Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 4 Arkansas
2017 Record: 45-19 (18-11 in SEC); reached regional final. Final ranking: No. 19. Coach (Record at school): Dave Van Horn (595-343, 15 years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: RHP Blaine Knight (39), RHP Isaiah Campbell (47), C Grant Koch (73).
The good news: Arkansas rebounded from its disappointing 2016 season to host a regional for the first time since 2010. The Razorbacks return much of that team this season, including Opening Day starter Blaine Knight, catcher Grant Koch (who spent the summer with Team USA), shortstop Jax Biggers and center fielder Dominic Fletcher. Arkansas will also get righthanders Isaiah Campbell and Keaton McKinney back after both missed last spring due to elbow injuries. Campbell has first-round potential, while McKinney brings big-game experience, as he started as a freshman on the 2015 team that went to the College World Series. The Razorbacks have depth all over the diamond thanks to their large group of returners and the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, their highest-ranked class ever. As a result, Arkansas should be able to beat teams in several different ways.
The bad news: Arkansas’ two biggest pieces to replace are first baseman Chad Spanberger, who hit .305/.389/.619 with 20 home runs, and righthander Trevor Stephan, who went 6-3, 2.87 with 120 strikeouts in 91 innings. Spanberger was a force in the middle of the Razorbacks’ lineup and it will be up to several players to replace his production, though they still have several powerful bats with Luke Bonfield, Fletcher and Koch returning. Campbell will step into Stephan’s spot in the rotation and Arkansas has enough depth on its staff to cover the loss of righthanders Josh Alberius, Cannon Chadwick and Dominic Taccolini, who were all drafted last year after making at least 20 appearances.
Returner to know: Jax Biggers, SS: Biggers provided the Razorbacks an immediate boost last year after transferring from Cisco (Texas) JC for his sophomore season. He led Arkansas in batting with a .338/.423/.498 line and played solid defense at shortstop. He provides a spark at the top of the lineup, and the Razorbacks will need him to set the table for the heart of their lineup, while continuing to provide steady defense in the middle of the diamond.
Path to Omaha: Arkansas looks to be one of the most complete teams in the country. The Knight-Campbell duo at the front of its rotation has the potential to rival anyone in the country, and the Razorbacks have plenty of depth backing them up. Arkansas will have to adjust to not having Spanberger in the middle of the lineup, but it has the depth and experience to again be one of the most productive offenses in the SEC. Arkansas faces a grueling schedule that could make it the No. 1 national seed at the end of the season and will have to shoulder weighty expectations. If it can handle that load, it has all the pieces to return to Omaha and contend for the first national title in program history.
C Grant Koch, Jr. .264/.358/.498 | 235 AB | 13 HR | 42 RBI
1B Luke Bonfield, Sr. .294/.366/.448 | 248 AB | 9 HR | 49 RBI
2B Carson Shaddy, R-Sr. .279/.383/.450 | 222 AB | 8 HR | 40 RBI
3B Jared Gates, Sr. .246/.328/.418 | 122 AB | 6 HR | 14 RBI
SS Jax Biggers, Jr. .338/.423/.498 | 213 AB | 4 HR | 37 RBI
LF Heston Kjerstad, Fr. (HS – Amarillo, Texas)
CF Dominic Fletcher, So. .291/.356/.495 | 220 AB | 12 HR | 37 RBI
RF Evan Lee, So. .333/.451/.405| 42 AB | 0 HR | 8 RBI
DH Eric Cole, Jr. .282/.349/.413 | 206 AB | 5 HR | 25 RBI
RHP Blaine Knight, Jr. 8-4 | 3.28 ERA | 91 IP | 96 SO | 0 SV
RHP Isaiah Campbell, R-So. (Did not play – injured)
LHP Kacey Murphy, Jr. 5-1 | 3.65 ERA | 49 IP | 68 SO | 0 SV
RP Matt Cronin, So. 3-1 | 2.00 ERA | 18 IP | 31 SO | 1 SV
RP Jake Reindl, Jr. 4-1 | 2.31 ERA | 51 IP | 49 SO | 3 SV