Arkansas Legend Nick Schmidt Has Much to Say about Hagen Smith’s Historic Tear

Hagen Smith, Nick Schmidt, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

It’s not a coincidence that Hagen Smith wears No. 33. He’s essentially continuing an Arkansas baseball tradition.

Now, in his final regular-season appearance with the Razorbacks, the Bullard, Texas, native has broken the record held by the player who started the tradition involving that jersey number nearly two decades ago.

Entering his start against No. 5 Texas A&M, which Arkansas ultimately lost 1-0 in 11 innings, Smith needed only 11 strikeouts to surpass Nick Schmidt’s UA career record of 345. He got 14 across six scoreless innings.

“I mean, it’s awesome,” Schmidt told Best of Arkansas Sports the day before his record fell. “What’s really cool, it’s a left-hander, number 33. That’s probably the best part about it, but certainly, records are made to be broken.”

Schmidt pitched at Arkansas from 2005-07 and is arguably the school’s greatest pitcher ever. A two-time All-American, he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2006 and is still the Razorbacks’ highest-drafted pitcher, going 23rd overall to the San Diego Padres in the 2007 MLB Draft.

Since then, three other left-handed pitchers have worn No. 33: Drew Smyly (2008-10), Patrick Wicklander (2019-21) and now Smith (2022-present).

“I’m a little superstitious maybe,” Van Horn admitted Wednesday.

To say he’s represented the number well would be an understatement. A heralded prospect coming out of Bullard High School, where he famously threw seven no-hitters as a senior, Smith has more than lived up to the hype.

He was a starter for much of his freshman season in 2022 before moving to the bullpen and playing a key role in the Razorbacks’ run to the College World Series. The following year, Van Horn used him as a “wild card” who started and pitched long relief on his way to numerous All-America accolades.

As good as he was those two years, though, Smith has taken his game to another level this season. A projected top-10 pick and frontrunner to win National Pitcher of the Year, he’s on track to surpass Schmidt in more than the record book.

“We knew he was going to have a big year,” Van Horn said. “Did we know that he was going to do what he’s doing? I mean, we thought it was in there because I’ve been doing it a long time and I’ve had some really good pitchers, and I’ve never had a better one.”

The Two Arkansas Baseball Legends Meet

A few weeks before the season, Nick Schmidt and Hagen Smith had an opportunity meet and talk thanks to the modern marvel that is NIL.

Paschal, a heat and air company based in Springdale, signed Smith to a deal — the ads from which can still be heard on local radio stations. As a licensed contractor who does work with Paschal, Schmidt was there, too.

It was a meeting of the minds and Schmidt, like many fans, wanted to know about the reports of him touching 100 mph on the radar gun during the fall.

“I just kind of picked his brain (about) how and what all he did, and it’s just time and effort in the weight room and getting after it, is what he said, which is awesome to hear, a guy who puts his head down and goes to work and not just rests on talent alone,” Schmidt said. 

“He’s actually putting in the effort, and all the intangible things that make you have this type of season he’s having, that doesn’t just happen. You work for it. You grind, and that’s exactly what he did this offseason.”

Beyond both mowing down opposing hitters with their left arm and wearing the same jersey number, though, Schmidt and Smith were different kinds of pitchers.

Not only does he have a fastball that can touch triple digits and sits in the mid- to upper-90s, but Smith also “throws the kitchen sink” with an arsenal that includes “a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider, a split-finger and a very nascent curve,” according to Future Stars Series analyst Joe Doyle.

Even Schmidt admits that Smith’s stuff is nothing like his own.

“I was more that 88-92 (mph) range,” Schmidt said. “I had a pretty good breaking ball. I had a good change up. I pitched inside. That was my MO. I was coming at you, pitching inside, and he’s just blowing the doors off people. It’s not the same pitch style.”

The jump he made over the offseason was obvious to the Arkansas coaching staff early on this fall.

Most of his work was behind closed doors, in a bullpen setting. The Razorbacks turned him loose against their own hitters in just one intrasquad scrimmage and that was enough.

“We’re watching his bullpens going, ‘Wow, this is incredible,’” Van Horn said. “And then we didn’t let him pitch much. … We let him throw one inning, and he struck out the side on like 12 pitches, and it wasn’t even competitive. We’re going, ‘Holy cow.’”

The original plan was for Smith to pitch again the following week, with a lot of scouts set to come in and watch. Van Horn nixed it, telling Smith he just needed to get ready for the season and that scouts would learn about him in the spring.

It turns out the longtime Arkansas baseball coach knew what he was talking about.

Not even playing on FloSports could keep the country from finding out about Smith when he struck out 17 batters in just six innings against Oregon State at Globe Life Field on Feb. 23 — including three strikeouts of potential No. 1 overall pick Travis Bazzana.

Nearly three months later, Smith won’t only be drafted way earlier than where Schmidt was taken (23rd overall), but he’s the unquestioned top left-handed pitcher available. Many consider him the best overall pitcher, with Wake Forest right-hander Chase Burns — the Tennessee transfer — the only other one in the conversation.

Doyle has him at No. 6 overall on Future Star Series’ top prospects list and ahead of Burns, as does MLB Pipeline. Hagen Smith is even higher on ESPN, with Kiley McDaniel putting him at No. 4.

Hagen Smith Breaks Nick Schmidt’s Record

When Nick Schmidt broke the UA career strikeouts record 17 years ago, he had the luxury of doing it in Fayetteville — albeit on a chilly mid-April afternoon in front of only 3,249 fans.

However, those who braved the cold made sure to recognize the record when he blew a fastball by Florida’s Austin Pride in an 0-2 count.

“It wasn’t a big part of the game,” Schmidt said. “I remember the fans stood up and gave me a standing O, and then I was like, ‘Oh, that must’ve been the one.’ Because I wasn’t tracking. Obviously, when you’re in the game, you’re focused on the game and what’s going on. If it’s the first or second out, and you get a standing O, you’re like, ‘Wait. What’s going on here?’”

There was no standing ovation for Hagen Smith. His record-breaking strikeout — which he got when Texas A&M’s Ali Camarillo took a slider for strike three for the second out of the fifth inning — came in front of a hostile crowd at Blue Bell Park in College Station, Texas, and amid a 0-0 pitchers’ duel.

It was Smith’s 11th strikeout of the game and, like Schmidt, he wasn’t exactly keeping a running tally in his head.

“I actually didn’t know how many I needed,” Smith said. “I knew I was close after the other game, but once you go into a game, you can’t think about that at all. You’ve just got to go out there and compete.”

No one has “competed” on the mound in college as well as Smith in a long time – and that includes Paul Skenes, LSU’s generational talent who went No. 1 overall in last summer’s MLB Draft and is already in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Coming into the series, Texas A&M baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle even made the comparison, admitting that Smith “does it differently,” but that they have similar numbers. In fact, Smith’s are even better in several categories, especially after his six scoreless innings against the Aggies.

Here’s how they stack up through the end of the regular season:

  • Hagen Smith: 9-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 17.53 K/9IP, 5.17 K/BB, .135 BAA, 77 IP
  • Paul Skenes: 10-1, 1.77 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 17.03 K/9IP, 10.93 K/BB, .161 BAA, 86.2 IP

Skenes didn’t issue as many walks, but Smith has been even harder to hit. The LSU ace eventually broke the 34-year-old single-season SEC strikeout record with 209 total, but Smith is averaging even more strikeouts a per-nine-innings basis.

In fact, Smith is on track to break the Division I record for strikeouts per nine innings, which was set by Houston’s Ryan Wagner when he averaged 16.79 in 2003. His ERA is also ahead of where Skenes was at this point.

To further illustrate the historical nature of Smith’s season, he currently leads the country in both of those categories. The last pitcher to do that in the same season was a San Diego State pitcher named Stephen Strasburg.

His numbers evoke arguably the two best pitching prospects of the last quarter-century. On top of that, Schlossnagle mentioned he could replicate what Brandon Finnegan – who pitched for him at TCU – did in 2014, when he became the first player to play in the College World Series and MLB World Series in the same year.

“We’ve faced a lot of really good left-handed pitchers that have had great seasons and great numbers, but with that kind of arm… We just said in the locker room, that guy is going to be pitching this October,” Schlossnagle said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t… Unless he’s not rested, how do you not take that guy and get him in your bullpen?”

Of course, nothing is a given. Despite all of his success with the Razorbacks, Schmidt never made it past Triple-A.

Injuries derailed his career, as he needed Tommy John surgery almost immediately upon beginning his professional career and then he dealt with a shoulder issue. Otherwise, Van Horn said he would have pitched in the big leagues “no doubt about it,” but it’s a fate Schmidt has long since accepted.

“I obviously would love to have been there, but it just wasn’t the Lord’s plan for me,” Schmidt said. “It took me about three years to get past the Tommy John hump, and nowadays, guys are much better right off the bat. It just, for whatever reason, it was not the case for me.”

Now, he’s enjoying watching the greatness that is Hagen Smith alongside his wife and four kids, which he described as a “baseball family.”

Perhaps that’s what Arkansas baseball fans need to do, too. As his college career winds down, he still has at least two more starts left – at the SEC Tournament and in a regional.

The UA single-season strikeout record, which David Walling set with 155 in 1999, is well within reach, as are all of the aforementioned historical achievements. More important, though, is the Razorbacks’ search for their first national title.

So don’t make the same mistake as the MLB Pipeline reporter who asked Van Horn about how Smith “finished his career off” against the Aggies after Thursday’s game.

“He hasn’t finished his career yet, by any means,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got a lot more baseball to play.”


A look back at Hagen Smith’s career from the UA:


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS… 

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