Arkansas vs Florida Produces Hagen Smith’s Latest Showdown with a College Superstar

Hagen Smith, Jac Caglianone, Arkansas baseball, Florida baseball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Florida Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Assuming the weather doesn’t get in the way, fans will be treated to one of the best hitter-pitcher matchups of the season in the Arkansas vs Florida opener Friday night.

The Gators and two-way sensation Jac Caglianone are in town and will square off against Hagen Smith in Game 1 of their series against the No. 2 Razorbacks. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at Baum-Walker Stadium and on SEC Network.

MLB Pipeline recently updated its prospect rankings for the 2024 MLB Draft and both superstars moved up thanks to their incredible production so far. They check in at No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, and are widely projected to be selected in the top 10 this summer.

Putting aside what he can do on the mound as a left-handed pitcher, Caglianone is one of the best hitters in the country. The Tampa native is hitting .410 with 25 home runs and 49 RBIs, plus has a ridiculous 1.391 OPS and has struck out only 14 times in 191 plate appearances.

“He’s unbelievable when you look at his numbers,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s amazing. I mean, he swings at pitches that are eye high and hits them over the lights. He swings at bad pitches, but he hits them, and he hits them hard.”

There’s a lot to like about his game, but Caglianone’s power is his most impressive trait. His 33 home runs last year were the most in a DI baseball season during the BBCOR era (since 2011) and he’s currently second nationally in that category this year, one behind Georgia’s Charlie Condon.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Caglianone is described as a “physical beast” in his scouting report on MLB Pipeline. That outlet also gives him a 70 grade – on the typical 20-80 scale in the baseball scouting world – in the power department and, during his recent nine-game home run streak, he cleared the scoreboard at Florida’s ballpark with a 516-foot blast.

That streak, which tied an NCAA record, ended when he failed to homer in the series finale at Vanderbilt on Sunday, but he bounced back with a pair of long balls in the Gators’ midweek win over Stetson on Tuesday.

What makes the 21-year-old even more dangerous this year than when he homered 33 times last season is he’s striking out at a much lower rate. Jac Caglianone has gone down on strikes just 14 times in 161 at bats – or once every 11.5 at bats, which makes him the second-toughest player to strike out in the SEC. Last season, Caglianone struck out once every 4.9 at bats (58 times in 282 ABs).

“I think how you handle him is you get the guys out in front of him, don’t let them get on base,” Van Horn said. “He’s going to get his. He’s going to take his swings and he’s going to make contact. The ball explodes off his bat. How do we pitch him? I don’t know. I’m sure everybody’s tried everything. You pitch him out of the zone a little bit, he still seems to find a way to get the barrel on it.”

(Scroll below for live updates from Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Florida series)

Jac Caglianone vs. Hagen Smith

Luckily for the Razorbacks, they have the ultimate ace up their sleeve. Hagen Smith is widely viewed as the best pitcher in college baseball this season and will start Friday’s game.

The left-hander has made 10 starts this year and is 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 100 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 53 innings. Opponents are hitting a minuscule .136 against him.

Not only does he lead the country in strikeouts per nine innings at 16.98, but Smith is also challenging the all-time DI record of 16.79 set by Houston’s Ryan Wagner in 2003. The SEC record was set by LSU’s Paul Skenes last year, when he averaged 15.33.

Smith is tracking down the UA single-season and career strikeout records, as well, which are held by David Walling (155 in 1999) and Nick Schmidt (345), respectively.

There’s a good chance he adds to his current totals of 100 and 299 against Florida because as a team, the Gators have the third-most strikeouts in the SEC. However, Jac Caglianone will be quite the challenge.

It certainly won’t be Smith’s first challenge, though. When he had his sensational 17-strikeout outing against Oregon State back on Feb. 23, superstar Travis Bazzana went down on strike three times against him.

Bazzana is a candidate to go No. 1 overall in this summer’s MLB Draft and checks in at No. 2 on MLB Pipeline’s list of top prospects. Even with the bad showing that day, he’s hitting .432 with a 1.555 OPS and 19 home runs. Similar to Caglianone, Bazzana doesn’t strike out much.

Take out the three strikeouts against Smith and he strikes out just once every 9.7 at bats, but that number is skewed by the fact that he ranks second nationally in walks, which don’t count as at bats. Going by plate appearances, Bazzana has struck out only 7.4% of the time when facing other pitchers – almost identical to Caglianone’s rate of 7.3%.

Caglianone and teammate Colby Shelton (No. 115) will be the sixth and seventh members of MLB Pipeline’s top-150 ranking Smith has faced this year. The previous five have gone a combined 4 for 15 (.267) with three singles, one home run and seven strikeouts:

  • No. 2 – Travis Bazzana (Oregon State): 0 for 3, 3 K
  • No. 16 – Tommy White (LSU): 1 for 3, HR
  • No. 80 – Gage Miller (Alabama): 1 for 3
  • No. 116 – Jared Jones (LSU): 0 for 3, 3 K
  • No. 136 – Cole Messina (South Carolina): 2 for 3, K

Three more top-150 players remain on the regular-season schedule: Texas A&M’s Braden Montgomery (No. 5) and Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan (No. 24) and Hunter Hines (No. 120). If things fall right in the SEC Tournament, Smith could also face Georgia’s Charlie Condon, the No. 1 prospect.

Caglianone the Pitcher

Of course, even if Hagen Smith wins his individual battles with Jac Caglianone in the opener, the rest of the pitching staff still has to deal with him. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Arkansas’ lineup will then have to deal with him in Game 3, which he’s slated to start for Florida.

Even though he’s their third starter, the left-hander has easily been the Gators’ most consistent arm. In nine starts, Caglianone is 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. His biggest issue seems to be command, as he’s issued 32 walks, but he’s typically able to limit the damage because opponents are hitting just .201 against him.

“Obviously his stuff is amazing,” Van Horn said. “He’ll walk you every now and then, but he’ll also strike you out. He’s just kind of hard to hit. Big ‘ol guy throwing downhill like that from the left side, it’s firm. You just hope you can put together an inning or two on him or you get his pitch count up, but he’s awfully talented.”

That kind of production on the mound to go with what he’s done at the plate has led to the obvious comparison to Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, but he played professionally in Japan before coming to the U.S.

There have been other two-way stars in college, such as Louisville’s Brendan McKay and Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, but Van Horn said the closest comparison he could think of for Caglianone was from his time in the Big 12 at Nebraska, when he squared off with Baylor’s Jason Jennings.

Even though he was a right-handed pitcher, Jennings was the Golden Spikes Award winner in 1999, when he racked up 172 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings, plus hit .382 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs. He went on to enjoy a nine-year MLB career and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2002, but that was primarily as a pitcher.

Van Horn said he believes Caglianone’s future will be with the bat, but he’s more than capable of reaching the big leagues as a pitcher, too.

“He’s one of those guys that obviously if he wasn’t such a good hitter, he’s going to go probably in the first round as a pitcher,” Van Horn said. “Teams will have to make that decision, but he’s probably going to be drafted to hit, is what I’m hearing. When you see him, you’ll see how big he is. And his development has been amazing. What he’s done over the last 2.5-3 years, he’s just continued to get better.”

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Florida (Game 1)

Pregame Tidbits

First pitch has been pushed back 15 minutes to 6:15 p.m. to allow the grounds crew to prep the field before the teams warmup. Rain has moved out of the area and it looks like baseball will be played.

The UA has announced that the Arkansas vs Florida series will conclude with a doubleheader on Saturday because of bad weather in the forecast for Sunday. Both games will be nine innings, with the first game scheduled for noon CT and the second game scheduled to start 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.

T-1st: Arkansas 0, Florida 0

Hagen Smith’s first three pitches were 100 mph. He eventually had to work around a leadoff single and one-out HBP, but did just that by striking out Shelnut and getting Heyman to fly out to right-center. That was a 17-pitch inning.

B-1st: Arkansas 0, Florida 0

Despite owning an 18.00 ERA in three innings coming into tonight, Coppola needed just 11 pitches to strike out Stovall, Sprague-Lott and Aloy in order. The latter two of those three struck out on three pitches.

T-2nd: Arkansas 0, Florida 0

Smith notched another couple of strikeouts sandwiched around Guy’s ground out to short. It was a quick 12-pitch inning, bringing his total to 29.

B-2nd: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

Coppola struck out four straight batters to start the game before a 10-pitch at bat by Holt. Even though that ended in a fly out to right, Helfrick followed it by crushing a solo home run into the Hog Pen.

T-3rd: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

After a couple of strikeouts by Smith, he got Caglianone in a 2-2 count and tried to throw a 98 mph fastball by him. The slugger put it in play with a 115 mph exit velocity, but it was a grounder right to Stovall to end the inning.

B-3rd: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

The Razorbacks went down in order again in the third, with Coppola notching another couple of strikeouts sandwiched around a ground out by Wilmsmeyer.

T-4th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

Smith has retired 11 straight after two of the Gators’ first three batters reached. He’s up to seven strikeouts and has thrown 57 pitches through four innings.

B-4th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

A leadoff walk by Sprague-Lott was enough to chase Coppola, who was on a pitch count, and McLaughlin reached on a one-out single, but the Hogs couldn’t do anything with it because Holt grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

T-5th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

Smith got a couple of ground outs before notching his eighth strikeout of the night, doing so on just 11 pitches. He’s thrown only 68 pitches through five innings.

B-5th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

The Razorbacks went down in order in the fifth, with Souza striking out as a pinch hitter for Helfrick to start the inning. Diggs and White each grounded out.

T-6th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

Smith started the sixth with two more strikeouts, giving him 10 tonight, and then got up 0-2 against Caglianone. He ended up grounding out again, but didn’t hit it nearly as hard. That’s 17 straight retired by Smith, who has thrown just 80 pitches.

B-6th: Arkansas 1, Florida 0

Wilmsmeyer drew a leadoff walk and eventually got to third thanks to a stolen base and ground out, but that’s where he was stranded. Aloy grounded out to second to end the inning.

T-7th: Arkansas 1, Florida 1

A leadoff walk by Shelton ended a stretch of 17 consecutive batters retired by Smith. Shelnut followed with a perfect sacrifice bunt and appeared to reach when Sprague-Lott’s throw hit him, but he was called out for runner’s inference because he was inside the base line. Florida challenged the call and it was confirmed. Not only is he out, but Shelton had to return to first.

That proved to be a huge play because Heyman followed with a double to left. Instead of a run scoring, it put runners on second and third. Kurland hit a dribbler toward third that looked like it’d score a run, but Sprague-Lott barehanded it and threw home to get the runner and keep Florida off the board.

With runners on the corners, Smith had Kurland picked off at first, but he got in a rundown and McLaughlin eventually threw to third, but his throw got by Sprague-Lott, allowing the runner to score from third. It was scored an E3. On the very next pitch, Smith struck out Guy to end the inning.

B-7th: Arkansas 1, Florida 1

Arkansas couldn’t do anything with McLaughlin’s leadoff walk, even after a wild pitch moved him to second with only one out. The Hogs are now 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position tonight.

T-8th: Arkansas 1, Florida 1

Gabe Gaeckle replaced Smith in the eighth and immediately found himself in trouble. He walked Donay to start the inning, but bounced back with back-to-back strikeouts. That brought up Caglianone, who he had down 0-2, but threw him a fastball down the middle and he hit a single to put runners on the corners. Caglianone took second without a throw, so the Hogs decided to intentionally walk Shelton in a 2-0 count. With the bases loaded, Gaeckle got Shelnut to pop out to second.

B-8th: Arkansas 2, Florida 1

Wilmsmeyer reached on a one-out walk, went first to third on Stovall’s single and then scored on Sprague-Lott’s sacrifice fly. It wasn’t a deep fly ball, but he had plenty of speed and the throw was up the third base line. That puts the Hogs back up 2-1.

T-9th: Arkansas 2, Florida 1

Heyman started the inning with a ground out to short. Kurland went down swinging. Blake Brookins pinch hit for Guy and grounded out to second to end the game.

FINAL – Arkansas 2, Florida 1

Starting Lineups

Florida BaseballArkansas Baseball
1. Ty Evans – RF1. Peyton Stovall – 2B
2. Jac Caglianone – 1B2. Jared Sprague-Lott – 3B
3. Colby Shelton – SS3. Wehiwa Aloy – SS
4. Tyler Shelnut – 3B4. Ben McLaughlin – 1B
5. Luke Heyman – C5. Peyton Holt – LF
6. Cade Kurland – 2B6. Ryder Helfrick – DH
7. Jaylen Guy – CF7. Kendall Diggs – RF
8. Brody Donay – DH8. Hudson White – C
9. Michael Robertson – LF9. Ty Wilmsmeyer – CF
Pitching: LHP Pierce CoppolaPitching: LHP Hagen Smith

How to Watch Arkansas vs Florida (Game 1)

Date: Friday, April 26

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

First Pitch: 6:15 p.m. CT (originally 7 p.m., but moved up an hour because of weather and then pushed back another 15 minutes)

TV/Stream: SECN+/SEC Network

  • The game will initially be only streamed on SEC Network-Plus, but will shift to actual television on the SEC Network at the conclusion of the Auburn-Ole Miss softball game, which starts at 5 p.m. CT.


YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments