A trio of teams featuring Arkansas baseball players, both current and future, captured summer ball titles in various leagues across the country this month.
That includes the prestigious Cape Cod League, where Kendall Diggs helped the Bourne Braves repeat as champions of the league that has been around for a century.
Jayson Jones played a key role in the Green Bay Rockers capturing their first title in the Northwoods League, which has been around 30 years and is one of the top second-tier summer ball leagues. The Rockers also featured Christian Foutch and Cooper Dossett during the regular season, but they didn’t pitch during the playoffs.
Finally, the Hutchinson Monarchs were led by incoming JUCO transfer Will Edmunson on their way to winning the National Baseball Congress World Series for the first time. They actually knocked off the Santa Barbara Foresters, which featured Ben Bybee and had won the title each of the last three years.
The NBC World Series has been played in Wichita, Kan., since 1935 and features teams from many different collegiate summer leagues. The Monarchs didn’t have to travel far, as they play in the Jayhawk Collegiate League based in Kansas, but the Foresters are from the California Collegiate League.
Here’s a more detailed look at how those players did, plus some other key takeaways from the summer as it pertains to the 2024 Arkansas baseball team…
Scorching Hot to End Summer Ball
When he made it to campus last fall, many fans penciled in Jayson Jones as a starter. After all, he was once considered a top-10 prospect in the 2022 class and ended up at No. 35 overall on Perfect Game.
However, it didn’t quite play out that way. There were flashes, such as his elite exit velocities in the fall and the long balls he hit against TCU and Wright State during non-conference play, but Jones appeared in only 20 games and made just one start in SEC play. He mostly struggled at the plate, going just 9 for 46 (.196), and there wasn’t really anywhere for him to play and get consistent at bats.
That made this summer critical, as he could head up to the Northwoods League and play every day. Sure enough, he played in 53 games and got 183 at bats — essentially the equivalent of a college season.
Jones slashed .290/.420/.459, giving him an .879 OPS, with eight home runs and 34 RBIs. He did strike out 37 times, but he had more walks (38), and also stole 16 bases in 21 attempts. Those are very respectable numbers, but what he did to end the summer should be what excites Arkansas baseball fans.
Over the final month, a span of 21 games that included the playoffs, Jones slashed .352/.489/.577, giving him a 1.067 OPS. It’s also worth noting that his strikeout rate dropped from 18.0% to 13.0%.
If he can keep hitting for average this fall and into next spring, while maintaining his elite power, it will be tough to keep him out of the lineup. One potential obstacle, though, is his glove. Although he made this slick play as a second baseman, Jones was the Rockers’ primary third baseman and committed 12 errors in 116 chances for an .897 fielding percentage.
As much as Dave Van Horn prioritizes defense, that must improve or else he’ll be limited to playing as the designated hitter — or possibly have to move to first base.
Arkansas Baseball’s Second-Year Pitchers
A slew of injuries forced some of the Razorbacks’ second-year pitchers into larger roles than expected as freshmen. Expect them to benefit from that experience coupled with what they did this summer.
Starting in the Cape Cod League, left-hander Parker Coil had what Dave Van Horn described as a “tremendous” summer out of the bullpen for the Falmouth Commodores. The numbers back up that assessment.
After pitching 22 innings for the Razorbacks, Coil threw another 25 in the Cape and posted a 3.60 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with 27 strikeouts and only seven walks across 11 appearances, most of which were a couple innings long.
Those stats don’t even do him justice. He had one bad outing early in the summer in which he gave up 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings. Take that out and he had a 2.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while holding opponents to a .225 batting average in his other 10 outings.
“He’s always had a good breaking ball,” Van Horn said. “Looks like he’s really confident. He’s just taken a step forward. … I think he’s starting to turn the corner physically. He starting to put on a little bit more weight. I think this fall will be big for him, and he’ll be a big part of our team in the spring.”
As good as Coil was, his numbers pale in comparison to right-hander Ben Bybee, who followed up his 27 1/3 freshman innings with 32 2/3 innings in summer ball.
Working mostly as a starter for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League, he posted a 1.38 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 40 strikeouts and only seven walks while holding opposing hitters to a minuscule .171 batting average.
Bybee ended his summer with a bang, too. Pitching in the NBC World Series, he allowed just one base runner — via a walk — and struck out 10 in six no-hit innings. That performance wasn’t even factored into him being named to the CCL All-League Team because it wasn’t a league game.
In the Northwoods League, right-handers Cooper Dossett and Christian Foutch didn’t have the best ERAs. Still, they flashed encouraging signs.
Dossett, who dealt with an injury last fall and threw only 1 2/3 innings during the season, racked up 43 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings (12.2 per nine innings), mostly as a reliever. He did start a handful of games, though, and typically ran into trouble when the Rockers extended him.
He threw at least four innings in four outings and in three of them, he was through at least 3 2/3 scoreless innings before allowing a run. He gave up eight earned runs in those games, which led to an inflated ERA. Had he been removed after his last complete scoreless inning, Dossett’s ERA would have dropped from 4.83 to 2.76.
Foutch, who had a particularly rough stretch for the Razorbacks late in the season and threw 12 1/3 innings as a freshman, was even more of a strikeout artist for the Rockers. He had 53 in 32 2/3 innings, which is an impressive 14.6 per nine innings.
Of course, he also had 21 walks and 10 wild pitches. It’s also worth noting that Foutch’s numbers are skewed by one really bad outing out of nine, all of which were starts. Take it out and his 4.68 ERA and 1.44 WHIP improve to 3.45 and 1.34, respectively.
Manipulating the numbers for Dossett and Foutch may seem like “sunshine pumping,” but it’s fair when they were both asked to do more for their summer ball team than they’ll likely be asked to do at Arkansas.
Dossett will almost certainly never be extended beyond a couple of innings and Foutch won’t be a starter, unless it’s as the midweek guy. The fact that they averaged 12.2 and 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings is a sign they can potentially be weapons out of the bullpen.
Even Jordan Huskey, a left-hander out of Greenbrier who redshirted last season, had a decent summer for the Winter Garden Squeeze in the Florida Collegiate Summer League. Level of competition should be considered, but he had one game in which he threw seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts while allowing only two hits and two walks.
JUCO Transfer Can Swing it
Last offseason, Dave Van Horn signed 10 players from the junior college ranks. This year, it was just one. Thankfully for the Razorbacks, that one seems to be pretty good.
Coming off a sophomore season in which he slashed .454/.534/.741 in 58 games at Hutchinson C.C., Will Edmunson stayed hot through the summer with the Hutchinson Monarchs.
Again, level of competition should be considered, but he led the Jayhawk Collegiate League with a .417 batting average – despite starting the summer 0 for 8 in his first two games. He then raised it another three points to .420 at the NBC World Series.
Overall, in 39 games and 157 at bats, Edmunson slashed .420/.477/.637 with 16 doubles, six home runs, 38 RBIs and 50 runs. He didn’t draw many free passes (11 walks, 6 HBP), but he also hardly ever went down on strikes, posting a 6.9% strikeout rate. Plus he stole 27 bases in 29 attempts.
Edmunson ended the summer on an 18-game hitting streak that featured even more video game-like numbers. In 80 at bats, he slashed .463/.506/.725 – giving him a 1.231 OPS – and struck out just three times.
Even though he had just one hit in the NBC World Series championship game, it was a big one. His two-run double broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning of a game the Monarchs won 6-3.
It remains to be seen if Edmunson’s hitting prowess will translate to the SEC, but a former Hutchinson C.C. teammate fared pretty well last season. Ben McLaughlin hit .411 in his last year of JUCO ball and then hit .346 for the Razorbacks – most of which was done in SEC play.
While McLaughlin was an infielder who will be vying for a corner infield position next season, Edmunson is an outfielder. He did start a few games in center this summer, but was primarily a right fielder who also played some in left and as a designated hitter.
Competition for the corner outfield spots at Arkansas next season is going to be brutal. The Razorbacks not only signed Edmunson, but also return Kendall Diggs and landed four outfielders from the transfer portal, not including a fifth who could also play outfield.
A Walking Web Gem in the Cape
Speaking of Kendall Diggs, further cementing his transition to the outfield is his major point of focus this offseason and that started in the Cape.
Although he was listed on the Bourne Braves’ roster as a third baseman, he was their every day right fielder and, according to the Cape Cod League’s stats, played 238 total innings.
Not only did he commit just one error in 50 chances, giving him a .980 fielding percentage, but he also registered five assists and made several spectacular catches, including one that made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
That is a dramatic improvement from where he was when injuries forced him to move from designated hitter to right field this season, but it was also something Dave Van Horn saw coming based on his improvement with the Razorbacks.
“You could see game to game that he got better,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t so mechanical so to speak. It just got easier, it looked easier for him. By the end of the year he was back DHing again, but we had no issues with putting him in the field.”
Diggs came to Arkansas as an infielder and has spent much of his first two falls getting work at third and first base. This fall, he’ll focus solely on trying to win one of the corner outfield spots, which is where he’s projected to play professionally.
That’s why this summer was big for him, as it gave him more live innings at the new position. His poor offensive numbers in the Cape – .218 batting average, .653 OPS – can be more easily overlooked because the Razorbacks know what he can do at the plate.
2023 Summer Ball Stats for Arkansas Baseball
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