FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Just four weeks from opening day, head coach Dave Van Horn met with the media to discuss the outlook of the 2023 Razorback baseball team.

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

Perhaps most notably, the head Hog said the depth of the pitching staff is the best it has ever been during his time in Fayetteville, rattling off a handful of names as starting candidates.

“I mean, really, we have probably five or six guys we could start,” Van Horn said. “If somebody needs a week off, somebody’s fading, give them a week off. Just let them sit and watch and be ready for the next week. And we can do that. We’re not going to go crazy about it.”

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

“We got Adcock, who’s 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 he’s really good. And sometimes you get guys that are just hungry, and that’s what it takes. And then you throw Hunter Hollan out there, who’s as good as any of them. I mean, he could start.”

While the pitching staff is stacked to the rafters, things are not so certain on the other side of the ball. Just four position players who saw somewhat regular action last year — Jace Bohrofen, Peyton Stovall, Brady Slavens and Kendall Diggs — are back for 2023, leaving plenty for the new players to prove.

It seems Van Horn has nailed down his catcher, the right side of the infield and the entire outfield, which is chock-full of Division I experience. Hudson Polk, previously of Oklahoma, will be the No. 1 guy behind the dish, according to his head coach, although junior college transfer Parker Rowland will see plenty of action as well.

“I thought (Polk) had a really good fall,” Van Horn said. “He was the most consistent catcher as far as the defensive side. He actually got better as fall went on. I thought that Parker Rowland was really good early, and then I think he got tired a little bit. That’s just the way I feel. Didn’t catch quite as good, but he hit pretty much all fall, and he’s a switch hitter. But those are the two guys. Those are the two guys. Those are the guys that are going to log the innings and get it done for us back there.”

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

“We’re excited about having Brady back,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s just got a different mindset. I think he’s in really good shape. Arm’s fine. He’s throwing 100%. Probably better than he ever has honestly. He’s fielded the ball real well so far in our drills. We’ve done some live at-bats off of pitching. He hit one yesterday — it was inside and it’s all on TrackMan, but he hit an opposite field ball about 400-something feet, which was good to see. It’s not all about home runs obviously. For him to come out on really his first few live at-bats in a while, he looked real comfortable.”

All that leaves is the left side of the infield, which has several competitors vying for two defensive positions plus the designated hitter slot. Transfers John Bolton, from Austin Peay, and Harold Coll, from San Jacinto, are rooming together as they battle it out to start at shortstop.

“(Coll) probably brings the bigger 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.”

At third base, Diggs, fall superstar Caleb Cali and freshman Jayson Jones are all in the running to get the nod, and it seems the eventual winner will be the one with the best glove.

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

Jones is one of the more interesting wild cards on the squad, as he garnered a lot of attention leading up to the MLB draft before going unselected. Van Horn elaborated on his power, noting he holds the honor of highest exit velocity — 117 mph — during the fall.

“Now, he shouldn’t have swung at it because his team was down 7-1, 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. “So it wasn’t really fair, because the pitcher just threw it right down the middle and then he hit it 117 mph, and hit it halfway up that grass in left-center. It was kinda funny actually, looking back on it. Just kinda shaking our head. So that tells you something right there. That’s hard to do when you’re 18 years old, hit a ball that hard.”

The Razorbacks are gearing up to open the season with a tougher tournament than they played in last year, which will set the tone for the non-conference slate, which Van Horn said was designed with RPI in mind.

Although they checked in at No. 13 in the D1Baseball rankings that 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 that we played didn’t do very well, and so it didn’t help us,” Van Horn said. “We had a good team last year, but our RPI wasn’t very good. And we had a pretty good record in league as well. It helped us, but it didn’t really, really help us. The year before, a lot of the non-conference games that we played in ’21, and we won them, those teams did really well in their leagues, and it really helped us. And then obviously we won in league play as well. That’s why we had the No. 1 RPI and nobody was even close to us, really. Maybe Tennessee. But last year was a little different. This year’s non-conference with Vegas coming in here and some of these guys coming in here, non-conference on the road the first weekend. I know they’re neutral site games, but you win those games, it’s really going to help your RPI down the road when they start beating people.”

As for the conference schedule, it figures to be a tougher test in 2023 as well.

“The SEC? Unbelievable this year, and it’s old and you’ve got four or five teams in our division that are ranked way up there and are very experienced, whether they played on that 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 it heads to Globe Life Field for the College Baseball Showdown.

#Takeaways #Dave #Van #Horns #press #conference

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