Revamped Arkansas enjoying under-the-radar feel

KURT VOIGT AP Sports Writer Published:

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn brought a list of players' names with him to media day on Friday.

Such is the state of turnover this season for the Razorbacks, who feature 27 new players following last season's disappointing exit from the NCAA tournament regionals.

Arkansas began last season as the top-ranked team in the country, a lofty perch given based on the strength of an experienced pitching staff that went on to lead country with a 1.89 ERA -- nearly half a run better than any other staff.

Offensively, however, Arkansas often was anemic. The Razorbacks were 190th in the country with an average of 4.9 runs per game and were eliminated by host Kansas State in the regionals, finishing the season 39-22.

"Last year might have been our shot to win a national championship, and we didn't win it," Van Horn said. "This year, we still have a shot. It's a long shot, but we don't talk about that. We just talk about getting better."

Despite the abundance of new faces this season, Arkansas is ranked 25th by Baseball America -- a spot likely based somewhat on Van Horn's 11 NCAA tournament appearances in as many seasons with the Razorbacks.

To keep that postseason streak intact, Van Horn is counting on the quick development of a talented, but inexperienced pitching staff this season.

Starters Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin and Randall Fant are gone -- three of the Razorbacks' 11 drafted players in last year's Major League Baseball draft. What Arkansas lacks in experience, Van Horn hopes to make up for with talent.

Van Horn isn't sure yet who the starters will be when the Razorbacks open the season next weekend against Appalachian State. He does, however, have plenty of pitchers to choose from -- with sophomores Trey Killian (3.19 ERA last season) and Colin Poche (1.37) leading the along with juniors Jalen Beeks (2.20) and Chris Oliver (2.25).

Beeks, for one, isn't about to let the turnover dampen Arkansas' expectations of returning to the College World Series -- where the school has been three times under Van Horn, including in 2012.

"The expectation is still Omaha," Beeks said. "Every year is Omaha here. We don't really have rebuilding years."

The pitching staff is a concern this season, which is a change. And Van Horn is counting on a much-needed boost offensively and defensively -- where the Razorbacks made 87 errors in 61 games for the 172nd-best fielding percentage (.964) in the country.

To help with the run production, Arkansas is counting heavily on preseason second-team All-American Brian Anderson at second base.

Anderson led the Razorbacks and was 15th in the SEC last season with a .325 batting average, and he believes the under-the-radar approach will serve Arkansas well this season.

"We definitely did feel some pressure last year," Anderson said. "As an offense, you definitely the pressure. This year, the spotlight's really not on us. It alleviates some pressure, but we still expect great things from our offense and pitching staff."

Van Horn also believes the offense will be improved, though he's taking a "time will tell" approach.

One thing he's certain of is the Razorbacks are enjoying their time out of the national spotlight, though he has no doubt it won't be long before he -- and others -- don't need a list to help learn Arkansas' many new names.

"I just think that this year's team is relaxed and excited to go prove something. Last year's team was probably on edge, no matter how loose I tried to make them.

"This year's team, they don't have that pressure. In the locker room, the expectation's there, but the pressure's not there."