FAYETTEVILLE -- The SEC freshman of the year in 2018 has a new position this year and so does his classmate.
Heston Kjerstad will switch corner outfield spots and open in right field today for the University of Arkansas in its season opener against Eastern Illinois. Kjerstad hit .322 with 14 home runs and a team-high 58 RBI as the Razorbacks tied Ole Miss for the SEC West crown and lost to Oregon State in the College World Series finals.
"I feel pretty good about it," Kjerstad said of his new vantage point in right field. "It's a little different angle, but still the same thing as left. You've just got to catch whatever comes your way.
"I feel like it's a good fit for me arm-wise, making some longer throws. It'll be fun out there."
Casey Martin, who hit a team-high .345 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI, will shift from third base to shortstop.
Center fielder Dominic Fletcher said he liked what he's seen from Kjerstad in right field.
"He's done really well," Fletcher said. "He has a really good arm over there. You want your right fielder to have a good arm. And then I think he was kind of batting the sun a little bit in left, so moving him over to right will probably help with that a little bit."
Kjerstad had a fly ball hit off his face during the postseason last year, but he also made one of the year's top catches to rob Dallas Baptist's Devlin Granberg of a home run in a 4-3 victory for the Razorbacks in the final game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
Coach Dave Van Horn said he wanted to opt for defensive strength up the middle in opting to start Jack Kenley at second base and have Jacob Nesbit at third base to open the season.
At catcher, the Razorbacks are expected to use both Casey Opitz and Zack Plunkett, who have both been defensive stalwarts.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said he and pitching coach Matt Hobbs had many options for their Sunday starter before settling on 6-4 junior Jacob Kostyshock.
Among the candidates were junior right-hander Cody Scroggins (0-0, 4.60), sophomore right-hander Kole Ramage (1-1, 4.00), who pitched well at the College World Series, and freshman left-hander Patrick Wicklander.
Had sophomore Caleb Bolden not suffered an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, he would have been in the mix for a weekend starting job as well.
"They've all been throwing pretty well, so what you see this weekend might be different against USC," Van Horn said, referencing next weekend's series in Los Angeles. "I just want to make sure we have a deep, strong bullpen. That's a big concern. We have the guys, but it's just a matter of if we want to take one of those guys out and start them."
Coach Dave Van Horn revealed some future opponents for the Razorbacks during his talk at the Swatters Club meeting in Fayetteville on Monday including games against Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor next year in the Shriners Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Arkansas will also face Oklahoma and Michigan State on the road in mid-week games, with both of those teams playing at Baum-Walker Stadium in 2021.
The Razorbacks will open the 2021 season in a weekend tournament at the Texas Rangers' new ballpark against Texas, TCU and Texas Tech. They will also play a weekend series at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.
Van Horn said Arkansas has committed to play in the Round Rock Classic in 2022 in Round Rock, Texas, at the home of the Houston Astros' Class AAA affiliate.
Sophomore right-hand sidearm pitcher Marshall Denton is OK after being struck by a batted ball hit up the middle by Heston Kjerstad on Sunday.
Denton, who had gone by his middle name Angus previously, posted a video of the incident on social media. The ball hit Denton on the right side of the neck and rolled back on the infield as he was clearly in pain but did not go down.
"Yeah that was scary," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "That was one of the scarier things I've seen in a long time."
Eastern Illinois Coach Jason Anderson said he thinks the Panthers should be a stronger team, despite losing most of the position players from a 23-31 club that finished eighth in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference.
"We lost a lot of kids from last year, a lot of talented guys who set records at EIU," Anderson said. "What we have now, I think, is a better baseball team. It's a better mix of upperclassmen and young guys that can score more runs and will be a deeper pitching staff and play a little better defense. It's a mixed bag right now and that's why we're going to take these first couple of weeks to figure out what kind of baseball team we're going to be.
Outfielder Dominic Fletcher thinks the Razorbacks will steal more bases and have more team speed this season after banging out a school-record 98 home runs in 2018.
"We have a ton [of speed], I feel like," Fletcher said. "The freshmen are all really quick and fast, and then the transfers also, [Trevor] Ezell and [Matt] Goodheart, can both run. And then of course we have Marty [Casey Martin] still from last year. So I think we have a ton of team speed and you're going to see us use it a lot more."
Eastern Illinois Coach Jason Anderson thinks he has the kind of squad that can handle a road venue like Baum-Walker Stadium against an Arkansas team coming off an appearance in the College World Series finals.
"In past years with the program, this is something we'd probably be over-excited about, going down and playing Arkansas, which was in the championship game last year and has a great atmosphere down there," Anderson said. "But I think we've got a different mentality with this group. We've advanced the program to where we just want to go down and play good baseball and advance this baseball team. We're definitely excited about it, but it's a little more business-like than giddiness this year."
Sports on 02/15/2019
Print Headline: RAZORBACKS BASEBALL REPORT: 2 key cogs changing positions