Arkansas is one of the most successful programs in the country over the last half-decade with College World Series appearances in 2015, 2018, and 2019, which includes a CWS runner-up finish in 2018. After being so close to ending 2018 on top of the college baseball world, Arkansas is itching to get back to Omaha. Dave Van Horn’s group has the talent to compete at the highest levels, but this year’s team might not be bashing home run after home run every game like years past. The offense will still be solid, but it is the pitching staff that should have Razorback fans excited this year.
With the MLB Draft in 2020 only having five rounds, college teams will return most of their players from 2020, only losing the most talented players from their team. Arkansas was no different, only having lost Heston Kjerstad (2nd overall pick, Baltimore) and Casey Martin (3rd round pick, Philadelphia) to the draft. While their talent and leadership will be missed, the Razorbacks certainly have players to fill their spots.
Arkansas Head Coach Dave Van Horn is satisfied with the work his team has put in in the fall. “I think it was due to the shortened season, and guys were gung-ho, and they wanted to be out there, so it made fall better. That’s why I feel like it was one of the best falls we’ve ever had, if not the best.” Van Horn relayed this positivity in an end-of-fall press conference.
Even after losing Kjerstad, Arkansas boasts a top outfielder in Christian Franklin, who is number 13 in our Top 50 Prospects. Reports out of Fayetteville say that Franklin had a great fall camp. “Obviously Franklin has power,” shared Van Horn. “He has power to all fields. This fall, he hit five or six home runs and two or three the other way, one on top of that building just about. He can hit them anywhere. He had a really good fall. He had some games he didn’t feel good about, but as far as the overall fall, I thought it was outstanding.”
The double-play combo of Jalen Battles (SS) and Robert Moore (2B) could prove to be one of the best middle infields in the conference for the Hogs. Dave Van Horn on the infielders: “100%, that’s our middle infield. They’re both really good shortstops. I don’t think there’s a better 2nd baseman in the country turning double plays than Robert Moore.”
“There’s a lot of competition here to get on the mound. We feel good about our pitching,” -Dave Van Horn, Arkansas Head Coach
Depth is the word of the year in college baseball due to the shortened MLB draft, and Arkansas’ pitching staff should benefit greatly from that depth. Arkansas returns all three members of its starting rotation from 2020: Patrick Wicklander, Connor Noland, and Kole Ramage. Anytime you can return your entire weekend rotation and inject more high-end talent from a top 10 recruiting class, it bodes well for your season.
“There’s a lot of competition here to get on the mound. We feel good about our pitching,” says Van Horn. There will likely be some returning bullpen pitchers and a transfer pitcher from 2020’s team who will push for a weekend starting role, including Houston graduate transfer and former Friday night starter, Lael Lockhart.
Incoming freshman and highly touted recruit, Nick Griffin, was expected to make a push for a rotation spot or maybe a closer role, but he had Tommy John surgery and will be out of commission for at least a year. Another arm to keep an eye on is 6-foot-6, 215 pounder, Jaxon Wiggins, who coach Van Horn feels great about. “I feel like that, if he stays healthy and he wants it, he could be as good as he wants to be. . . . He could be special.”