Ex-Hog Carries “Chip” on Shoulder in Return to Baum for NCAA Tournament

Ethan Bates, Louisiana Tech baseball, Arkansas baseball, Fayetteville Regional, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Louisiana Tech Athletics / Baumology

It won’t be in an Arkansas uniform, but Ethan Bates will finally have a big role in postseason games at Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend.

After getting a taste of that three years ago as a freshman with the Razorbacks, the Hot Springs native will return to his former school as arguably the best player for Louisiana Tech, which is the 2 seed in this weekend’s Fayetteville Regional.

The homecoming was just a possibility a couple of weeks ago when Bates sat down for an interview with The Natural State Sports Network. Still, it came up during his conversation with host Kevin Bohannon, which was published Tuesday.

“It’d be bittersweet,” Bates said. “It’d be weird going back up there in the other dugout, but it’d also be like, go up there with a chip on your shoulder, as well.”

With that now a reality, he has the makings of a player who could make the Razorbacks regret losing him about 2.5 years ago and pull off a Ty Storey — or, for a baseball example, an Easton Murrell.

In his second year with the Bulldogs, Bates has been one of the best two-way players in the country. He’s not quite on the same level as Florida’s Jac Caglianone, but his numbers are impressive nonetheless.

As a designated hitter, he’s slashing .343/.438/.622 with 15 home runs and a team-high 74 RBIs, not to mention more than twice as many free passes (47 — 34 walks, 13 HBP) as strikeouts (20). On the mound, he’s emerged as Louisiana Tech’s closer with a 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings, plus 17 saves — shattering the previous school record of 12.

That earned him CUSA Player of the Year honors and landed him on the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year semifinalist list.

“We knew Ethan had a great arm and power from the left side as a hitter, but when he got to Tech, it’s all come out,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said Monday. “As an older player and confident, he’s been lights out. … Definitely one of the best two-way players in the country.”

Of course, when he comes up to bat or appears on the mound if Louisiana Tech gets matched up against the Razorbacks, it will beg the question: What happened at Arkansas?

Decision to Leave Arkansas Baseball

Coming out of Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ethan Bates was a shortstop who figured to slot in somewhere because of his bat, but it sounds like pitching was almost an afterthought upon his arrival.

Dave Van Horn told reporters this week that it was discussed, but it “wasn’t his first love, honestly.”  That evoked memories of Blake Parker, a catcher for the Razorbacks who spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues as a pitcher.

Bates spent most of his time getting reps at second base, third base and right field.

“We never really talked pitching once I got up there,” Bates told The Natural State Sports Network. “We never really went over it because when I came in, it was like, ‘You’re going to be a hitter and if you don’t hit, you’re going to pitch.’ I guess I went in there and I hit.”

His freshman year was 2021, which featured a loaded squad. It spent most of the year ranked No. 1 in the country and finished 50-13 with a disappointing loss to North Carolina State in the super regionals. That squad was not only arguably the best team in UA history, but also one of the best in college baseball history not to make it to Omaha.

Despite not being ranked particularly high by Perfect Game, Bates earned himself some playing time and even started eight games — at third base (1), in left field (3) and in right field (4). He went 9 for 36 (.250) with six RBIs. That includes a 1-for-1, two-RBI performance in a 6-4 win over Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament.

Bates stuck around for the fall semester of his sophomore year, but in his exit interview with Van Horn, he was told his role would be pretty similar in the 2022 season.

Considering he had played sparingly as a freshman and before that his last year of high school ball was wiped out by the pandemic, Bates decided it was in his best interest to enter the transfer portal.

“I wanted to go play more,” Bates told The Natural State Sports Network. “I wanted to go and get reps, better myself and that’s really when I made the decision I wanted to end up some place like Navarro. I really just wanted to get back into because senior year got cut short, didn’t get to play there and I really just missed the game.”

Ethan Bates’ Path to Louisiana Tech Baseball

As is the case for a lot of baseball players who transfer after the fall, Ethan Bates took the junior college route and landed at Navarro J.C. in Corsicana, Texas.

Although he spoke highly of his coaches and his time at the school, he described the ballpark as a “graveyard,” likely limiting him to just three home runs. However, he did slash .324/.433/.509 with three home runs and 34 RBIs.

Those were solid numbers, but the most important development for Bates was his decision midway through the season to tell the coaching staff that he was both able and willing pitch. A couple of the Bulldogs’ starting pitchers had gone down with injuries, so they were looking for arms.

Bates ended up making five appearances on the mound, including three starts, and posted a 3.24 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 14 strikeouts and only 4 walks across 16 2/3 innings.

Again, not overly impressive numbers at the JUCO level, but Bates showed enough potential that his coaches vouched for him upon his return to Division I, as he was originally just going to be an infielder at Louisiana Tech.

“Our coach at Navarro got ahold of (pitching coach Cooper) Fouts and was like, ‘Hey, y’all might want to look at him on the mound,’” Bates said. “I threw a bullpen and once we got to intersquads and I started throwing, they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to throw. Might as well get used to it.’”

It was a great move for Louisiana Tech and Bates.

Despite the Bulldogs’ sub-.500 season last year, he was a mainstay in the Bulldogs’ infield and hit .270 with 16 home runs and 38 RBIs, while also posting a 3.01 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 10 saves on the mound. Throw in four wins and he either earned the win or save in half of their wins last season.

His numbers have been even better this year and led Louisiana Tech to a resurgence, winning the Conference USA regular-season title and earning CUSA Player of the Year honors along the way, while also evolving into an MLB Draft prospect.

Other Arkansas Baseball Transfers

Considering his production, especially at the plate, it’s hard to not imagine what Ethan Bates could be doing on this year’s scuffling Arkansas baseball offense — or, for that matter, how much he could have helped last year, given all the injuries on the pitching staff.

However, it’s also very likely that he needed to leave and go somewhere he could get a lot of playing time, which would improve his overall game.

He’s not the only player to experience something similar, as there are numerous examples of former Razorbacks who left and enjoyed varying levels of success elsewhere in 2024. Here are a few of them…

  • Mason Neville (Oregon): .260/.355/.710, 1.065 OPS, 5 2B, 3 3B, 16 HR, 41 RBI, 33 R, 55 K/20 BB, 5-8 SB
  • Harold Coll (Houston): .317/.394/.601, .995 OPS, 20 2B, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 37 R, 45 K/23 BB, 13-18 SB
  • Dylan Leach (Missouri State): .298/.415/.616, 1.031 OPS, 15 2B, 16 HR, 48 RBI, 49 R, 57 K/30 BB, 3-3 SB
  • Clayton Gray (Austin Peay): .380/.450/.680, 1.130 OPS, 24 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 73 R, 30 K/31 BB, 13-21 SB
  • Drake Varnado (Lamar): .261/.333/.467, .801 OPS, 13 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 40 R, 71 K/21 BB, 8-8 SB

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Check out the full interview with Ethan Bates below:

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More coverage of Arkansas baseball and the Fayetteville Regional from BoAS…

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