#38 Arkansas Baseball 2015 Preview

Arkansas Razorbacks

Overall Rank: #38
Conference Rank: #10 SEC
#38 Arkansas Baseball 2015 Preview
Arkansas Team Page


Arkansas had somewhat of an up and down 2014 season. The Razorbacks finished the year 40-25, but experienced struggles at the beginning of March and April that limited what the team could have done. Ten of Arkansas’s losses came within the first 12 days of each of those months and if that hadn’t happened, Arkansas might have had a shot at hosting a regional. That didn’t happen though and the Razorbacks were eliminated by eventual national runner-up Virginia in the regionals. This year, Arkansas brings in a highly regarded recruiting class that could be a difference maker. The Razorbacks will need those players to produce early, as the depth of the squad took a big hit following last year.

2014: 40-25, 16-14
2014 Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Coach: Dave Van Horn

Field Players:
The outfield is going to be a strength for the Razorbacks in 2015 as all three starters return. Joe Serrano is Arkansas’s top returning hitter, with a .289 average last year, Andrew Benintendi provides speed, 17 stolen bases to go along with a .276 average, and Tyler Spoon adds the power, three home runs and 37 RBI’s. Serrano and Benintendi each started 60 games last season, Spoon started 64, and all three should be regulars in the top half of the Razorback lineup. Arkansas does lose their top two guys offensively from their lineup in Brian Anderson and Eric Fisher, but the left side of the infield returns intact. Shortstop Michael Bernal and third baseman Bobby Wernes are both back but neither posted great numbers last year. Bernal had better offensive numbers, batting .250, but he also made 20 errors and had a .914 fielding percentage. Both look set to retain their spots in 2015, but some talented younger players will pressure them. One of those younger players pushing for more time in 2015 is sophomore Clark Eagan. Eagan appeared in 46 games last year, starting 31 and posted impressive numbers, hitting .301 to go along with a .411 on base percentage. While most of his time came in the designated hitter spot, Eagan could be in line for more work in the infield. It is possible that he stays as a DH, partly due to his .824 fielding percentage last year, but with Anderson and Fisher both gone, he is a leading candidate to fill an empty infield spot. Eagan isn’t the only one pushing for playing time, as Arkansas brings in a recruiting class that was ranked as the best in the country by Perfect Game. Outfielder Luke Bonfield, a 22st round pick by the New York Mets, and infielder Blake Wiggins, a 36th rounder by the Philadelphia Phillies, both will be in the mix from the get go. Unless Arkansas is to bench one of the outfielders in favor of Bonfield or one of them to a different position, Bonfield’s best shot at playing would be in the DH spot. Bonfield was rated as the 57th best recruit nationally by Perfect Game and was the number two prospect in the Florida Collegiate Baseball League, but he is recovering from a broken ankle suffered in fall ball. Wiggins could have an easier time finding his way into the lineup with two spots open in the infield and Wernes and Bernal coming off down years. Wiggins is a decorated Arkansas prep star who Perfect Game tabbed as the top player in the state. Arkansas also needs to fill a hole at catcher as 52 game starter Jack Wise is gone, but there are plenty of options there. The Razorbacks burned the redshirt on Alex Gosser at the end of last season due to injury and he responded by hitting .320 over the last eight games and had six hits in the Charlottesville Regional. He will face competition from incoming freshman Nathan Rodriguez, a former 17U USA National Development Team member who was drafted in the 39th round by the Colorado Rockies last June.

Pitching was the strength of last years Arkansas team, but a large portion of that production is gone. Two weekend starters, the closer, a pair of midweek starters/bullpen arms, and another relief pitcher depart, leaving very little depth. Trey Killian will return to the weekend rotation and he is coming off a strange season. The junior Arkansas native had a 2.30 ERA on the season and held batters to a .222 batting average to go along with his 0.98 WHIP, but he went just four and nine record wise. He pitched well and threw four complete games, but will need some run support if the win-loss totals are to improve. The bullpen is in pretty good shape but lacks depth. Jacob Stone and Zach Jackson both were impressive out of the bullpen last year and both return. Stone was 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA and four saves in 38.1 innings, while Jackson was 2-3 with a 2.53 ERA in 24 appearances, including two starts. Both pitchers held batters to sub .200 averages, as batters hit .184 off Jackson and .132 off Stone. Jackson Lowery also returns and he went 1-1 with a 4.04 ERA last year, holding batters to a .216 average over 35.2 innings. Jackson could potentially be moved to the starting rotation, as he has experience there. Arkansas has a potential difference maker returning as well in Dominic Taccolini. The sophomore had an up and down freshman year, but has the potential to be a weekend ace. The incoming recruiting class should help with the depth of the staff. Eight new arms enter, led by right-hander Keaton McKinney. An Iowa native, McKinney came in as a two-way player, but the consensus Top 100 recruit has a better shot at making an impact on the mound.

Who to Watch:
Taccolini is going to be key for Arkansas this year. The former 18U USA National Team pitcher came in with huge expectations and didn’t quite live up to them in year one. He did end the season well though, throwing 4.2 innings of two hit ball against Virginia in relief, and is coming off a great fall according to head coach Dave Van Horn. If he throws up to his expectations, Taccolini has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter. Killian is going to be the Razorback’s ace this year, but if Arkansas can have Taccolini starting behind him, it would be huge for Arkansas moving forward.

Final Projection:
Arkansas’s success will depend a lot on the team’s health and how well the recruiting class performs. Arkansas was hit hard with injuries in the fall but should be healthy come spring. The position players are very deep, but pitching wise that is not the case. Arkansas had success last year due to their very deep pitching staff, but the offense might have to carry the load this season. The Razorbacks have a very deep team in the field, but they will need to improve on last year’s numbers. Only one player hit over .300 last year and he is gone, as are the top two RBI and home run guys from last year. The recruiting class is loaded in the field and that should lead to improved performance, whether it is a new guy stepping in or the new guys pushing the returning players. If Arkansas can get that improvement from the lineup and can repeat the production from last year’s pitching staff, the Razorbacks have the potential to be a sleeper in the SEC. If not, Arkansas could be in a battle to make the NCAA Tournament. This is likely a NCAA Tournament team, but how high their ceiling is yet to be determined.

Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament

Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Tyler Spoon, OF, 234
Hits: Joe Serrano, OF, 66
Home Runs: Tyler Spoon, OF, 3
RBIs: Tyler Spoon, OF, 37
Runs: Andrew Benintendi, OF, 45
Stolen Bases: Andrew Benintendi, OF, 17

Wins: Trey Killian, P, 4; Jacob Stone, P, 4
Innings Pitched: Trey Killian, P, 94
Strikeouts: Trey Killian, P, 62
Saves: Jacob Stone, P, 4


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