Top 25 Breakdown: No. 3 ArkansasSeason Preview
2023 Record: 43-18 (20-10 in SEC).
Coach (Record at school): Dave Van Horn (839–440 in 21 seasons).
Ballpark: Baum-Walker Stadium (Capacity: 10,737).
Postseason History: 34 regionals (active streak: 6), 11 CWS trips (last in 2022).
More: Fall Report on Arkansas
2024 Early-Season Tournament Action: College Baseball Series at Globe Life Field (Feb. 23-25)
Schedule, Stats, Team News: Follow the Razorbacks all season long at our Arkansas Team Page.
Arkansas’ Projected Lineup
|JR (Stats at Texas Tech)
|SR (Stats at Tarleton)
|SO (Stats at Sacramento State)
|SR (Stats at Missouri)
|JR (Stats at Texas Tech)
Grading The Razorbacks
Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
Starting Pitching: 70
Strengths: From top to bottom, Arkansas might have the best pitching staff in college baseball. On paper, only Wake Forest can rival the Hogs in the weekend rotation — and Arkansas has more depth in the bullpen, with power arms galore and a variety of different looks from both sides. But starting pitching will be Arkansas’ greatest strength, and the biggest reason the Razorbacks look like a strong national title favorite. The offense has plenty of new faces but should remain a strength as well — particularly the power potential of this unit.
Question Marks: The biggest question mark is the defense, though the Hogs have plenty of movable pieces that should allow them to find a solid combination. A huge key is Sacramento State transfer Wehiwa Aloy, a physical player with exciting power — but he committed 17 errors en route to a .928 fielding percentage last year, so he needs to prove himself as an SEC-caliber shortstop. The battle for the catching position feels wide open between transfer Hudson White, veteran Parker Rowland and blue-chip freshman Ryder Helfrick. White might be a slight favorite thanks to his bat, but defense has been a knock on him in the past, so he must show that the progress he made in fall ball is sustainable. If not, the Hogs might lean more on the steady Rowland, or hand the keys to Helfrick early. We are bullish on the Arkansas offense, but it’s fair to acknowledge that this position group is light on proven SEC run producers, so some former part-time players (like Ben McLaughlin and Jayson Jones) will be expected to assume bigger roles, and another outstanding group of transfers must acclimate to the step up in competition. Spending all fall facing Arkansas arms should help prepare the newcomers for the rigors of the spring.
Star Power: Junior lefthander Hagen Smith has a very real chance to be college baseball’s premier ace in 2024. Extremely physical with two years of high-pressure experience under his belt, Smith looked better than ever this fall, running his heater up to 100 mph and commanding the pitch more consistently, while also mixing in a newly developed splitter to go along with his slider. Projected Saturday starter Brady Tygart has been electrifying when healthy over his first two seasons, and the Hogs need him to avoid the injury bug and hold down a rotation job this year, after logging just 25.1 innings last year. He certainly has star-caliber stuff, with four quality pitches that include a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a filthy breaker. The most established star in the lineup is junior outfielder Kendall Diggs, a disciplined lefthanded hitter who should hit for power and average in the heart of the lineup.
Glue Guys: The 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior Peyton Holt is the consummate glue guy — a “tough nut” who can play all over the field, as Dave Van Horn put it. He hit .392 in limited action last spring and kept on hitting this fall, and he should help make this team go with his on-base ability, energy and aggressiveness on the basepaths. Right now, he looks like the favorite for the third base job, but he could also wind up wherever Arkansas has a hole to fill. Veteran RHP Will McEntire is the glue guy on the mound — a proven winner who has succeeded in just about every role over the course of his Arkansas career. He gives the Hogs so much peace of mind in case one of the projected weekend starters should falter.
Picks to Click: Four emerging sophomores will help form the backbone of the Arkansas bullpen: expected closer Gage Wood plus fellow righties Christian Foutch and Ben Bybee can all run their fastballs into the mid-90s or better (Foutch bumped 98 and Bybee touched 97 this fall), while lefthander Paker Coil made the biggest improvement of the bunch, showing off advanced feel for his three-pitch mix in the summer and fall. Expect big things from that group of arms.
Top Newcomers: Lefthander Mason Molina had a very good year as Texas Tech’s Friday night starter last spring, and now he fortifies a Arkansas rotation that essentially has three aces. Molina is a warrior whose fastball plays way above its 91-93 mph velocity, and he worked hard this fall to improve his changeup, giving him a fourth weapon along with his curveball and slider. Aloy was a freshman All-American after hitting for average and power at Sacramento State last year, and he’ll be counted upon to step into the heart of the Arkansas order. Helfrick plus fireballing righty Gabe Graeckle (an electric 6-foot righty in the JB Bukauskas mold) and big-bodied power lefty Hunter Dietz are the crown jewels of Arkansas’ No. 1 ranked freshman class, and all three should contribute in a big way from the outset of their careers.
Outlook: Arkansas enters just about every season as a strong contender to go to the College World Series, and this year is no different. An elite pitching staff and a powerful lineup give the Hogs a real chance to finally capture their first national title in 2024.
See the Arkansas Razorbacks in action at the 2024 College Baseball Series at Globe Life Field!
From the Fall Report:
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Even as the SEC becomes ever more brutal, year after year, there has been no slowing down the momentum of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Fellow conference powerhouses Mississippi State and Ole Miss have crashed from national champions to SEC cellar-dwellers, but Arkansas has remained in the rarified air of annual conference title front-runners and College World Series contenders, along with the likes of Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt.
But only Vanderbilt can rival Arkansas for consistent excellence over the last two decades — the Hogs have missed just one regional (2016) since Van Horn took over before the 2003 season, which is a remarkable accomplishment given the rugged competitiveness of the SEC. In the last five completed seasons, Arkansas has enjoyed its best stretch ever, making three trips to the College World Series and winning the SEC regular-season title in each of the two years it failed to reach Omaha, including last year.
It sounds trite to say that Arkansas has built a winning culture that self-perpetuates, but there’s plenty of truth to it. When the Hogs lose a slew of top performers to the draft, they plug holes with strong work in the transfer portal and on the prep recruiting trail, and the returning players help transfer the culture of the program to the newcomers. So there is no cause for alarm after Arkansas lost key lineup pieces Jace Bohrofen, Jared Wegner, Caleb Cali, Tavian Josenberger and Brady Slavens from last year’s club. The Hogs just reloaded, and the newcomers gelled quickly this fall.
“Time will tell, but I do like this team. They’re fun to be around, they get along — this is a fun team,” Van Horn said. “The leadership of our older guys over the last two years has been amazing. We don’t feel like we have to instill it, the older guys just kind of show them how we do it here. It’s been great to watch the last five, six years.” … CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING THE FULL IN-DEPTH FALL REPORT