SEC TEAMS IN CB PRESEASON POLL
Rank School Points
2 Florida 494
5 Vanderbilt 486
14 South Carolina 467
15 LSU 465
25 Auburn 437
32 Arkansas 418
Complete poll

The Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn is well aware of the perception that the Razorbacks are headed for a rebuilding year. Even he isn’t quite certain what to expect.

After falling one step short of a second consecutive trip to the College World Series last year, Arkansas opened practice on Friday. The Razorbacks did so with 17 lettermen missing from last season’s 43-21 squad whose season ended with a pair of extra-inning losses at Arizona State in the NCAA Super Regionals.

Among those are four players drafted in the top five rounds of the major league draft, three who went in the second round or higher. Their absence has Van Horn ready to take the field and find out how Arkansas will fare.

“The perception of us across the league and then nationally is that we’re in a little bit of a rebuilding year,” Van Horn said. “Who knows? We may be. I hope not.”

Since taking over at Arkansas after leaving Nebraska, Van Horn has led the school to eight consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. Rarely, however, have the Razorbacks faced such dramatic turnover, particularly when it comes to their best players.

Former infielder Zack Cox, who hit .429 last season, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round. Also, pitcher-outfielder Brett Eibner went in the second round to Kansas City after hitting a team-high 22 home runs and starting 11 games. Starting pitcher Drew Smyly, who went 9-1 with 114 strikeouts in 103 innings, also went in the second round to Detroit, and former first baseman Andy Wilkins was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round.

“They made a lot of money, won a lot of games here,” Van Horn said. “But it was their opportunity to go. It was their opportunity to cash in, so to say, so we’re excited for them.”

Arkansas outfielder Collin Kuhn also was selected in the draft but elected to return to school. The junior hit .336 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs for the Razorbacks last season before being taken by Detroit in the 15th round. Kuhn, chosen the Most Outstanding Player at the Fayetteville Regional last year after hitting four home runs in four games, is expected to play center field and bat leadoff. He also was hit by a school-record 25 pitches last season.

“He just earns a lot of respect with his toughness,” Van Horn said.

Arkansas has reached the College World Series twice (2004, 2009) during Van Horn’s tenure. Last season’s team was built on an offense that hit 92 home runs, including a combined 46 by Eibner, Wilkins and Cox.

To build off a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division, Van Horn said this year’s team must adapt and change its style of play. “We’re not going to beat you with too many three-run homers,” he said. “But I think they’re buying in and embracing the fact this is their team now.

“It’s time for them to make their move and make their mark on this program.”