Veteran catcher Casey Optiz likes what he sees from behind the plate in Arkansas baseball’s preseason scrimmages. Optiz says that even with the roster split into two teams he sees plenty of offense from both.
“We’re going to have guys not play as much this year that could start on other programs in the SEC,” Optiz observed. “It says a lot about this team that you have guys like that aren’t gonna play as much as they could somewhere else.”
Seventeen year old Robert Moore, a phenom at 2nd base, knows a thing or two about hitting. His dad is the GM of the Kansas City Royals. He’s been around the game at its highest level. Still, Moore says Arkansas’ preseason workouts have been an eye opening experience for him.
“I see these guys in person and not just on TV and you can see their drill work and everything,” Moore raves. “You’re just blown away and how strong, how skilled they are. How good their swings are and how intentional their drill work is.”
The lineup is not just solid at the plate. The defense on display in those scrimmages has been impressive according to newcomer Braydon Webb, a junior college all American, who will start in left field for the Hogs.
“Coach Van Horn in practice, we always try to do the little things right and I think defensively we work on just all of our cuts and just the really small things so that come game time we’re ready and we can execute,” Webb explained. He missed most of fall ball after a collision with the outfield wall but has been tearing it up at the plate, with a grand slam, two other home runs, a triple a double and several other base hits.
So how does the pitching look? A deep bullpen with several options at closer has the players excited. Optiz expects to see a big improvement from Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander who both made the weekend rotation as freshman. Improvement does not mean that either will duplicate the performance of Blaine Knight and later Isaiah Campbell who went 26-1 over a two year period from 2018 and 2019.
“We might not have a true ace but the versatility we have with all the pitchers that we do have, we’ve got a lot of depth for sure and those two guys should definitely lead us,” junior shortstop Casey Martin predicted.
Arkansas opens its 2020 season Friday, February 14th at Baum-Walker Stadium. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.