FAYETTEVILLE — For the first time in three years, Dave Van Horn will get a look at his Arkansas baseball team against outside competition during the fall.
Following their second annual Fall Classic on Friday, the veteran coach revealed that the Razorbacks would host the Texas Rangers’ instructional league team — which is made up of top prospects within the organization — for a pair of exhibition games on Oct. 12 and 13.
Van Horn said the Rangers initiated talks of playing and originally asked for Arkansas to travel to Texas, but thanks to some nudging by Arkansas’ volunteer assistant, they eventually agreed to come to Baum-Walker Stadium
“I think Bobby Wernes knows some of those guys down there a little bit, so we got Bobby to talk them into coming here, because we didn’t want to go on the road,” Van Horn said. “We don’t want to go on the road yet.
“We need to play here, we’re not ready for that. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have done well, it would have been a good trip. It just costs money and there’s a lot that goes into that — missing school and our schedule in the spring’s pretty tough, as you’ve seen, since they changed it, as well, too.”
Details for the two exhibitions will be released at a later date, but Van Horn said he believed the first one would be played at night. The games will likely be seven or nine innings, but that is dependent on how much pitching the Rangers have available.
Rosters have yet to be announced for the instructional league team, but Van Horn said there could be some recognizable names coming to town, even though they are minor leaguers.
“There were some pretty good names on that team, but I think some of them are going to go out to the fall league before we get to play them then,” Van Horn said. “Maybe even some from the SEC that did pretty good, that we’ve seen before.”
This will be the first time Arkansas baseball has taken advantage of the two fall exhibitions allowed by the NCAA since 2019, when it hosted Oklahoma and traveled to Oklahoma State. In 2018, the Razorbacks hosted Wichita State and traveled to Little Rock in the first year such events were allowed without counting against the 56-game limit in the spring.
The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated fall exhibitions in 2020 and last year, Van Horn chose not to play any because he believed his team would benefit more from intrasquad scrimmages in which more players get on the field.
With the two exhibitions against professionals now on the schedule, Van Horn said he would shorten the team’s annual Fall World Series to three games and that older, experienced pitchers, such as Hagen Smith, would get their last work in against the Rangers. That would leave only the younger players for the red-white intrasquad games, which are tentatively set for the following week.
Arkansas baseball fans who stuck it out until the bitter end Friday night were rewarded with quite the treat, as sophomore Jake Faherty closed out the Gray team’s 3-1 win by striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The right-hander lit up the radar gun, sitting 97-98 mph and even touching 99, but got all three strikeouts on an off-speed pitch that froze the batter. He was facing three very good hitters, too, retiring Peyton Stovall, Caleb Cali and Jayson Jones in order and getting each of them to look at strike three.
It was quite an impressive outing that put Dave Van Horn in a chipper mood. When he approached reporters on the field in the immediate aftermath, he had a big smile on his face and couldn’t wait to talk about Faherty.
“The ball jumped out of his hand, upper 90s, and the key has been command and tonight he had it,” Van Horn said. “He’s made a move in a year. He went out, pitched in the summer and played on a really good team that ended up winning one of them summer championships. So he gained a little experience there, and I think that’s really helped.”
Faherty was a late addition to Arkansas’ 2022 class, as he didn’t commit until March of his senior year at Great Crossing High School in Georgetown, Ky. Prior to that, he was committed to a junior college.
As a true freshman, he made one appearance and faced three batters, walking one, striking out another and plunking the third. Over the summer, though, he pitched 12 2/3 innings in 11 appearances for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League.
Although his overall numbers weren’t great, as he posted a 6.39 ERA and 1.74 WHIP, Faherty did have several strong outings. Take out his two worst appearances and he had a much more respectable 3.27 ERA in the other nine games. His issue, as Van Horn mentioned, was the 15 walks he issued, as he limited opponents to a minuscule .167 batting average and .730 OPS.
Strong Showing by Gage Wood
Pitching in the half inning before Faherty, freshman Gage Wood was nearly as electric. Although he had struggled in his previous outings this fall, the right-hander retired all three batters he faced.
Wood struck out Hudson Polk and Jace Bohrofen, getting the former to look at strike three, before inducing a foul out down the right field line by Tyson Fourkiller.
“Gage was outstanding,” Van Horn said. “I mean, sitting mid-90s, has a really good breaking ball. He was 93, 95, 96 — he’s been up to 97 this fall.”
Before that outing, Wood had allowed six earned runs in seven innings and opponents were 8 for 17 (.471) in scrimmages this fall, according to unofficial statistics compiled by the media, so it was an encouraging performance for a pitcher who could contribute as a freshman.
An ‘Interesting’ Freshman Southpaw
Although he didn’t pitch in Friday’s Fall Classic, another freshman arm to keep an eye on is Sean Fitzpatrick.
The left-hander out of Concordia Lutheran in Texas doesn’t have velocity that will blow you away, but his three-quarters, nearly side-arm, arm slot is intriguing and seems to be tough on hitters — especially lefties.
“He’s an interesting left-hander, now,” Van Horn said. “He’s different. Kind of throws the ball to the side, comes at you all arms and legs, and his velocity’s picking up a little bit. He’s 88 to 90, 91, but mostly 88-89. It looks a little harder because of his arm slot, it’s interesting.”
JUCO Pitchers Pushing for Innings
Innings are going to be tough to come by in 2022 with key pitchers like Hagen Smith, Jaxon Wiggins, Will McEntire, Zack Morris and Brady Tygart back for another year.
However, a couple of newcomers making a push to earn some playing time are right-hander Cody Adcock and left-hander Hunter Hollan, both of whom come to Arkansas from junior colleges.
Adcock is a Texarkana native who began his career at Ole Miss before transferring to Crowder C.C. last year. He was the first guy out of the bullpen Friday and gave up a one-out single, but still faced the minimum by inducing a 6-4-3 double play.
Hollan originally signed with Texas A&M out of high school, but ended up taking the junior college route. He led JUCO powerhouse San Jacinto J.C. to the NJCAA World Series as the staff ace and eventually flipped his commitment from TCU to Arkansas. He got three straight ground outs in his inning of work.
“We got a couple of guys that transferred in from the junior colleges,” Van Horn said. “You saw tonight they didn’t throw very many pitches. They’ve been really good, so there’s going to be a battle to get on the hill.”
Top JUCO Bat So Far
When asked about offensive standouts so far in the fall, Van Horn eventually mentioned known commodities like Peyton Stovall and Jace Bohrofen, but the first name out of his mouth was actually Caleb Cali, a junior college transfer.
After beginning his career at Florida State, Cali transferred to the College of Central Florida and became a JUCO All-American by hitting .438 with 17 home runs and 77 RBIs.
According to unofficial statistics compiled by the media, he is 10 for 22 with three doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in fall scrimmages. That gives him a .455/.520/.864 slash line and impressive 1.384 OPS.
“Caleb Cali’s been unbelievable this fall,” Van Horn said. “I think he was hitting about .450, .500 going into today. I mean, he was dead on a 99-mile-an-hour fastball and fouled it straight back and he took a breaking ball. He’s been really good.”
Arkansas Baseball Injury Report
- OF Jared Wegner (oblique): Started out hot, going 2 for 4 with a home run and four RBIs in the first two intrasquad scrimmages of the fall… Hasn’t been in the lineup since, but is nearing a return, per Van Horn… His hot start confirmed what Van Horn told reporters about him at the start of fall ball… Still expected to start and hit in the middle of the order
- 1B Brady Slavens (elbow): Still recovering from offseason elbow surgery “He’s coming along,” Van Horn said. “Brady’s gonna be good. Really good attitude, just starting to really appreciate the game. He got frustrated last year, arm injury and not being able to play in the field.”
- RHP Cooper Dossett (arm): The only player other than Slavens who has yet to appear in a scrimmage… Dealing with an arm injury that has bothered him since high school… “He’s supposedly going to start throwing in the next week or so,” Van Horn said. “We just hope it feels okay when he throws. If not, there’s a possibility you’ll see a redshirt there.”
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