BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The summer can be pretty tough for a college baseball coach now that the transfer portal and Major League Baseball Draft can combine to wreck havoc on a roster.
But Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn feels pretty fortunate to get through he month of July with what he considers a success.
“We knew that we were going to lose some kids in the draft obviously and we were just hoping we might be able to keep one of those three infielders that signed,” Van Horn said. “Fortunately we able to keep (shortstop Nolan) Souza.
The Razorbacks had seven current Razorbacks and one committed transfer drafted along with six signees taken and signed in third baseman Aidan Miller, shortstops Nazzan Zanetello and Walker Martin, outfielder Kendall George and pitching signees Dylan Questad and Barrett Kent.
“The money that given them – so to speak – and where there were drafted, there were some tough calls, but they got what they wanted and they stuck to their word,” Van Horn said.
“But other than that, some of the surprises were that maybe we got a couple more pitchers through that I though they might. Some big lefties and some guys that had really put it that they were not going to go to college unless they got a lot of money.
“That’s why we didn’t have another five or six guys drafted anyway.”
Van Horn and his staff prepared for the expected draft hit by loading up on transfers heading into the MLB event on July 9-11.
The Razorbacks added eight portal transfers in addition to Hutchinson Community College outfielder and Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year Will Edmunson either before or after the draft.
Van Horn chose to go with more players with D-1 experience than going the junior college route as he did more in the previous recruiting class.
“It made more sense,” Van Horn said. “We got to see what we had throughout the season and what we were gonna need and so obviously that … a lot of junior college kids were maybe gone.
“But I think if you ask me I would probably rather, you know, take a kid that’s got Division I at-bats or has gotten Division I hitters out if you’re talking about right now.
“I feel like we covered our bases this summer as far as getting the kids in here that we need to help us put together a roster that can be competitive in the SEC.”
One of those is former Texas Tech ace Mason Molina, who could team with returnees Hagen Smith and Brady Tygart to form a powerful weekend starting pitching trio for Arkansas next weekend.
Molina was 6-2 last season with a 3.67 ERA, 108 strikeouts, 35 walks, 39 runs allowed, 63 hits allowed and five hit-by-pitches in 83 1/3 innings.
“Mason had about 37 Division 1 schools trying to get him to come there,” Van Horn said. “We feel really fortunate that he liked it here. I know that he took three visits, he went to Georgia, and I think he went to Texas A&M, and we were his last visit. We didn’t know how it was going to go whenever he left. We felt like he had a good visit, and I think he liked what we’re doing here. We had some of the guys in town, so they got to hang out with him a little bit and talk about our program. I feel like that always helps.
“When you can get a pitcher that has a couple years of Division I experience, especially in a really good conference, it should help. If he is healthy, and I think he is, I think that he is going to be a big part of our pitching staff.
“That was a big get for us. I think that he knows about how we handle our pitching and a lot that we do here with our pitching staff and all the technology that we use and he maybe thinking about coming to pitch for Coach Hobbs, so that was a big get for us.”
Van Horn was not able to address all those additions during Wednesday’s press conference.
“Maybe not all of them,” Van Horn said. “I think there are a couple that we are still getting things finalized whether it is transcripts or all that. But probably all that you have seen are coming, it’s just that I can’t speak to maybe a couple off them.”
Van Horn could talk about Houston transfer catcher Hudson White and Sacramento State transfer shortstop Wehiwa Aloy.
“Super excited about both of those guys,” Van Horn said. “You know they both have Division I experience and those are some positions that we felt that we needed to take care of a little bit more. Those are probably two of the better ones in the country and we were fortunate.
“Hudson White, it worked fast. Once he got in the portal, we saw him there and we got on it. He was a kid that we recruited out of high school so we already had a relationship with him and I am sure that helped a lot.
And then when you are talking about Wehiwa…he had some really good visits lined up and we were very fortunate that he decided that this was what he wanted to do.
“Then he went on back home because he had to have some surgery – not on his arm or knee or anything, just had to get some thing taken care of to try and get healthy for this fall. So we are excited about both of those guys.”
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Razorback pitcher Dylan Carter and second baseman Peyton Stovall are continuing to rehab from their injuries that cut last season short for both.
“Well, they’re just working hard,” Van Horn said. “They’ve been here all summer. I feel like Dylan’s probably farther along than a lot of people thought he would be.
“He had surgery mid-season, late-season so it’s gonna be, it’ll just be interesting to see how it goes when he he can get back.
“Stovall’s been here all summer. He went home for just a little while. Had surgery, got back and has been working with Corey (Wood) super hard, our trainer. I think he’s on pace or ahead of pace from everything that I’ve been told. That’s really about all we know right now. “
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DVH noted that Arkansas plans to start fall practice on September 8 and that it will run through mid-October.
He is not planning to take on any outside competition in the fall.
“Yeah, I would say no,” stated Van Horn. “We just feel like we have a lot of pitchers in here that we need to see them throw. And that would maybe take away a little bit.
“When you play outside competition then your roster’s kind of set, your counters (roster limit) so to speak. I don’t think we want to go there yet. I think … we’ll have a really good fall when it comes to our scrimmages.
“We have good players who can play multi positions. We feel like our scrimmages are going to be super competitive. Try to get these guys some at-bats, see who can do what. See them run the bases, see who can steal a base. And let these guys pitch, especially some of these younger guys, they can kind of go show us what they’ve got.”
Van Horn will be looking to see what he has defensively in the fall.
“Guys have got to show us what to do on the defensive end,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to put a lot of time in on the defense. You think about the last two seasons, we’ve really played great defense, and it’s helped us a lot.
“We spent a lot of time last fall on defense, and we didn’t have a great start to the season defensively, but we kicked it into gear. I think we surprised a lot of people with how good we were defensively when we lost so many position players the year before, basically our starting left side and starting second baseman.
“We move our first baseman to second, and then he gets hurt this year, and then the outfield was the same way, we played really good defense. So, spent a lot of time on defense. We’ll do a lot of scrimmaging, and that will give us an opportunity to see if the defense that we’re working is paying off.”
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Arkansas returns Jayson Jones and Peyton Holt, who could play a variety of positions.
“We already know what they can do, and they’ve — you know Holt just had to get healthy,” Van Horn said. “Wanted him to really limber up this summer. He’s strong enough, he just needs to get limber. Limber and quick, he’s worked on that.
“You know, Jason has had a good summer. He’s played every day for the most part up in Wisconsin. His team has done really well. I think he’s close to hitting double-digit home runs, something like that. Maintained a batting average a little bit, driven in runs. Some big hits and played a lot of third base. So we’re excited about that.”
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Kendall Diggs returns as a DH and outfielder, a place he had been working in summer ball and even notched an ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 play.
Diggs will join Edmunson, a pair of Missouri transfers in Ty Wilmsmeyer and Ross Lovich, Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner and some holdovers as possible candidates to man the outfield.
“Obviously, he’ll be one of the front runners to grab one of those outfield spots,” Van Horn said of Diggs. “So it’s been good watching his development there. I think for him personally, he knows when he gets back from summer ball that he knows where he’s going to go, where he has a chance to play.
“In the past it’s been bouncing around from third to first, little outfield and now he’ll just — he’ll go straight to a corner outfield and get his work done and get ready.”
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As for injuries possibly changing how he might things in the fall, Van Horn is looking at a few things.
“We’ve made some adjustments,” Van Horn said. “When you talk about fall practice or the way we go about on the field, workouts, it’ll be pretty much the same. It’s a formula that’s worked.
“ If you go back and look over the last five years, I think we’ve won more games than any Division I program in the country. We could go on and on about some statistics.
“Don’t want to change a whole lot there. But we’ll maybe shorten some things up …. Yeah, we’ll definitely make some adjustments.”
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It’s known that Arkansas will play against Michigan, Oklahoma State and Oregon State on Feb. 23-25 at Globe Life Stadium, the hone of MLB’s Texas Rangers.
“With the schedule that we have next year – it hasn’t been announced – the non-conference games that we’re going to play and the conference games here, the fans are going to have an incredible home schedule,” Van Horn noted.
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Van Horn was pleased the NCAA approved a third full-time assistant for college baseball and he elevated former Razorback star and volunteer assistant Bobby Wernes to fill that spot.
“Bobby’s done a tremendous job here as a player and then as a young coach,” Van Horn said. “He went away and then we got him back as our volunteer and then we hired him full time.
“Super happy for him and just glad that we have him with us. As far as the recruiting, it puts him out on the road. He’s done a great job this summer. He’s been all over the place as all the coaches have. It just makes us a little stronger.”