Dominic Fletcher Propels Arkansas Past Texas Tech At College World Series
OMAHA, Neb. — Dominic Fletcher, a California native, came to Arkansas as a heralded recruit and produced right away, earning Freshman All-American honors in 2017. He carried that momentum into summer ball in the California Collegiate League, where he was named MVP.
When Fletcher got back to Fayetteville and the Razorbacks opened fall ball, he wore out their pitching staff and coach Dave Van Horn couldn’t help but be reminded of a previous Arkansas center fielder who broke out in his sophomore season.
“In the fall, we didn’t get him out,” Van Horn said. “I thought, ‘Man, this kid has made that (Andrew) Benintendi type of jump.’ Because Andrew, from one year to the next, was incredible.”
That success didn’t carry over to the spring for Fletcher, however. He this year got off to a dismal start. As Southeastern Conference play began in mid-March, the Arkansas center fielder was hitting .190 with just two home runs and averaging a strikeout per game.
Fletcher is too talented to keep down for long, and eventually he pulled out of that slump. About a month later, he was hitting .300 while continuing to defend well in center field. The Razorbacks don’t need Fletcher — or any of their hitters — to shoulder the load every day, unlike in 2015 when Benintendi was College Player of the Year and led the team to the College World Series.
When Fletcher figured that out and stopped pressing, he started to get more comfortable at the plate and got back to playing to his potential.
“I was definitely pressing at the beginning of the year when I first started struggling,” he said. “It started snowballing and then it turned into a bigger slump. You’ve just got to relax, play ball and let things happen.”
Fletcher is now hitting .296/.348/.472 with a team-high 15 doubles and he’s this week been at the top of his game at the College World Series. He went 4-for-4 with a home run, double and four RBIs on Wednesday to help Arkansas to a 7-4 victory against Texas Tech in the winners’ bracket game. The Razorbacks are now just one win away from advancing to next week’s CWS finals.
Fletcher is 6-for-9 in Omaha and on Wednesday became the first player in a decade to collect four hits and four RBIs in a CWS game. He was the one to step up against Texas Tech, but he and the rest of the Razorbacks know that it can be any one of them on any given day.
“It’s one of the best lineups in the country and you see guys around you doing well,” Fletcher said. “You want to do well. It’s kind of competitive between all of us. Everyone wants to do well and help the team win.”
Fletcher’s big day at the plate included a monstrous home run to right field to lead off the fourth inning. He hit the ball over the Arkansas bullpen and nearly onto the concourse, well beyond the wall 340 feet from home plate at TD Ameritrade Park.
Fletcher has hit 21 home runs in his college career, but at a listed 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, he is an unlikely power hitter. He said the home run he hit Wednesday was about as far as he can hit a ball. But he has above-average power to go with above-average speed and defense in center field, a combination that will make him an intriguing prospect in the 2019 draft. As a small, but powerful, lefthanded-hitting Arkansas center fielder, there’s sure to be talk about him being the next Benintendi.
It’s a lofty comparison and one that Fletcher still has to prove he can live up to. But the perseverance he showed this year was impressive, as he dug out of his slump while facing the tough pitching in the SEC.
Senior second baseman Carson Shaddy, who hits behind him in the lineup, said Fletcher has done a good job of identifying his weaknesses and working to correct them.
“It’s kind of like a kick in the butt when you get the lowest point he was at,” Shaddy said. “He didn’t care about his stats any more, he just went up and hit and all of a sudden his stats are back to normal. He’s a great hitter. He’s one of the better hitters on our team.”
Fletcher said he made some tweaks to his swing over the course of the year, but the most important thing has been to stay within himself at the plate. It’s worked, and he’s been a vital part at the heart of the Arkansas lineup.
That relaxed version of Fletcher is the one the Razorbacks want to see. He’s come a long way since the start of the season and on Wednesday helped propel Arkansas to the cusp of the CWS finals.
“He relaxed,” Van Horn said. “He realizes he doesn’t have to do it all by himself. He doesn’t have to hit 20 home runs as a sophomore. Just hit.”