FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Just four weeks after Opening Day, head coach Dave Van Horn met with the media to discuss the prospects for the 2023 Razorback baseball team.

Van Horn, entering his 21st season as Arkansas skipper, touched on a variety of topics, sharing insights into each position group, some of the notable new faces and the level of competition his team will see this season, among others.

Perhaps most notably, Chief Hog said the pitching squad’s depth was the best it had ever been during his time in Fayetteville, sparking a handful of names as starting candidates.

“I mean, really, we’ve probably got five or six guys that we could start,” Van Horn said. “If someone needs a week off, someone fades, give them a week off. Just let them sit and watch and be ready for next week. And we can do that. do. We’re not going to get mad about it.”

Left-hander Hagen Smith and right-handers Jaxon Wiggins and Will McEntire appear to be the three point guards for the Hogs’ first three games in Arlington, Texas, a scenario Van Horn said would be great with. Also in the mix are junior college transfers Hunter Hollan, left-hander and right-hander Cody Adcock, and returns Brady Tygart and Zack Morris.

“We have Adcock, who is better than ever,” Van Horn said. “He’s a lot better than we thought he was. I mean, he was pretty good at Ole Miss as a freshman. He was pretty good at Crowder as a sophomore. And now it’s really good. And sometimes you have guys who are just hungry, and that’s what it takes. And then you throw Hunter Hollan in there, who’s as good as any of them. I mean, he could start.

While the pitching staff is stacked to the rafters, things aren’t so certain on the other side of the ball. Only four position players who saw fairly consistent action last year – Jace Bohrofen, Peyton Stovall, Brady Slavens and Kendall Diggs – are back for 2023, leaving new players with plenty to prove.

It looks like Van Horn has nailed his receiver, the right side of the infield and the entire outfield, which is packed with Division I experience. Hudson Polk, formerly of Oklahoma, will be the No. 1 guy behind the flat, according to his head coach, although the transfer from junior college Parker Rowland will also see plenty of action.

“I thought (Polk) had a really good fall,” Van Horn said. “He was the most consistent receiver on the defensive end. In fact, it got better as the fall progressed. I thought Parker Rowland was really good at first, then I think he got a little tired. It’s just how I feel. Didn’t catch as well, but he hit pretty much the whole drop, and he’s a switch hitter. But it’s the two guys. It’s the two guys. These are the guys who are going to record the heats and do it for us there.

Slavens and Stovall will play first and second base respectively, and Jared Wegner, Tavian Josenberger and Bohrofen will complete the outfield from left to right.

“We’re thrilled to have Brady back,” Van Horn said. “I think he just has a different mindset. I think he’s really fit. The arm is fine. He’s throwing 100%. Probably better than he’s ever done honestly. He’s done the ball really well so far in our drills. We’ve had some live fights outside of the throw. He hit one yesterday – it was inside and it’s all on TrackMan, but he has hit an opposite field ball from about 400 feet out which was good to see it obviously isn’t all about home runs so for him to really come out on his first live beats in a while he looked really comfortable.

All that remains is the left side of the infield, which has several competitors vying for two defensive positions plus the designated batting slot. Transfers Austin Peay’s John Bolton and San Jacinto’s Harold Coll cohabit as they battle to start at shortstop.

“(Coll) probably brings the biggest bat to shortstop, but does he bring the most consistency? In the fall, he wasn’t,” Van Horn said. “I just felt like Bolton was ahead of him.”

On third base, Diggs, fall superstar Caleb Cali and freshman Jayson Jones are all in contention to get the go-ahead, and it looks like the eventual winner will be whoever has the better glove.

“I think there’s not really a separation between them between Cali,” Van Horn said. “You could go Jones, who has a super power. He’s a freshman, but he’s got some batting speed. Then Kendall Diggs. There are more, but I just need one for now anyway. So we’re going to let them fight for the next three or four weeks and just because we’re starting one way doesn’t mean that’s how we’re going to go when the conference is four weeks later.

Jones is one of the most interesting jokers on the team, as he garnered a lot of attention ahead of the MLB draft before not being selected. Van Horn explained its power, noting that it holds the honor for the highest exit speed – 117 mph – during the fall.

“Now he shouldn’t have knocked because his team was down 7-1, late in the last inning it was a 3-0 count, and he didn’t even look at me for a sign. “, Van Horn told me. “So it wasn’t really fair, because the pitcher just threw it in the middle, then he hit it at 117 mph, and hit it halfway up that grass to left center. It was kind of funny actually, thinking about it. Just a little shaking of the head. So that tells you something here. It’s hard to do when you’re 18, hitting a ball that hard.

The Razorbacks prepare to open the season with a tougher tournament than the one they entered last year, which will set the tone for the non-conference slate, which Van Horn says was designed with RPI at the mind.

Although they entered 13th in the D1Baseball rankings which came out just before the NCAA tournament, their 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 against didn’t do very well, so that didn’t help us,” Van Horn said. “We had a good team last year, but our RPI wasn’t very good. And we also had a very good record in the league. It helped us, but it didn’t really, really help us. The year before, a lot of non-conference games we played in 21, and we won them, those teams did really well in their leagues, and that really helped us. And then, of course, we also won in the league. That’s why we had the #1 RPI and no one was even close to us, really. Maybe Tennessee. But last year it was a little different. This year’s unconference with Vegas coming here and some of these guys coming here, unconference on the road the first weekend. I know these are neutral site games but you win these games it will really help your RPI down the road when they start beating people.

As for the conference schedule, it is also expected to be a tougher test in 2023.

“The second? Unbelievable this year, and it’s old and you have four or five teams in our division that are ranked very high and are very experienced, whether they played in this time last year or not,” Van Horn said “It’s going to be an exciting year.”

Arkansas will resume intrasquad scrimmages beginning Jan. 27, three weeks before heading to Globe Life Field for the College Baseball Showdown.

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