By Robby Edwards | Photos courtesy of Razorback Communications
Pitching Should Be Strong for Re-Loaded Razorback Baseball Program
Hagen Smith has made 26 starts over his first two years, going 15-4
A few key returnees, several prospective impact transfers and a potentially loaded starting pitching weekend rotation could add up to another big season for head coach Dave Van Horn and the Arkansas Razorback baseball team.
The Hogs were 43-18 last year, hosted and reached the finals of an NCAA Regional, won the Southeastern Conference overall title for the fourth time in program history, and won 18 or more games in SEC play (20-10) for the sixth consecutive season.
Van Horn, named the league’s Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons, won 40 or more games for the sixth straight non-COVID season (2020).
“We feel good about the experienced kids we have coming in, and we feel good about the kids that are coming back who have been in the program,” Van Horn said. “They’ve continued to develop and get better. The freshmen coming in, it’s still a really good class even though we lost some kids to professional baseball. We knew we would. We tried to cover all of that by going out and getting a couple of (transfer) infielders and a few more pitchers. It really helped us.”
Key returnees this year are pitchers Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart, Will McEntire and Dylan Carter as well as position players Kendall Diggs and Peyton Stovall.
Smith and Tygart are expected to be part of a vaunted weekend pitching rotation. Smith was 8-2 with a 3.64 earned run average a year ago and had 109 strikeouts in 71.2 innings. He also added two saves. Tygart was 3-1 with one save and a 3.20 ERA. He had 31 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.
McEntire was 8-3 over 87 innings with a 5.07 ERA, and Carter was 6-0 with a 3.65 ERA over 37 innings.
Diggs will be in the outfield after hitting .299 with 12 home runs and a team-high 63 runs batted in last year. Stovall returns at second base after batting .253 while being limited to 38 games. He hit five homers with 31 RBI.
“Diggs made a lot of good plays this summer,” Van Horn said. “He will be one of the frontrunners to grab one of those outfield spots.”
Other returnees to watch are pitcher Parker Coil as well as infielders Peyton Holt and Jayson Jones. Coil had a 6.55 ERA in 22 innings in 2023.
Brady Tygart pitched as a starter and reliever last year, going 3-1 with a 3.20 ERA
In his 22nd season as head coach, Dave Van Horn has led Arkansas to seven College World Series appearances, 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, three SEC overall titles, seven SEC Western Division titles and one SEC Tournament championship
Will McEntire went from 48.2 innings pitched two years ago to 87.0 last year with an 8-3 record and two saves
“(Coil) had a tremendous summer,” Van Horn said. “What he’s done is throw a lot of strikes. He’s always had a really good breaking ball. He’s taken a step forward. He can come in and challenge to be a starter. There are a lot of roles for him. We used him in some tough situations last year.”
Holt spent most of his time at second base, playing in 31 games with 19 starts. He hit .392 with 24 runs scored and 17 RBI. Jones started games at third base, first base, shortstop and left field as a freshman. He batted .196 in 46 at-bats with 14 walks.
“Jones had a good summer,” Van Horn said. “He played a lot of third base. We’re excited about that.”
A pair of catchers return to work with the pitchers. Parker Rowland started 42 games and hit .182, while Hudson Polk started 19 times and batted .190.
Designated hitter Kendall Diggs earned second-team All-SEC honors last year
Van Horn picked up two potential impact transfers from both Texas Tech and Missouri, along with transfers from Sacramento State and Tarleton State (Texas).
Pitcher Mason Molina and catcher Hudson White joined the program from Texas Tech, while outfielders Ross Lovich and Ty Wilmsmeyer were added from Missouri. Wehiwa Aloy was a highly coveted shortstop from Sacramento State, while first baseman Jack Wagner comes in from Tarleton State.
Molina, a left-hander, started 16 games last year as a sophomore and was 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA. In 83.1 innings, he had 108 strikeouts and 35 walks, and he allowed 63 hits. Opponents hit just .207 as he earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. He appeared in 20 games with nine starts as a freshman and had a 3.90 ERA.
“When we talked, I think he had 37 Division I schools trying to get him,” Van Horn said. “We feel really fortunate that he liked it here. When you can get a pitcher who has a couple of years of Division I experience, especially in a really good conference, it should help. If he’s healthy, and I think he is, I think he’s going to be a big part of our pitching staff. That was a big ‘get’ for us.”
White is a candidate to receive pitches from Molina and the rest of the staff. A Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American two years ago, he hit .294 with 11 home runs and 49 RBI last year as a sophomore.
As a junior last year at Missouri, Lovich was limited to 27 games due to injury but hit .306 with four home runs and 20 RBI. He was charged with only three errors over a 100-game career. He hit .260 as a sophomore, starting 43 games.
Peyton Stovall was a preseason Baseball America All-American last year but was limited to 38 games due to an injury
Senior transfer Wilmsmeyer tied for the team lead with a .311 average for the Tigers. He had seven home runs and 25 RBI in 54 games. He also pitched and recorded a 3.52 ERA in 7.2 innings. As a junior, he started 51 games and hit .273 with 21 RBI.
“White is a really good defensive catcher,” Van Horn said. “He had a really good summer catching and playing. We plan on him being our catcher. Ty is an everyday player. He can run, likes to steal bases and is very intelligent. I feel like Ross is a guy, if he can stay healthy and be in the lineup, who can really help us.”
Aloy was a first-team Freshman All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. He hit .376 with 15 doubles, 14 home runs and 46 RBI. He recorded 29 multi-hit games. In the field, he had 17 errors and a .928 fielding percentage and helped turn 36 double plays.
Payton Holt, who is from Greenwood, Arkansas, transferred from Crowder College in Missouri last year and hit .392 in 31 games
At Tarleton State, Wagner hit .337 as a redshirt junior with 15 home runs and 56 RBI. He hit .257 in 2021 at Kansas.
Non-transfer newcomers who could push for innings and at-bats include pitchers Adam Hachman, Gabe Gaeckle and Tucker Holland, and shortstop Nolan Souza.
Hachman was rated the No. 46 prospect in the country by Baseball America prior to an injury, Gaeckle No. 51 by Perfect Game and Holland No. 87 by Perfect Game.
The Razorbacks open the season at home Feb. 16-19 with a four-game series against James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium.