When Jayson Jones and the Green Bay Rockers captured the Northwoods League title last Friday, it officially marked the end of summer ball for Arkansas baseball.
He was one of a few Razorbacks who won a championship while playing in collegiate leagues across the country. Many of them had productive summers and they were covered extensively in Part 1 of our series.
Part 2 focuses on the other end of the spectrum. Not everything written below is necessarily overly negative, but they are areas to watch as Arkansas begins fall ball next month…
Arkansas Baseball’s Catcher Conundrum
There is no denying that catcher was a weak spot for Arkansas baseball last year. Although Parker Rowland evolved into a solid defensive catcher, he and Hudson Polk combined to hit just .184 and strike out 30.4% of the time.
The Razorbacks quickly addressed that this summer by adding Texas Tech catcher Hudson White from the transfer portal. He is one of the top catcher prospects in the 2024 MLB Draft and was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2022.
Even though he didn’t hit particularly well with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League, slashing .161/.316/.258 in 62 at bats, White is a proven hitter in a big-time college baseball conference. Last season with the Red Raiders, he hit .296 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs in 49 games. His .947 OPS was 416 points higher than Rowland’s at Arkansas.
Scouts and Dave Van Horn alike rave about his defense, but statistics don’t really mesh with that assessment. In 2023, he threw out just 10 of 68 (14.7%) potential base stealers, allowed 10 passed balls and committed nine errors for a .977 fielding percentage. That is likely why Texas Tech played him some in the infield.
It doesn’t seem like an outlier season, either. As a freshman, White threw out only 8 of 49 (16.3%) base stealers. This summer in the Cape, he threw out only 5 of 43 (11.6%). For comparison’s sake, Rowland threw out 11 of 42 (26.2%) last season, Michael Turner threw out 13 of 50 (26%) in 2022 and Casey Opitz threw out 11 of 32 (34.4%) in 2021.
“He’s a really good defensive catcher,” Van Horn said of White. “He’s not having a great summer offensively, but he’s had a really good summer just catching and playing. He’s had some good years offensively. I plan on him being a catcher.”
Considering how much Van Horn values defense at the catcher position, that will likely be something he must improve next season – which is certainly possible because assistant coach Bobby Wernes, despite being a former third baseman, has a reputation as sort of a catcher whisperer. That is evident in the improvements of Rowland and Turner behind the plate the last two years.
Of course, it’s worth noting that none of Arkansas’ catchers had a particularly great summer behind the dish and allowing stolen bases isn’t 100% on the catcher – pitchers play a role in it, too. It’s also hard to know they performed in other important areas of catching, such as calling and framing pitches and handling a pitching staff, without extensive video, analytics or conversations with each of their coaches.
That said, here’s a look at some defensive numbers for the catchers on the 2024 roster (Cal Kilgore, the New Mexico State transfer who redshirted last season, has transferred to a junior college)…
- Parker Rowland: 11 games at catcher – opponents were 6 for 7 on stolen base attempts, allowed 3 passed balls, committed 1 error
- Hudson Polk: 23 games at catcher – opponents were 48 for 54 on stolen base attempts, allowed 10 passed balls, committed 4 errors
- Hudson White: 25 games at catcher – opponents were 38 for 43 on stolen base attempts, allowed 3 passed balls, committed 3 errors
- Ryder Helfrick: 9 games at catcher – opponents were 8 for 10 on stolen base attempts, allowed 5 passed balls, committed 1 error
It should be noted, though, that Helfrick is an incoming freshman who was playing against college players in the California Collegiate League. Despite the age and experience gap, he put up some very good offensive numbers, slashing .377/.500/.528 in 53 at bats.
Ranked as the No. 46 overall recruit in the 2023 class, getting Helfrick on campus was a win for Arkansas. He is very athletic and seemingly versatile, as he also started multiple games in center field and at second base for the Walnut Creek Crawdads this summer.
One more offensive note: Polk hit just .241 overall, but ended the summer on a hot streak. Over his final 10 games, he hit .441 and had a 1.231 OPS. He spent much of the summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, but also played four games in the NBC World Series with the Liberal Bee Jays.
Figuring Out Faherty
The good news: Jake Faherty made the Cape Cod League All-Star Game this summer.
The bad news: The same issues that have plagued Jake Faherty since arriving on campus continued to flair up.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, ‘Who is Jake Faherty?” That is understandable because he wasn’t ranked particularly high as a recruit and has pitched only one combined inning in two career appearances through two seasons with the Razorbacks.
Despite that lack of playing time, he still got to pitch in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer because he has absolutely electric stuff. He can touch triple digits with his fastball and can generate a high spin rate.
When he throws the ball over the plate, Faherty is incredibly tough to hit. He flashed that ability a couple of times last fall and then again this summer. The key is throwing it over the plate consistently. That’s what has limited his action with the Razorbacks.
At Arkansas, he’s faced eight total batters – two struck out, four walked, one was hit by a pitch and one lined out. He also balked twice and only 16 of his 39 career pitches have been strikes.
Given more opportunities in the Cape, Faherty flashed his incredible stuff throughout the summer, but also had 15 walks and nine wild pitches in 18 1/3 innings. That led to a 5.40 ERA and 1.69 WHIP despite opponents hitting under .200 against him for much of the summer.
If he can put it all together and consistently throw strikes, Faherty could emerge as a weapon out of the bullpen and legitimate MLB Draft prospect. If he doesn’t, scouts will likely still take a chance on him in the draft, but he won’t pitch significant innings for the Razorbacks.
“His battle is the zone,” Van Horn said. “If he finds the zone a lot, he makes the team and he pitches a lot. He had some really good days up in the Cape. He had some that didn’t go so well.
“And probably, the coaches up there in a couple situations left him in there where we never would have left him in. The numbers were skewed a little bit, but stuff’s good. He’s got this fall to go out and do it, and hopefully he does. We’re all pulling for him.”
The One Who Got Away
In Part 1 of our summer ball analysis, we pointed out the success of Arkansas’ second-year pitchers. One player noticeably absent from that section was Sean Fitzpatrick.
That’s not because of his performance on the field, but rather his decision to enter the transfer portal and leave the program. He’s since announced he’ll continue his career at Arizona State.
The Razorbacks are obviously loaded on the mound, which likely went into his decision to leave, but the left-hander’s performance this summer indicated he probably could have carved out a role for himself as a sophomore.
Fitzpatrick made 12 relief appearances for the Walnut Creek Crawdads in the California Collegiate League and posted a 1.55 ERA and 0.72 WHIP with 39 strikeouts and only five walks in 29 innings. Opponents hit just .155 against him.
He was especially good down the stretch, racking up 18 strikeouts in 13 scoreless innings over his final three outings, during which opponents went just 4 for 44 (.091).
Even though he didn’t have overpowering stuff, Fitzpatrick has a unique side-arm delivery that could have made him a weapon out of the Arkansas bullpen in 2024. Instead, we’ll have to see what he does with the Sun Devils.
Other Summer Ball Tidbits for Arkansas Baseball
Here are a few other quick tidbits from the summer that weren’t mentioned above or in Part 1…
- Left-hander Hagen Smith made the Collegiate National Team and his first two appearances against international competition were great, as he retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced with five strikeouts. However, he did give up a couple of runs against Japan in his final outing.
- Right-hander Brady Tygart initially accepted an invitation to try out for Team USA, but didn’t make the trip to North Carolina, opting instead to rest this summer.
- The crown jewel of Arkansas’ transfer portal haul is probably left-hander Mason Molina from Texas Tech. He tried out for the Collegiate National Team, but gave up five unearned runs in his lone outing during the intrasquad series and ultimately didn’t make the team.
- After redshirting this season, right-hander Josh Hyneman went out west to play for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League, but returned home after just one outing and had Tommy John surgery.
- Right-hander Gage Wood also briefly suited up for the Foresters, but returned home after two outings to rest his arm.
- Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner, who began his career at Kansas, took most of the summer off, but did join the Kansas Cannons of the Jayhawk League in late July. In eight games, the last four of which were in the NBC World Series, he slashed .382/.462/.706 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
- Reese Robinett split time between first and third base with the Martinsville Mustangs of the Coastal Plain League, but slashed just .244/.355/.311 and struck out 30 times in 90 at bats.
2023 Summer Ball Stats for Arkansas Baseball
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