The Arkansas baseball team wrapped up the scrimmage portion of its fall practices last week with its annual Fall World Series.
It was a tight series, with the Cardinal and White splitting a pair of one-run games to set up a decisive Game 3, which the Cardinal rallied to win 9-7 in five innings Thursday afternoon.
That was the 14th scrimmage attended by various members of the media this fall. We missed at least a couple, but through the collaboration of Best of Arkansas Sports, HawgBeat and HawgSports, we compiled statistics for the 14 scrimmages we witnessed.
Those numbers can be found below, but here are six key takeaways from the fall based on what Best of Arkansas Sports saw and heard over the past couple of months…
Jaxon Wiggins is Pitching Like an Ace
It is perfectly understandable if you are skeptical, but Jaxon Wiggins finally looks like the ace many have hoped he’d be since arriving on campus in the fall of 2020.
The hard-throwing right-hander has certainly had an up-and-down career with the Razorbacks. There have been glimpses of his potential over the last two years, but it’s hard to ignore his numbers. Wiggins has a career 6.17 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, numbers that are even worse in SEC play — 7.05 ERA and 1.74 WHIP.
Although he started last year hot, Wiggins’ usage down the stretch was minimal. He threw a total of 2 2/3 innings in the NCAA Tournament. His drop off was so dramatic that he was on the outside looking in when it came to discussing potential starters for 2023.
Over the fall, though, he made sure to remind everyone — coaches, media and fans alike — that he not only belongs in the conversation for the weekend rotation, but also the role of Friday ace.
Wiggins pitched six times and gave up just one earned run on five hits and two walks in 12 innings. That equates to an incredible 0.75 ERA and 0.58 WHIP. He also struck out nearly half of the batters he faced, with 22 strikeouts, and held opponents to a minuscule .111 batting average.
Known for his velocity that has triple-digit potential, Wiggins’ secondary stuff looks much better this fall and he’s used it in every count. That has made him quite effective and earned him the start in Arkansas’ first game against the Texas Rangers’ instructional league team.
“He was like 97-98 every pitch on our TrackMan, but you saw him dropping some breaking balls in there and they looked polished,” Van Horn said after that performance. “It’s not like he’s just flipping it up there and changing his arm action. He’s getting there.”
Incredibly Deep Pitching Staff
Making the fact that Jaxon Wiggins earned the nod in that exhibition even more impressive is that Arkansas has no shortage of arms competing for a spot in the weekend rotation. The Razorbacks are so deep on the mound that D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt has already written they “might have college baseball’s best pitching staff.”
Entering the fall, Dave Van Horn identified left-handers Hagen Smith and Zack Morris and right-handers Will McEntire and Brady Tygart as four pitchers who “jump out” as potential starters.
Wiggins was in the conversation, but the Razorbacks also added three transfer arms — left-hander Hunter Hollan and right-hander Cody Adcock from the JUCO ranks and right-hander Koty Frank from the portal — who look like they’ll contribute big innings after solid showings this fall.
Sophomore right-hander Austin Ledbetter appears to have made a jump, as well, riding the confidence from a couple of scoreless outings in College World Series.
Although McEntire and Morris have struggled this fall, as seen in the unofficial statistics below, they have the biggest body of work in Arkansas uniforms out of that group and probably have the best chance of getting back on track when the season actually gets under way.
The other seven guys were phenomenal in scrimmages attended by media members, posting a combined 2.45 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 101 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 66 innings. They also held hitters to a .186 batting average.
There’s a good chance that those nine pitchers end up getting the bulk of the work in 2023.
Intriguing Arms to Watch
Last season, the top nine arms accounted for 95.6% of the Razorbacks’ total innings in SEC play, so there might not be much work left to divvy up beyond the aforementioned pitchers, but there are four who caught our eye this fall as potential contributors.
Two of them are freshmen who were among the top 50 left-handers in the Class of 2022, according to Perfect Game, but not necessarily super highly touted.
Checking in at No. 284 overall, Parker Coil was the higher ranked of the two. The Edmond Memorial product out of Oklahoma needed just seven pitches for a perfect inning of work against the Rangers’ instructional league team and then threw three scoreless innings as a starter in Game 1 of the Fall World Series. He looked much better as the fall progressed after a shaky start.
The other is Sean Fitzpatrick, who was ranked 378th overall coming out of Concordia Lutheran, a small private school in Tomball, Texas. His velocity doesn’t jump off the page, usually sitting in the upper-80s, but that’s okay because of his unusual delivery. With a three-quarters arm slot that’s nearly side-arm, he proved really tough to hit, holding opponents to a .194 batting average.
The Fall World Series kind of provided a glimpse of how the Razorbacks might use him, as he pitched in all three games over a four-day span. Fitzpatrick threw 27 total pitches in relief the first two times, but then started Game 3. He retired the first six batters he faced before running into trouble in the third. It’s unlikely that he gets extended like that during the season, but could be a situational guy who is especially tough on lefties.
Another freshman worth monitoring is right-hander Gage Wood. The Batesville native flipped from Kansas State to Arkansas last summer and showed flashes of his potential this fall. Like many freshmen, though, he was inconsistent. In his first outing of the fall, he walked the bases loaded before giving up a grand slam. A few weeks later, he threw a perfect inning with two strikeouts in the Fall Classic, with his velocity sitting in the mid-90s.
Finally, the only non-freshman in this section might be the most intriguing arm because of his sheer velocity. Sophomore right-hander Jake Faherty sits 97-98 mph and it looks effortless. His biggest problem is command. When he’s on, he looks like a big league closer.
On two different occasions this fall, Faherty had one-inning stints in which he struck out all three batters. In his other five outings seen by the media, though, he gave up seven earned runs on seven hits, six walks and three HBPs with only four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. He might still be a year away from being a significant contributor at Arkansas, but if he ever puts it all together, watch out.
Transfers Will Make Huge Impact
The Razorbacks lost seven of their nine regular starters in the lineup to either the draft or graduation, so they had to restock for 2023 and did so by bringing in 13 transfers — eight from the JUCO ranks and five from the portal.
With so many new faces, it was hard to know exactly which ones would factor into the lineup next season. Fall ball has not only given us insight on which ones will play, but also provided a glimpse at a few that will have a major impact.
Tavian Josenberger, the transfer from Kansas, looks like a bonafide leadoff man. He led the Razorbacks in on-base percentage (.522), runs scored (18) and walks (8) this fall, plus was second in stolen bases (8), but also showcased some pop with three home runs. That matched his total from two seasons with the Jayhawks and, along with a team-high five doubles, helped him post a team-high 1.306 OPS this fall. Now healthy, Josenberger looked like the freshman version of himself and could be a top draft prospect next summer.
He dealt with a little bit of an injury and cooled off near the end of fall ball, but Jared Wegner from Creighton looks like he’ll be somewhere in the middle of the order. Much like he said last year about Michael Turner, Dave Van Horn has told reporters he’s amazed Wegner isn’t on a professional roster. He and Josenberger will likely make up two-thirds of Arkansas’ outfield, with Jace Bohrofen — a transfer addition last offseason — likely to start in the third spot.
Among the junior college bats, Caleb Cali — who began his career at Florida State — easily had the best fall and was right there with Josenberger in terms of Fall MVP. He led the team in batting average (.419) and RBIs (16), plus tied for the lead with four home runs. He was also second in on-base percentage (.510) and walks (7), and third in OPS (1.301). Assuming Brady Slavens is healthy enough to play first base this season, Cali appears to be the frontrunner at DH.
Surprise Freshman Performer in Fall
When it came to Arkansas’ signing class, most of the attention from fans centered around Jayson Jones and Mason Neville because they were top-100 prospects who turned down the MLB Draft for the opportunity to play for the Razorbacks.
Jones is one of the highest-ranked signees Dave Van Horn has ever gotten on campus, checking in at No. 35 overall on Perfect Game. At one point, he was considered a potential top-10 pick, but slipped down the draft rankings and ultimately chose to go to college.
Neville was ranked 86th overall by Perfect Game and was actually picked by the Reds in the 18th round of this summer’s MLB Draft, but like Jones, he wanted to come to school.
Both players are extremely talented and showed their potential at times throughout the fall, but also had the typical freshman struggles. Jones didn’t strike out a lot and smacked three home runs, but hit just .211 and seemed to pop out a lot. Neville had four extra-base hits, including two homers, and had a higher batting average than Jones (.256), but struck out a lot — 14 times in 39 at bats — and was very streaky.
The most consistent freshman was actually Reese Robinett from Kennett, Mo. A left-handed hitter who plays the corner infield, he quietly finished second on the team with a 1.303 OPS, sandwiched between Josenberger and Cali. Four of his 12 hits were home runs, plus he hit three doubles. He did strike out a decent amount (14 in 32 ABs), but was pretty steady at the plate.
Even if he doesn’t start somewhere in the lineup, this fall likely earned Robinett some at bats this season over the higher-ranked freshman bats, Easton Swofford and Ryan Ward.
Position Battles Likely to Continue
A lot of questions were answered this fall, but Dave Van Horn probably isn’t ready to pencil in his starting lineup for the College Baseball Showdown in mid-February just yet.
The outfield appears to be relatively set with Tavian Josenberger in center, flanked by Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner. Peyton Stovall is a virtual lock to start at second base. Assuming he’s healthy, Brady Slavens will be the Razorbacks’ first baseman. If he can’t play in the field and has to be the designated hitter, Caleb Cali could slide in at first, but otherwise, he’s the frontrunner at DH.
That leaves three spots still relatively up for grabs…
Shortstop: This battle is coming down to Harold Coll or John Bolton. Coll is probably the more talented of the two, as he was a top-100 recruit when he signed with North Carolina out of high school and was considered a draft risk coming out of JUCO. He is the better hitter of the two and has flashed a good glove, but was more error-prone than Bolton, who also made some great plays defensively. Van Horn said Bolton was the leader midway through the fall because of his defense, but he slumped at the plate down the stretch and the race may have swung back in Coll’s favor.
Catcher: The Razorbacks entered fall ball with three catchers and two of them have emerged as contenders to start: Hudson Polk and Parker Rowland. Polk is a transfer from Oklahoma, while Rowland is a JUCO transfer who began his career at Arkansas State. It’s still pretty close, but Polk probably has the edge. He has more pop as a hitter and seemed to be more consistent behind the plate in terms of blocking pitches.
Third base: Because of how talented he is, many fans probably penciled in Jayson Jones to start at third base, but that is far from a foregone conclusion. Kendall Diggs had a solid fall and might be the frontrunner. He could also start at first if Slavens isn’t healthy, but third seems to be a good spot for him. Jones will likely get a chance because he has incredible raw power. Another guy to keep an eye on is Ben McLaughlin, who hit three home runs in the first two games of the Fall World Series and ended the fall with a 1.138 OPS — just ahead of Diggs’ 1.060.
Arkansas Baseball Unofficial Fall Ball Stats
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