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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Razorbacks Connor Noland (13) throws a pitch during a baseball game, Monday, June 17, 2019 at the TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The Arkansas Razorbacks fell to Texas Tech 5-4 ending their College World Series run - Photo by Charlie Kaijo

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn spent some time at his season wrap news conference Monday sizing up the Razorbacks' pitching plans for 2020.

Van Horn, coming off the program's first back-to-back College World Series appearances and his sixth trip to Omaha in 17 seasons as UA coach, likes the established talent returning to the mound, the group of lightly used freshmen and the cast of signees.

"I don't want to give away everything yet, but the biggest question mark is who is going to fill some of those bullpen roles," Van Horn said. "Now it's time for some of those other guys to step up.

"We have guys with good arms. It's just a matter of those guys being able to go out and do it."

There will be no shortage of contenders for spots in the starting rotation, beginning with right-hander Connor Noland (3-5, 4.02 ERA) and left-hander Patrick Wicklander (6-2, 4.32), who both earned weekend starter status as freshmen.

"I think Wicklander has a chance to be special," Van Horn said. "Obviously, Connor Noland I feel the same way."

Sophomore Caleb Bolden, who underwent Tommy John surgery in December, and senior long reliever Kevin Kopps are in that mix, as well as signees such as Blake Adams of Springdale Har-Ber.

"A lot of people forgot about Caleb, but we haven't," Van Horn said. "We think he's going to be one of our best guys next year."

Kopps (6-3, 3.89) paired with Jacob Kostyshock, an eighth-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies who is unlikely to return, and Kole Ramage (7-1, 5.25) as the team's most-employed setup men.

"We're going to give Kopps every opportunity to start," Van Horn said. "We already know he can be a middle man ... [and] he's really good at that as well."

As for the incoming pitchers, Van Horn made it clear he'd answer questions about specific players but did not want to give a rundown on the group as a whole for fear of not mentioning someone.

"There's some good-armed kids around this area coming in," he said. "We've got two or three kids from Texas that have a really good opportunity, and we need a guy like [sophomore-to-be] Caden Monke to make a move.

"We don't hit him. All fall we didn't hit him. His battle is throwing it over the plate more. He's got a natural cut. It's time to make a move, put some weight on, get stronger. This is a kid that's left-handed. We need that."

Monke (0-0) had an 18.00 ERA in 3 innings with 5 strikeouts, 5 walks and 3 hits allowed in 2019.

Adams has a shot at being a two-way player.

"Blake's a pretty good player, isn't he?" Van Horn asked, smiling. "He's got a really good arm. He's had some really good outings over the last few years.

"He hit seven home runs this year. I've seen him hit some balls a long way. He can actually swing the bat, and he's a good enough fielder he could play corner outfield or first base for you. It's hard to do both. We're going to let him do both in the fall."

Van Horn said Adams, who was the Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Baseball Player of the Year, has shown good velocity into the low 90s, and he has a good curve ball.

"I think when he gets with coach [Matt] Hobbs, I think his fastball is consistently going to stay 92-plus," he said. "I'm not going to say he's going to throw 98, but he's a big kid and he's getting bigger. I think Blake has a real opportunity to help us right away."

Van Horn thinks Noland's decision to stick with baseball and not try to play quarterback moving forward should be beneficial.

"I'm no football coach, so I can't really tell you how to evaluate that," he said. "I just know on the baseball side of it, if he goes full-time baseball and he's just only throwing a baseball and he's lifting with baseball and doing baseball work -- long toss, just everything that goes into pitching -- I really believe his velocity is going to go up, two and three miles an hour for next year.

"This year, he pitched consistently anywhere from 88 to 91, maybe a 92 and he even touched 93 here and there. But I think he'll start pitching -- he won't ever go out of the 90s unless he wants to or is getting tired -- and get that thing up there to around 93, 94, 95 a little more consistently.

"With his off-speed stuff -- he's got a good changeup and slider and a curve ball -- that would be a huge difference for him, to be able to have four weapons like that with that velocity on that end. So I think for his future, with baseball anyway, it's probably going to be a really good move."

The battle to replace closer Matt Cronin (1-0, 1.86 ERA, 12 saves) is likely to be waged in fall ball and early spring. Van Horn mentioned a couple of possibilities in sophomore right-handers Jacob Burton (0-0, 4.82) and Elijah Trest (1-1, 7.58).

"When you're looking at closing, maybe we could look at a guy like Jacob Burton," he said. "Here he was as a freshman throwing 95-96, but he was wild. Then he got better at the end of the year. Last spring, he wasn't real wild. So I don't know what happened there. I think he's going to calm down and get a lot better.

"I'm hoping Elijah Trest, you saw him pitch a couple of times late and he was 94-95. He's a freshman. He'd get two outs, then give up a single and a homer. He just needs to make that move to get over the hump. If you're just talking velocity on a closer, those are a couple of guys you could look at. Kopps is a guy who's got a couple, three pitches who could be a starter."

Van Horn said most of the pitchers who logged significant innings will stay around campus most of the summer or visit home for a bit, such as Wicklander, before returning.

Sports on 06/25/2019

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