With only two starters returning from last year’s College World Series team, Dave Van Horn entered the offseason looking for answers on how to fill out his lineup card for the 2023 Arkansas baseball season.
In addition to Peyton Stovall and Brady Slavens coming back, the Razorbacks returned a pair of key bench players and one redshirt, plus brought in five freshmen, five transfers and eight JUCO signees.
That meant Arkansas had a whopping 23 position players vying for just nine spots in the order, making for a highly competitive fall. Despite the newcomers, Arkansas finds itself ranked anywhere from fourth to No. 11 in college baseball’s preseason polls.
“I thought the competition was outstanding,” Van Horn said in November. “Made for some really good practices and some very good scrimmages. Guys were getting after it. … What I saw is that the position players know that there’s a lot of spots open and they were fighting for them.”
Last year’s lineup was widely projected to be one of the best Van Horn has ever had from an offensive standpoint, but got off to a frustratingly slow start before finally heating up.
Even though it fell short of expectations, the Razorbacks still hit 106 home runs — three shy of tying the school record set a year earlier. The long ball has become a staple of Arkansas’ offense, as each of the last four full seasons rank in the top five in UA history — with the last three taking the top three spots.
Including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Arkansas has hit 422 home runs since 2018. That is the most in the country over that span and 32 more than the next-closest team in the SEC (Florida, 390).
The Razorbacks lost a lot of that pop to the MLB Draft and graduation, but they still showed an ability to hit the ball out of the park this fall. In 14 scrimmages — most of which were seven innings or less — attended by various members of the media, Arkansas hit 34 home runs.
That is expected to carry over into the season, but Van Horn seemed to indicate that this year’s team shouldn’t be quite as reliant on the long ball.
“Offensively, the power is probably a little better than I thought it was going to be,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to hit some home runs, but I think what you’re going to see in this offense, they’re going to fight you pretty good. If the fall is any indication, we should be able to put together a pretty good lineup.”
As things currently stand, it seems like a handful of positions are still up for grabs. The left side of the infield, the two corner outfield spots and catcher could still be won by multiple players.
There’s a good chance that all of them get a shot early in the season and there could be shuffling throughout the year, but Van Horn traditionally settles on a starting nine sometime during SEC play, even if he tweaks the order here and there.
“It always works itself out because it’s a good mix of right- and left-handed hitters, so maybe you platoon,” Van Horn said. “I platoon a little bit early. I always tell the hitters, ‘You guys kind of write the lineup, and you show us who to play. We just put you in a certain order.’ I truly believe that.”
Projected 2023 Arkansas Baseball Lineup
1. Tavian Josenberger — CF
S/R | Jr. | 6-0 | 185
Kansas City, Mo. / Park Hill HS (Kansas)
This is probably the easiest spot in the order to fill out. Not only did Tavian Josenberger establish himself as a starter with a strong showing this fall, but he is a prototypical leadoff man.
He has some pop in his bat, but the portal addition is just a solid overall hitter who has a knack for getting on base. He’s a switch-hitter who puts the ball in play, plus he can run and is willing to swipe a bag.
“Right now, Tavian’s definitely a starter,” Dave Van Horn said. “He had a great fall. Top of the order guy, switch hitter, can bunt, handle the bat a little bit (and) he’s got a little feel for stealing.”
2. Peyton Stovall — 2B
L/R | So. | 5-11 | 190
Haughton, La. / Haughton HS
One of only two returning starters from last year’s team, there’s no question that Peyton Stovall will be an Opening Day starter for Arkansas. He turned down a lot of money to come to college and had quite a bit of hype as a freshman.
The season probably didn’t go as well as he had hoped, struggling at the plate and battling an injury, but Stovall ended the year on a tear, hitting .429 in the postseason — and that included going 0 for 9 in the last two games. Before that, he was hitting .525 across nine NCAA Tournament games.
A change fans will see, however, is where the Louisiana native lines up defensively. Stovall was a first baseman out of necessity last season and actually handled the position really well despite being new to it. With Robert Moore moving on to the professional ranks, he’ll slide over to his more natural position: second base.
“He’s a really good second baseman,” Van Horn said. “You guys are going to get to see that. Now that he’s getting everyday reps there, turning the double play, fielding the ball, he’s really good. We’ll be in good shape there.”
3. Jared Wegner — LF
R/R | Gr. | 6-0 | 210
Kearney, Neb. / Kearney HS (Creighton)
A transfer from Creighton, Jared Wegner was the first portal pickup of the offseason for Arkansas. In fact, he announced his commitment to the Razorbacks before the super regionals.
The corner outfielder battled injuries for most of his career but got healthy as a senior and earned first-team All-Big East honors after hitting .343 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 49 games. Much like catcher Michael Turner last summer, Dave Van Horn was surprised to get a player of his caliber to campus.
4. Brady Slavens — 1B
L/R | Sr. | 6-3 | 205
Olathe, Kan. / Olathe Northwest HS (Wichita State/Johnson County C.C.)
Perhaps the most surprising development for Arkansas this summer was the return of Brady Slavens. It was widely expected he would get drafted and begin his professional career, but instead, he’ll play as a rare super senior in 2023.
One reason he likely slipped in the MLB Draft and didn’t get offered what he had hoped was because he was dealing with a lingering elbow injury that required offseason surgery.
It was a successful surgery and Slavens now seems to be primed to remind everyone what he’s capable of — all while going back to the position he played in 2021.
“I think Brady’s in a really good place,” Van Horn said. “He feels good about being here. He’s excited about playing first base. He’s excited about getting on the field instead of DHing all the time like last year because of the elbow.”
5. Caleb Cali — DH
R/R | R-Jr. | 6-3 | 225
Montverde, Fla. / Montverde Academy (Florida State/Hillsborough C.C./College of Central Florida)
One of several junior college players Arkansas brought in this offseason, Caleb Cali began his career at Florida State before stints at two different JUCOs.
A third baseman by trade, Cali has “really soft hands” and a good arm, but Van Horn said he sometimes relies on those hands too much instead of solid footwork. Because of that, he’s just a “good” third baseman — compared to being a “great” first baseman.
If Brady Slavens isn’t fully cleared and ready to go on Opening Day, it’s likely that Cali would fill his spot at first base, but Van Horn said the goal is to coach him up and make him “great” in the hot corner.
Regardless of where he ends up defensively, Cali will be in the lineup because of his bat. He was one of the Razorbacks’ most consistent hitters this fall with a team-high .419 batting average and 16 RBIs. He also hit four home runs, which was tied for the team lead.
6. Jace Bohrofen — RF
L/R | Jr. | 6-2 | 200
Oklahoma City, Okla. / Westmoore HS (Oklahoma)
When he transferred to Arkansas from Oklahoma last offseason, many penciled Jace Bohrofen into the starting lineup. However, he ended up starting only 24 games.
Bohrofen got off to an ice-cold start, going hitless in his first 17 at bats, before finally breaking out the third weekend of the season. Unfortunately, just as he was turning the corner, he suffered a freak injury when he crashed into the wall during pregame warmups.
That caused him to miss three weeks and when he returned, he split time in left field with Zack Gregory, who eventually took over as the primary starter late in the season. Now entering his second season in Fayetteville, he’s been voted a team captain.
7. Harold Coll — SS (R)
R/R | Jr. | 5-11 | 185
Boston, Mass. / Georgia Premier Academy (San Jacinto J.C.)
One of the positions still up for grabs leading up to the season, shortstop likely would have been Jordan Sprinkle’s spot, but the UC-Santa Barbara transfer got drafted and opted to sign professionally instead of coming to Fayetteville.
There was also a concern that Arkansas might lose JUCO signee Harold Coll to the MLB Draft, but he made it to campus and was the presumed frontrunner to start at shortstop. After all, he was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school, originally signed with North Carolina and then was a standout at San Jacinto J.C., a powerhouse at the junior college level.
However, Coll finds himself in a battle with John Bolton, a transfer from Austin Peay in his final season of eligibility.
8. Hudson Polk — C (R)
R/R | Jr. | 6-1 | 210
Coppell, Texas / Coppell HS (Oklahoma)
There was a moment this summer when there wasn’t a single catcher on the roster. Michael Turner was out of eligibility and got taken in the MLB Draft, while backups Dylan Leach and Max Soliz Jr. transferred out.
Van Horn eventually brought in three and two have separated themselves as the primary contenders, with Oklahoma transfer Hudson Polk and JUCO transfer Parker Rowland (who began his career at Arkansas State) moving ahead of New Mexico State transfer Cal Kilgore.
“I think that we’ve got a good mix there,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got a switch-hitter and a right-handed hitter. They both have a little bit of experience back there and they’re both strong. I thought for the most part, the catching position was hopefully solved.”
9. Kendall Diggs — 3B (L)
L/R | So. | 6-0 | 205
Olathe, Kan. / St. Thomas Aquinas HS
Another spot seemingly still up for grabs is third base. There are several guys vying for the spot, including Kendall Diggs, Jayson Jones, Caleb Cali and even Reese Robinett.
With Cali slotted at DH, we’re giving the nod to Diggs because he’s the most veteran option and Van Horn really likes what he brings to the table offensively. That said, he’s also getting a look as a corner outfielder in the Razorbacks’ preseason practices.
The longtime Arkansas coach has also said he’s expecting Diggs to make a big jump from last season, when he was a key bench contributor who delivered in some huge moments — most notably with a walk-off home run to beat Ole Miss.
Key Bench Players
for Arkansas Baseball in 2023
INF Reese Robinett — Fr. | 6-3 | 220 | L/R
OF Mason Neville — Fr. | 6-3 | 200 | L/L
INF Jayson Jones — Fr. | 6-2 | 225 | R/R
INF Ben McLaughlin — Jr. | 6-3 | 200 | L/R
C Parker Rowland — Sr. | 6-3 | 215 | S/R
INF John Bolton — Gr. | 5-10 | 175 | R/R
On the mound
Jace Bohrofen is not a pitcher, but that didn’t stop him from discussing the arms on this year’s team during his exit meeting with Dave Van Horn a couple months ago.
Like everyone else who stopped by Fayetteville to watch the Razorbacks during fall ball, the junior outfielder was impressed by not only the talent of his teammates – whom he had to face every day at practice – but the sheer number of capable arms on the pitching staff.
D1Baseball has already claimed that Arkansas “might have college baseball’s best pitching staff” and the Razorbacks’ veteran coach isn’t shying away from the potential of his pitchers entering 2023.
“Well right now, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” Van Horn said. “Is that honest enough for you? That’s the way I feel about it. I mean, we’ve got depth. But what you see on paper, we’ve gotta get it done on the field.”
Ace Connor Noland is gone, as are key bullpen arms Evan Taylor, Zebulon Vermillion and Kole Ramage, but Arkansas returns nearly half of its innings from a staff that helped it reach the College World Series semifinals last season.
Not only are significant contributors like Hagen Smith, Will McEntire, Jaxon Wiggins, Zack Morris and Brady Tygart back, but the Razorbacks have also brought in a trio of transfers. They landed Koty Frank out of the transfer portal, plus signed Hunter Holland and Cody Adcock from the JUCO ranks. That doesn’t even factor in a few second-year pitchers primed to make a jump or incoming freshmen.
“I think our pitching is extremely, extremely deep,” second baseman Peyton Stovall said. “All those guys can start, but you can only start three guys on the weekend, so we’re going to have options to choose from.”
While it may be a stretch that all of them are capable of starting, Stovall’s sentiment rings true.
The Razorbacks, at least on paper, appear to have five or six bona-fide SEC starters on their roster when they need only three to get through a weekend. That depth should not only help in the postseason, but also throughout the year by giving Arkansas some flexibility that it hasn’t had in a long time.
“If somebody needs a week off, somebody’s fading, give them a week off,” Van Horn said. “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.”
Projected Opening Weekend Starters
· R-Jr. RHP Will McEntire
· So. LHP Hagen Smith
· Jr. RHP Jaxon Wiggins
Key Returning Bullpen Arms
· Sr. LHP Zack Morris
· So. RHP Brady Tygart
Transfers Expected to Contribute
· Jr. RHP Cody Adcock
(via JUCO – Ole Miss/Crowder C.C.)
· S-Sr. RHP Koty Frank (via transfer portal – Nebraska)
· Jr. LHP Hunter Hollan (via JUCO – San Jacinto J.C.)
Andrew Hutchinson is the managing editor of BestofArkansasSports.com. The uncondensed versions of his projected starting lineups and pitching rotations for the Hogs previously appeared at BestofArkansasSports.com.
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