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Head coach Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs saw their first action of 2023 over the weekend with a pair of scrimmages on Friday and Saturday.
As Arkansas continues to ramp things up leading up to opening day Feb. 17 against Texas at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, HawgBeat will provide you with free weekly notebooks of takeaways, notes, and tidbits on what the Razorbacks look like.
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Friday’s scrimmage takeaways, notes, stats observations
Takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage, notes, statistics observations
Peyton Stovall is good at baseball
Stovall finished his freshman campaign in 2022 on a high note, and he’s carried that into 2023. Already elected team captain, he looks ready to lead by example as well.
In Friday’s line of scrimmage, Stovall hurled a pair of home runs to either side of the field from the two holes. He ended his performance with three hits in four at bats, five RBIs, three runs, a walk and a strikeout. He also added a stolen base in the seventh inning.
“I felt good there,” said Stovall. “I’m just glad we could be back there, man.”
Stovall was hitless during his performance on Saturday, but he did walk and score a run.
There’s no question that Stovall will be Arkansas’ starting second baseman this season after being parked at first base last year. Robert Moore set the bar as high as possible at second base last year by becoming the first Razorback in the program’s history to win an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Stovall’s natural position is second, but he has big shoes to fill this year.
“He has range, he can make plays, he can throw from all arm slots, he turns a double play well, his pivot throws to the shortstop are accurate, his somersaults are good, he listens,” Van Horn said on January 20.
Stovall was named a second-team preseason All-American by Baseball America on Monday.
Brady Slavens = back
After surgery to repair ulnar nerve instability in August, Slavens had to miss the entire fall ball. He looked like he didn’t miss anything this weekend and he said he feels 100%
On Friday, Slavens started the day 0-2 at the plate, but had a few hits, including a two-run knock to right field, in his next two appearances.
“After doing nothing in the fall and not really doing anything in the spring, it’s really impressive to see live,” said Stovall. “It’s not easy to do that, just jump in the box and look so comfortable. I thought he looked comfortable, and the swing he had in three left field, that line drive, if he stays that way, he’s going to have a phenomenal year for us.
Slavens came back on Saturday to go 2-3 at the plate with a bomb over the wall in right field against right-hander Will McEntire.
While Van Horn has said that Slavens will be the Hogs’ first baseman this season, Slavens played ground balls at third prior to both scrimmages, even playing at third base during the last few innings of Saturday’s scrimmage when JUCO transfer Caleb Cali moved to first.
Slavens made an incredible play going down to get a hard hit ground ball and getting back up to make the throw to first in time. Cali said it’s good to keep the team’s options open, and Slavens didn’t seem to expect much from his time in third.
“I don’t know,” Slavens said. “I just go with what’s on the lineup card.”
It is worth noting that Slavens played third in high school, at Wichita State and during his time in high school. He also played a third when he first arrived in Arkansas in 2021, but ended up spending that year first.
Despite Slavens’ brief stint on third Saturday, Cali, freshman Jayson Jones and sophomore Kendall Diggs are the names to watch at third base. Cali took credit with expected starters both days, and he said he played mostly at third base during his 2022 campaign at College of Central Florida.
Bolton leads shortstop fight
One name Arkansas fans may not be familiar with is John Bolton, who came over from Austin Peay. Bolton appeared to have gained a slight lead over JUCO transfer Harold Coll during the autumn, and the gap widened slightly over the weekend.
Bolton crushed a wall-left double out of the nine holes for the gray team during Saturday’s line of scrimmage, while Coll went 1-4 with an infield single and a strikeout for the red team.
In the field, Bolton seemed to run smoother on shorter throws, throwing more accurately to first. Both Bolton and Coll managed to turn 4-6-3 double plays on Saturday.
Bolton posted a .974 fielding percentage with Austin Peay last year and committed just six errors in 56 starts, 54 of them at shortstop. Coll recorded a .911 fielding percentage with 11 errors at San Jacinto College last year.
There’s still plenty of time for either of them to make a move, but Bolton was part of the line-up that looked to be the expected starters on both Friday and Saturday.
What about the left-handers?
Two strong contenders to start for Arkansas and left-handers Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan. Both had excellent outings during Friday’s scrimmage.
Hollan earned the start for the gray squad, and he struckout five batters and gave up only one hit over his two innings pitched. The lone hit was a lead-off single for Tavian Joseberger, but it was a routine pop-up that eventually fell into shallow right field.
Smith started for the Red team opposite Hollan and struckout four batters in two perfect innings.
“Hagen and Hunter are two really good guys for us,” said Stovall. “It will be guys who will have a lot of innings ahead of us, and they pitched as they should. They really looked after us. We struggled early on.”
Hollan played the past two seasons with San Jacinto, where he started in 16 games last year. He said the starting role is what he loves to do most.
“Starting is what I’m comfortable with,” Hollan said. “It’s where I like to be, but man, we got a lot of arms, as you saw today, it doesn’t matter who you roll over there, so we’ll be good.”
After a strong start to his true freshman campaign in 2022, Smith retired towards the end of the regular season. He appeared to hit the “freshman wall,” but he pitched valuable innings out of the bullpen during the postseason. Smith is poised to become one of the top lefty starters in the SEC this season.
Returning pitchers struggle
Expectations are high for Arkansas’ pitching staff in 2023, which Van Horn said is the deepest he’s ever had. However, a few returning poor have struggled on their first outings of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be any cause for concern.
Sophomore Brady Tygart and senior Zack Morris both pitched on Saturday, and both had a few bad moments.
Tygart came out of the bullpen for the gray squad and he immediately allowed freshman Mason Neville to lead off the second inning with a single. Neville then stole second base and advanced to third when Tygart made a throwing error to check him.
Junior Hunter Grimes drove Neville in with an infield single before Tygart finally saw some outs come on a double play. After Isaac Webb walked and retired and an RBI double by junior Peyton Holt, Tygart was able to settle down and retire the last four batters he faced.
Morris came out of the bullpen for the Red team and he gave up four hits, three runs and a walk before the inning was called with only one out and two runners on base. The next inning, Morris gave up a leadoff single to Creighton transfer Jared Wegner, then struckout junior Jace Bohrofen before pitching coach Matt Hobbs took the mound to end Morris’ outing.
While their outings didn’t go as planned, I wouldn’t bet too much on the battle. Both Tygart and Morris will play big roles outside of the bullpen for the Hogs this year.
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