Fayetteville, Ark. – Just four weeks after Opening Day, head coach Dave Van Horn met with the media to discuss the outlook for the 2023 Razorback baseball team.
Van Horn, who is entering his 21st season as the Arkansas captain, touched on a variety of topics, sharing thoughts on each positioning group, some notable new faces and the level of competition his team will see this season, among other things.
Perhaps most notably, Hough said, the depth of his pitching staff is the best he’s ever had during his time in Fayetteville, where he stirred up quite a few names as rookie prospects.
“I mean, really, we probably have five or six guys we can start with,” said Van Horn. “If someone needs a week off and someone’s faded away, give them a week off. Just let them sit and watch and prepare for next week. And we can do that. We’re not going to get crazy about it.”
Left-hander Hagen Smith and right-hander Jackson Wiggins and Will McIntyre appear to be the three leaders who managed to tackle Hughes’ first three starts in Arlington, Texas, a scenario Van Horn said he would be great with. Also in the mix Junior college transfers Hunter Hollan, left, Cody Adcock, and returns Brady Tegart and Zack Morris.
“We have Adcock, who is better than ever,” said Van Horn. “He’s a lot better than we thought. I mean, he was good at Ole Miss as a freshman. He was good at Crowder as a sophomore. And now he’s really good. And sometimes you just find hungry guys, and that’s what it takes. And then I got Hunter Holan is out, who’s as good as any of them. I mean, he can start.”
While the shooting stick is stacked to the rafters, things aren’t as sure on the other side of the ball. Only four players who saw somewhat regular action last year — Jess Borovin, Peyton Stovall, Brady Slavens and Kendall Diggs — have returned for 2023, leaving plenty for new players to prove.
It appears that Van Horn has nailed his catcher, the right side of the field, and the entire field outfield, and it’s packed with Division I experience. Former Oklahoma native Hudson Polk will be the first man behind the plate, according to his head coach, though Parker Rowland will see plenty of action as well.
“I thought (Polk) had a really good fall,” said Van Horn. “He was the most consistent player in terms of the defensive side. He really got better as the falls went on. I thought Parker Rowland was really good early on, and then I think he got a little tired. That’s the way I feel. He didn’t catch very well, but he hit all the falls , and he was a switch hitter. But those are the two guys. These two guys, those are the guys who are going to score and get it done for us again.”
Slavens and Stovall will play first and second base, respectively, and Jared Wegner, Tavian Gusenberger, and Bohrofen will take out the field from left to right.
“We’re excited to have Brady back,” said Van Horn. “I think he’s got a different mindset. I think he’s in really good shape. The arm’s fine. He’s throwing 100%. Probably better than ever honestly. He’s served the ball really well so far in our training. We’ve done some live kicks off the pot. He hit One yesterday – it was in and all on TrackMan, but he hit a 400-foot rebound, which was nice to see. It’s clearly not a home run. For him to really come out on his first few live at bats in a while, he looked really comfortable. “.
All that remains is the left side of the outfield, which has several opponents battling for two defensive positions as well as the batter’s designated slot. Transfers John Bolton, of Austin Peay, and Harold Cole, of San Jacinto, huddle together as they battle to start at shortstop.
“(Coll) probably brings the biggest bat to shortstop, but does he bring the most consistency? said Van Horn. “I felt like Poulton was ahead of him.”
At third base, Diggs, fall star Caleb Cali, and freshman Jayson Jones are all vying for a nod, and it looks like the eventual winner will be the one with the best glove.
“I think there’s not a lot of separation really between them between Callie,” Van Horn said. “You can go to Jones, who has super strength. He’s a freshman but has some bat speed. And then Kendall Diggs. There’s more, but I need one now anyway. So we’ll let them compete over the next three or four weeks, and just because we’re starting it.” Somehow it doesn’t mean that’s the way we’re going when the conference starts in four weeks.”
Jones is one of the more interesting wild cards on the team, getting a lot of attention leading up to the MLB draft before not being selected. Van Horn explained his strength, noting that he holds the honor of the highest exit speed—117 mph—during the fall.
“Now, he shouldn’t have groveled at it because his team was down 7-1, in the bottom of the last inning, it was a 3-0 count, and he didn’t even look at me for a sign,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t really fair, because the pitcher threw him right in the middle and then hit him hard at 117 miles an hour, and he hit him halfway over that lawn in left-center. It was kind of funny actually, looking at it. Just kind of shaking our head. So That tells you something there. It’s hard to do when you’re 18, hit the ball that hard.”
The Razorbacks are preparing to open the season with a tougher tournament than they played last year that will set the tone for the non-conference roster, which Van Horn said was designed with RPI in mind.
Even though they posted the 13th-ranked arrival in the D1Baseball rankings released just before the NCAA tournament, RPI cost them a chance to host a regional, a mistake they plan to avoid making this time around.
“Last year, we won our non-conference games, but the teams we played didn’t perform well, and so that didn’t help,” said Van Horn. “We had a good team last year, but our PRE wasn’t very good. And we had a good record in the league as well. It helped us, but it didn’t really help us. The year before, we played a lot more non-conference games than we did in 21, and we won it, and those teams did really well in their championships, and that really helped us. And then obviously we won league play as well. That’s why we had RPI No. 1 and no one was really close to us. Maybe Tennessee. But last year It was a little different. This year’s conference with Vegas coming here and some of these guys coming here, no conference on the road the first weekend. I know it’s neutral site games, but you win these games, it’s really going to help the RPI on the road when they start to overcome people.
As for the conference schedule, more rigorous testing is expected in 2023 as well.
“The SEC? It’s unbelievable this year, it’s old and you’ve got four or five teams in our league that are up there and they’ve got a lot of experience, whether they played that time last year or not,” said Van Horn. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Arkansas will resume indoor scrimmage starting Jan. 27, three weeks before it heads to Globe Life Field for the College Baseball Showdown.