Flex­i­bil­ity serves UA base­ball coaches well

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - NATE ALLEN

FAYET­TEVILLE — Good coaches gen­er­ally fash­ion an iden­tity.

Great ones don’t pi­geon­hole their teams with the iden­tity they fash­ion.

Score Nate Thomp­son off to a great start, switch­ing his base­ball iden­tity from the Mis­souri State Bears to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs.

Thomp­son was the hit­ting coach/re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor for the Bears, who beat Arkansas two out of three times dur­ing the Fayet­teville Re­gional the Ra­zor­backs hosted last month at Baum Sta­dium.

Af­ter Mis­souri State’s sea­son ended with a Super Re­gional loss at TCU, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn hired Thomp­son as the Hogs’ hit­ting coach/re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor.

Tony Vitello, Arkansas’ hit­ting coach/re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor since 2014, had be­come Ten­nessee’s head coach.

Like Vitello, Thomp­son is re­garded an ex­cel­lent and en­er­getic re­cruiter.

What about hit­ting phi­los­o­phy? Is he about slug­gers belt­ing home runs or small ball steal­ing, bunting and hit and run?

“Per­son­ally, it doesn’t mat­ter to me,” Thomp­son replied. “It’s just all about run pro­duc­tion. And so whether it’s us driv­ing the ball or just find­ing a way to com­pete and grind and get on base and be­ing op­por­tunis­tic on the base paths play­ing small ball, I don’t care.”

Bet­ter to adapt what each does best than cookie-cut­ter adapt­ing them to what the coach re­put­edly coaches best.

“My style is to try and ex­ploit each guy’s strengths,” Thomp­son said. “And help them un­der­stand what they do well as a player and how they can fit into a good role for them­selves and us as a team to score runs. If what they do is hit the ball hard in the flat and run re­ally well, then that’s the thing we are go­ing to fo­cus on. If they are more of a power type guy, then I am go­ing to en­cour­age them to try and get their best swing off and drive the ball and hit dou­bles and homers. So it goes both ways.”

So it has gone with Van Horn since be­com­ing the Ra­zor­backs’ head coach in 2003. He’s adapted while the NCAA var­i­ously al­tered com­po­si­tion of the bats and seams of the base­ball ad­just­ing to the col­lege game’s of­fen­sive ex­tremes of home run feasts and famines.

The 45-19 Ra­zor­backs hit an SEC-lead­ing 83 home runs in 2017.

How­ever, Van Horn pro­jected los­ing 37 home runs and 156 RBI from ju­niors Chad Span­berger, Luke Bon­field and Car­son Shaddy in the Ma­jor League Base­ball Draft.

Arkansas would play more small ball in 2018, Van Horn said be­tween the sea­son’s end and the draft’s be­gin­ning.

Un­ex­pect­edly, Bon­field (nine home runs and 49 RBI) and Shaddy (eight home runs and 40 RBI) did not get drafted and will re­turn as se­niors.

Van Horn says that some­what changes his pro­jected 2018 philo­soph­i­cal shift, but not en­tirely.

“We do have some ath­letic, young guys com­ing in,” Van Horn said. “Are they go­ing to play ev­ery day? We’ll see. There are some guys that can run and they can swing it, too.”

The sit­u­a­tion beck­ons for a ver­sa­tile hit­ting coach.

Philo­soph­i­cally, it seems Van Horn has hired one.

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