FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas catcher Jake Wise was asked a simple question during the Razorbacks’ media day last week.
What does Dominic Ficociello look like as a second baseman?
“I played with him in the summer when he played third,” Wise said. “He looks better at second than he does third. But Dom looks funny doing whatever he does.”
Arkansas fans will get their first good look at the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ficociello playing second base when the third-ranked Razorbacks open the season against Western Illinois in Baum Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The lanky junior’s move from first base to the middle infield has been one of the most curious changes for the Razorbacks as they enter a 2013 season loaded with expectations. The veteran slides from a position he manned for two seasons to a spot held by former Razorback Bo Bigham for nearly four years.
How well he adjusts to the change will be important for an Arkansas team with a brand new starting infield. But coach Dave Van Horn isn’t sweating the move after watching Ficociello work at the position throughout the fall and preseason.
“It’s not a concern,” Van Horn said. “He’s a good defender. Sometimes he gets a little bit out of control as far as being too quick and just needs to slow down a little bit.”
Ficociello was a shortstop in high school, so playing in the middle infield isn’t exactly a foreign concept for the California native. He has proven to be an outstanding defensive player in his Arkansas career as well, earning Southeastern Conference All-Defensive team honors for two straight seasons.
So why change? Ficociello said it had nothing to do with his performance at the position. Instead, it was about Arkansas’ goal of getting more hitters in the lineup, including Eric Fisher. The sophomore will start at first base for the season opener.
“We needed to get Fisher in the lineup because he can really swing and play first base and he’s a good first baseman,” Ficociello said. “So if that meant I had to move to second base and that’s what the coaches wanted me to do, then I was going to do it. Thankfully, it worked out a lot easier than I thought it was going to.
“So in the grand scheme of things I think it’s really going to help out the team.”
Ficociello — who has been one of the team’s top hitters since his arrival — said it’s a move Arkansas actually toyed with before the 2012 season. I was put on hold because he couldn’t get used to playing with a smaller infielders glove in time after using a first baseman’s mitt during his first season with the Razorbacks.
But it did become a reality shortly after Arkansas was eliminated from the College World Series. Ficociello played third base in the Cape Cod League and slid to second base when the Razorbacks opened fall practices. He said the transition wasn’t bad.
“I thought I was going to have to work harder to get back to getting used to playing in the middle infield,” Ficociello said. “It was real easy believe it or not. And it’s fun being in the middle infield. Just like the good old days.”
The move could end up helping Ficociello’s pro prospects, too, as he begins what is likely his last season with the Razorbacks.
No one questions the draft-eligible junior’s bat despite a sophomore slump in which he hit .290. But Ficociello isn’t projected as a first baseman at the big league level. So moving to second should give Ficociello a chance to show some versatility as he tries to lead the Razorbacks back to the College World Series.
“I want to be considered as a guy that was able to play just about any place on the field,” Ficociello said. “So when the opportunity arose, it was real easy for me.”
It may take some time getting used to seeing Arkansas’ former first baseman manning the middle of the infield beginning Friday. Wise said it looks “funny” after all. But he and the rest of the Razorbacks are confident Ficociello’s move will pay off.
“It looks good,” Fisher said. “You don’t see tall people in the middle of the infield, but it’s cool having a big guy over there. If a ball is hit in between us and I can’t get too it, he has good length and he can dive and he can cover a lot of range out there.
“I think it definitely helps him being a little taller.”
Western Illinois (0-0) at No. 3 Arkansas (0-0)
When: Friday at 3:05 p.m., Saturday at 12:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Where: Baum Stadium in Fayetteville
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series Record: Arkansas leads 4-0
Last Meeting: Arkansas 8, Western Illinois 7 (10 innings) on 2/27/09