FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is almost certain not to have Kevin Kopps and Patrick Wicklander back for 2022, but Dave Van Horn still feels confident about his pitching staff.
Kopps and Wicklander combined to pitch in 51 games this past season. In 33 appearances, Kopps was 12-1 with 11 saves and an ERA of 0.90. Wicklander appeared in 18 games finishing 7-1 with an ERA of 2.09.
Jaxon Wiggins is someone who could move into the starting rotation next season. Wiggins opened the 2021 season as the closer, but quickly gave way to Kopps. In 17 appearances, Wiggins was 3-1, with four saves and an ERA of 5.09. He started four games as well. Wiggins is going to go with Team USA for a 17-day tour.
“Well I think a good start is him being invited to be on one of the team,” Van Horn said. “There’s two teams this year on Team USA. It’s not a normal year, and they’re going to basically play each other in different venues. But basically one night you’re going to wear white and one night you’re going to wear red and one night you’re going to wear blue and you’re just going to play. But he’s going to get to be around a lot of the top players in the country.
“A lot of them are going to be a year older than him. They’re going to be after their sophomore year. Obviously he only coming off of his freshman year so I think that’s a good start, so he can see all of that, be around that. Hopefully that will help him see where he wants to get and speed him up a little bit. We would like him to start. He’s going to start all fall for us, and you know he just needs to work on secondary pitches some more. With time I think the command is fine. His command was better when he started than when he came out of the pen. So he feels more comfortable there. He’s got great stuff. He’s got the body you look for if you get to pick one at this level and the next. Jaxson is going to be fine. He’ll get every opportunity to start.”
Peyton Pallette was injured in the Florida series and didn’t return the remainder of the season. Pallette appeared in 15 games with 11 starts. He was 1-2 with an ERA of 4.02 while also earning one save. Could he be the Friday starter in 2022?
“Yeah, I think he could,” Van Horn said. “We’re not holding our breath on that. We’re just wanting to wait and see how this goes. We’re extremely happy on what’s gone on from the very first day he hurt himself ’til now because it didn’t look good. As a coach, you see it and you kind of know how they act and react. It was not a good feeling.
“But then they go in and look at it, they think it might have a tear. MRI doesn’t show a tear. They go back and do a dye thing where they put dye in there and it’ll usually run to the tear. They did it, they sent those off to two different groups that are big-time specialists in that area and they didn’t see a tear. That doesn’t mean there’s not one in there. So rehab and start to throw and if he gets through the end of summer, fall with no pain, then he may be good to go. So we’re excited about that.”
Connor Noland will be back for his third season. He has experience both starting and pitching out of the bullpen. In nine appearances in 2021, all out of the bullpen, he was 1-0 with one save and an ERA of 6.91.
“I think Connor threw really well at the end of the year,” Van Horn said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. Ball was moving, keeping the ball down, had sink, secondary stuff was good. I think Connor is, I’m hoping and from talking to him and being around him, he’s kind of on a mission to get back and be better than ever. He’s staying here this summer, working strength and conditioning, trying to get into really good shape. The arm’s probably not 100 percent, but we want it to get there obviously and be ready for fall baseball. Hopefully he’s going to do everything I just mentioned and he’ll be ready to go. I expect him to be one of our better guys next year.”
Heston Tole is another pitcher who experienced some success in 2021. He appeared in 10 games, all out of the bullpen, and finished 1-0 with an ERA of 2.25.
“He’s a strike thrower obviously,” Van Horn said. “You know his fastball increased his velocity two or three miles an hour from when he got here, but what he really did was he learned how to throw a slider for a strike, and it’s a real pitch. You can get people out with it so to speak. He’s got a pretty good changeup and I just mentioned three pitches, so why couldn’t he be a starter?
“I imagine his velocity will go up another mile an hour or two and all of a sudden he’s pitching 92-93 with a slider and a changeup. Big tall kid, strong, dedicated. He’ll have every opportunity to be a starter, to be a long reliever, a spot closer, we’ll just see how it turns out, but he’s definitely in our plans.”
Gabriel Starks was a young pitcher who in four games had an ERA of 9.00. Van Horn mentioned the lack of midweek games hurt Starks, Wiggins and others.
“Yeah Starks would have gotten to pitch more that’s for sure,” Van Horn said. “He just needs game experience, and he’s out in summer ball trying to gain that. It’s not just about throwing 94, 95, 96 mph, you’ve got to be able to hold runners, you’ve got to be quick to the plate. You just have to have a feel to be able to handle some of the situations. And that’s what Gabe needs to continue, as all of them do, they have to get better at that. That will help those guys going out this summer and gaining that experience. Just being away from here and all the pressures of playing at the University of Arkansas and the SEC. They’ll get better and come back and we’ll see it.”
Then depending on who gets to school out of the recruiting class Van Horn feels there’s some help there including on the mound.
” We’ve got a couple, three freshman pitchers that I think can come in here and get after you early,” Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks finished 50-13 winning both the regular season and SEC Tournament.