Before getting to this week’s mailbag, I wanted to pass along a couple of interesting nuggets from the small college ranks. Most of our coverage focuses on Division I, of course, because we lack unlimited resources and because of our general emphasis on professional prospects, who come out of D-I schools in much higher volume than smaller schools. But now and then we try to bring you interesting stories off the beaten path. This week, I heard about three former major league managers with small college connections. At provisional Division II Flagler (Fla.) College, there are two players on the roster whose fathers managed in the big leagues. Junior righthander John Goryl’s father Johnny managed the Twins in 1980-81, and junior DH Wade LaMont’s father Gene spent eight years as a big league manager for the White Sox and Pirates. Neither is a great prospect, but both are having good seasons so far; Goryl is 1-0, 2.41 through 19 innings and LaMont is batting .342/.420/.618 with a team-leading five homers through 76 at-bats.
Meanwhile, Division III California Lutheran has a big weekend coming up; its home field will be dedicated as Sparky Anderson Field in honor of the great Reds and Tigers manager. Anderson is a native of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and can often be found in the Cal Lutheran dugout during home games.
Let’s move on to today’s mailbag question, which I poached from an e-mail sent to our podcast e-mail address. Remember that if you have a question for the college mailbag, send it along to email@example.com along with your first and last name and your hometown.
How much do the differences in your projected lineup from Arkansas’ actual lineup affect Arkansas’ ranking? For instance Jess Todd appearing to stay in the pen, and Danny Hamblin staying at first instead of playing his projected position at third base.
We always adjust our assessments of teams as the season plays itself out, but the case of Arkansas is a particularly interesting one. Back in December when we put together our college preview, the Razorbacks projected their weekend rotation as being junior lefthander Nick Schmidt on Fridays, junior transfer Todd on Saturdays and junior righty Shaun Seibert on Sundays, with junior transfer Duke Welker projected to close. The Razorbacks shuffled that mix in the spring, putting Todd at the back of the bullpen, where his 90-94 mph fastball and hard slider have helped him go 1-1, 2.19 with two saves in 12 innings. With a small frame and a quick arm, Todd looked like a perfect fit for that role as soon as he arrived in Fayetteville, and it was actually a bit of a surprise that the Razorbacks projected Welker to close in the fall. Welker has power stuff of his own to go along with a physical 6-foot-6 frame, but he’s struggled in the rotation despite his 2-0 record, posting a 5.06 ERA with 13 strikeouts and 12 walks in 16 innings.
“He’s got big potential, a good arm, and he’s had some great innings where he’s looked dominant, but he’s got to be more consistent,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He’s gotten better–he has great physical tools, it’s just a matter of putting it together on the mound and getting some of the mental stuff.”
Consistency and command have also been issues for Seibert, who pitched well against Mississippi last weekend at the Dairy Queen Classic but still has just a 4.80 ERA and 11 walks in 15 innings. The up-and-down start for Welker and Seibert is cause for concern, because our preseason No. 7 ranking of Arkansas was predicated largely upon our expectations for the pitching staff. We were counting on Welker and Todd to live up to their significant talent, and so far only Todd has done so. As a result, we slid the Razorbacks down five spots after they went 1-2 in Minneapolis last weekend.
Hamblin’s struggles don’t help either, though it has nothing to do with his position. Van Horn said Hamblin (pictures at right) has played first base not because of any lingering throwing problems from his 2004 shoulder surgery–indeed, he’s throwing fine–but because Logan Forsythe and Casey Coon have emerged as viable options at the hot corner, and Hamblin is a strong defender at first. It’s a way for Arkansas to maximize its offensive firepower. Of course, for that to happen, Hamblin needs to break out of his early slump; he’s batting just .149/.328/.234 through 47 at-bats.
“It just hasn’t happened for him yet,” Van Horn said. “He’s experimenting with some things. This could have happened in the middle of the season, so if it was going to happen, I’m glad it’s happening now.”