FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas was considered one of the Southeastern Conference’s top teams when preseason polls came out last winter.
But the conference coaches have a different feeling about the 2014 Razorbacks.
Arkansas — which opens the season against Appalachian State on Friday at 3:05 p.m. — was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West according to the coaches’ preseason poll. The Razorbacks were behind LSU, Mississippi State, Alabama and Texas A&M in the poll. Ole Miss and Auburn were sixth and seventh, respectively.
South Carolina was selected as the preseason favorite to win the SEC.
“I don’t like being picked fifth,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Tuesday. “But that’s where they picked us and we’ve got 30 games to prove we’re better than that.”
Van Horn understands the low expectations, though. Arkansas is working to replace nearly every key member of a pitching staff that produced the lowest earned run average in school history. The Razorbacks will rely on a young staff to lead the way.
Arkansas is counting on an offense that struggled last season to turn in better results in 2014. The Razorbacks have experience in the field with players like second baseman Brian Anderson, outfielders Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano, first baseman Eric Fisher and shortstop Brett McAfee returning.
“I’ve said this all year, this team has great camaraderie,” Van Horn said. “They like each other and I think they can’t wait to play and prove a lot of people wrong.
“That’s the beauty of this. We get to prove we’re better. If we don’t, we don’t.”
Beeks, Oliver to Start
Van Horn wasn’t ready to announce his starting rotation for the Appalachian State series. But he said returning pitchers Jalen Beeks and Chris Oliver will earn starts.
“I feel like we’re going to give Beeks a start and Oliver a start just because we want to give them a start early to give them an opportunity to either be in the starting rotation or get to the back of the bullpen,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if we can keep them in the rotation. We’ll see how that evolves.”
Beeks was tied for second on the team with six wins last season, making 29 appearances out of the bullpen. Oliver appeared in 14 games with one start.
Van Horn said seven or eight pitchers were throwing bullpen sessions Tuesday, which would help Arkansas finalize its starting rotation. He said Arkansas starters could throw as many as 85 pitches during the opening weekend.
“Our starters, guys who have been working out as starters, are up to about 80,” Van Horn said. “After this bullpen they’ll be up to about 80, 85 pitches. Are they going to go that many? It depends. There’s a hard 85 and an easy 85.”
Wise Ready For Opener
Catcher Jake Wise still isn’t 100 percent after undergoing Tommy John and double hernia surgeries in the offseason, but Van Horn said it shouldn’t keep the senior out of the lineup for Friday’s season opener.
Van Horn said Wise has recovered from Tommy John surgery and is “amazed” at how well he’s throwing the ball. Wise’s biggest issue is sprinting while he continues to recover from the double hernia surgery.
“I think if you see Jake in the lineup and you see him hit a ball in the gap you might see him cruising a little bit more than normal,” Van Horn said. “Now if the game is on the line he’s at second and we don’t want to pull him, whatever. He’s going to give you what he has. But we don’t want to hurt him.”