Arkansas saw their season come to an end with a tough 3-2 loss to South Carolina in the College World Series.
Dominic Ficociello will return at first base for Arkansas and should be one of the nation's best at his position.
The Razorbacks finished No. 3 in the tournament, which is close to the spot they started the season in the polls. South Carolina and Arizona will now battle it out in a best two-of-three series for the national championship. Arkansas will think about what might have been since they had a 2-0 lead and other opportunities to extend that lead but didn't. Arkansas will also think about the odd strike zone on Friday night that was more inconsistent than Arkansas' bats were this season.
What wasn't inconsistent is the Arkansas pitching staff. D.J. Baxendale and the bullpen delivered another outstanding performance on Friday. Between an inconsistent strike zone and a very good South Carolina team, Arkansas' pitching just wasn't enough to carry the Razorbacks to the finals against Arizona. It was a great pitching staff though that got Arkansas as far as they went in the tournament.
The thoughts now turn to next season. Arkansas will lose some key players to professional baseball, but also will have some good ones returning. The starting pitching will be led by Ryne Stanek since Baxendale was a 10th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins it seems a good bet he is gone. No. 3 starter Randall Fant was picked in the 29th round by Cleveland and could also turn pro.
Arkansas' bullpen was solid this year, as good as any in the nation, and will be strong again next season. It will be interesting to see if Barrett Astin moves into a starting role. Nolan Sanburn was a second-round pick of Oakland so he won't be back, but many others will. Colby Suggs and Brandon Moore, if he isn't a starter, will be key members of the bullpen. Cade Lynch is another wildcard in the pen who could be a big help.
Arkansas' catching staff will remain intact and be a year older. True freshman Blake Baxendale will also be thrown into the mix at catcher and possibly in the infield. Baxendale has an outstanding bat and should add some punch to Arkansas' lineup.
In the infield, Arkansas returned all four of its starters this year. That won't be the case next season. First baseman Dominic Ficociello will be back, but he will be surrounded by three newcomers. Matt Reynolds was drafted in the second round by the New York Mets while Tim Carver and Bo Bigham were seniors. Brian Anderson and Joe Serrano were recruited as infielders, but played in the outfield so Dave Van Horn could get them some immediate playing time. Anderson is a very talented third baseman and Serrano is a middle infielder. Van Horn also likes David Masters at shortstop.
In the outfield, Arkansas will have some good competition. Matt Vinson stepped in for Jacob Morris following Morris' injury and played well. Morris was a late-round pick of Cleveland and Derrick Bleeker was picked late by Baltimore so Van Horn will have to see what their status is as well. Arkansas has signed some outfielders who can help immediately and may need to.
I know fans are wanting to see Arkansas hit better, but with only 11.7 scholarships to field a team I think Van Horn has very wisely opted to stock up on pitchers. Arkansas has a chance to be a good team next year and has some true freshmen in addition to Baxendale who can help if they make it to campus. Van Horn and his staff will continue to recruit and next year's team won't start out at No. 3 or 4 in the polls, but if all things fall into place they may have a chance to make another strong run at the end of the season.