By Robby Edwards | Photos courtesy of Razorback Communications
Razorbacks Restocked with Transfers, Pitching Should Be Solid
A deep and talented pitching staff should be the strength of head coach Dave Van Horn’s University of Arkansas baseball team as the Razorbacks look to win 45 or more games for the sixth consecutive full season and make consecutive trips to the College World Series.
The OmaHogs have advanced to the CWS three times in the last four complete seasons (2020 being a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened year) and 11 times overall; but to return in 2023, pitching may have to lead the way unless newcomers put up big numbers at the plate.
Jaxon Wiggins has nine wins over the last two seasons
Dave Van Horn earned Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and 2021, and has led the Razorbacks to the College World Series six times and made 18 NCAA Tournament appearances
Will McEntire struck out 49 batters in 48.2 innings last year and recorded a 2.59 earned run average
Arkansas (46-21) was No. 3 in the nation last year in final polls by Collegiate Baseball, Perfect Game and USA Today, and No. 4 by Baseball America and D1Baseball. The Razorbacks were No. 22 in the country in team earned run average (4.07) and No. 13 in runs scored per game (7.04).
“We have a lot of guys back and a lot of guys got better,” said Van Horn, entering his 21st season as U of A’s head coach. “We brought in some really good young pitchers and transfer pitchers — from junior college and four-year schools. I feel like our pitching is going to be really solid.”
Sophomore Hagen Smith and junior Jaxon Wiggins are two returning weekend starters.
Smith started 15 games, threw 77.1 innings and was 7-2 with a 4.66 ERA. Wiggins started 15 games, threw 66 innings and was 6-3 with a 6.55 ERA.
Junior Will McEntire was stellar with eight starts, 48.2 innings pitched, and a 2-2 record, one save, and a 2.59 ERA. Brady Tygart, a freshman All-American, pitched 37.2 innings in 24 games and recorded eight saves with a 3.82 ERA.
“Everyone knows about Smith and Tygart and some of those guys, but I thought Wiggins made a really big jump from last spring to now,” Van Horn said. “He’s turned that corner that we’ve been waiting on. His velocity is still great. He can really hold his velocity better than anybody on the team. What you see in the first (inning), you’ll probably see in the fifth and sixth. He threw the ball where he wanted to with the fastball and has a breaking ball and changeup — and he’s throwing them around the plate. He had the best fall.”
Brady Tygart had 51 strikeouts in 37.2 innings pitched and was fourth in the SEC with eight saves
Opponents hit just .232 against Hagen Smith in 2022, which ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference
Senior Zack Morris was 6-1 with a save and a 2.31 ERA in 35 innings of work, while Nick Griffin and Austin Ledbetter had ERAs of 2.70 and 2.84, respectively, in limited innings.
“He did a great job,” Van Horn said of Morris. “In the second half of the season, he was outstanding. We knew what we were getting when we brought him in the game. He was going to throw strikes, keep the ball down and work some quick innings.”
Newcomers who could take the mound are freshmen Gage Wood, Parker Coil and Sean Fitzpatrick, juniors Cody Adcock and Hunter Hollan, and senior Koty Frank.
“A few we brought in are maybe better than I thought they would be,” Van Horn said. “These guys have made some jumps. They can throw 94, 95, 93 (miles per hour) with good secondary stuff and fill up the (strike) zone. Wood threw the ball extremely well. I see Coil getting to pitch a lot as a freshman. Fitzpatrick is the wildcard lefty. He’s different. He can get you a hitter here or there and give you an inning.”
Hollan was 10-3 with a 3.06 ERA at San Jacinto College in Texas, and Frank, a transfer from the University of Nebraska, was 5-0 as a starter with a 3.81 ERA in 2022.
Offensively, there are questions to answer and holes to fill. Van Horn isn’t ready to name starters because he likes the competition.
Sophomore Peyton Stovall and senior Brady Slavens are the most experienced hitters. A first baseman last year, Stovall moves to second this season. As a freshman, he started 51 games and hit .295 with six home runs, 31 runs batted in, and scored 40 runs. Slavens was limited to the designated hitter role last year, but will be on the field at first base. At the plate, he hit .255 in 63 games with a team-high tying 16 home runs. He was second with 58 RBI and scored 35 times.
“Slavens is going to be better,” Van Horn said. “He’s in a really good place. He’s excited about being here and excited about playing first base and getting on the field instead of DHing all the time.”
Sophomore Kendall Diggs will likely be in the infield — maybe third base — but could see time in the outfield. He played in 27 games and hit .197 with three home runs.
Brady Slavens tied for 15th in the Southeastern Conference with 16 home runs last season
Jace Bohrofen was rated the No. 3 player in Oklahoma and the No. 38 player overall nationally by Perfect Game in 2020
Kendall Diggs may start at third base, but could also see time in the outfield
“He’s a career infielder, but a corner outfielder, I think, in professional baseball,” Van Horn said. “Right now, it’s about the bat with him. He has such a pretty swing, and he knows the strike zone. When he gets in the lineup and gets a lot of at-bats, he will be really good.”
Junior Jace Bohrofen, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma two years ago, should be one outfielder. He played in 32 games with 24 starts last year, hitting .228 with three home runs. As a freshman at OU, he hit .252 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 35 games.
“We had him penciled in starting last year, and it didn’t happen,” Van Horn said. “He got hurt, missed a month, came back, didn’t do well, then did well.”
Newcomers who could crack the lineup are Creighton University transfer Jared Wegner, Austin Peay State University transfer John Bolton, University of Kansas transfer Tavian Josenberger, and junior college transfers Harold Coll and Caleb Cali.
Wegner, an outfielder, played in 43 games as a freshman (.264, 20 RBI), missed most of 2021 with an injury and started 49 games last year, hitting .348 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.
“Wegner is a very strong, athletic outfielder,” Van Horn said. “He has power and should be a seasoned player who is ready to step in and contribute right away.”
In 56 starts at APSU last year, Bolton hit .287 with 22 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Josenberger, potentially the starter in center field, was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection after hitting .276 with 23 RBI in 52 games at second base. He hit leadoff and recorded a 23-game on-base streak.
Coll, a shortstop, hit .357 at San Jacinto College, and Cali,
an infielder, hit .438 with 17 home runs and 77 RBI at
College of Central Florida.
“Fall went really well,” Van Horn said. “The competition
was outstanding, which made for some very good practices
and scrimmages. This is a hardworking team. The position
players know a lot of spots are open, and they were fighting
for them. We saw a lot of guys get better. I like the
competition to get on the field. We brought in junior college
kids, a couple of transfers and we have three or four returnees
who played a lot, and they’ve all gotten better. We’re going
to hit some home runs, but what I think you’ll see with this
offense is they are going to fight you pretty good. We should
be able to put together a pretty good lineup.”