With so many pieces of last year’s Arkansas baseball team moving on, Dave Van Horn hit the transfer portal hard this offseason.
Including the Razorbacks’ lone signee from the JUCO ranks, they added 10 players with collegiate experience and eight of them play in the field – where they must replace six of nine primary starters.
Kendall Diggs, Peyton Stovall and Parker Rowland are back and once you throw in part-time starters like Peyton Holt and Ben McLaughlin, the math doesn’t quite work out when you mix in the newcomers.
That’s why No. 1 on our list of the top questions facing the Arkansas baseball program ahead of 2024 was: Which transfers will emerge as starters in the field?
With a finite number of spots, there are bound to be some transfers who get left out. Fall ball was big in determining which of them have a legitimate shot to start in 2024 and which have a tough road ahead to playing time.
Here’s how Best of Arkansas Sports believes things stand for the Arkansas baseball transfers in the field after the last couple months.
Locked Down a Starting Job
The transfer who separated himself the most this fall was Sacramento State transfer Wehiwa Aloy.
That’s not a particularly surprising development, as he was essentially penciled in as the starting shortstop as soon as he announced his commitment. After all, Aloy was a Freshman All-American last season, hitting .376 with 14 home runs for the Hornets, and was tabbed the 23rd-best prospect for the 2025 MLB Draft by Future Star Series this summer.
However, he still had to go out and prove it. Last year, heralded JUCO transfer Harold Coll was widely considered a lock to start at shortstop, but didn’t perform up to expectations in the fall and was ultimately beat out by Austin Peay transfer John Bolton.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, they didn’t have a repeat of that. Aloy asserted himself as the best shortstop on the team with a strong fall both at the plate and in the field.
According to unofficial stats compiled by the media, he led Arkansas in hitting (.308) and finished second in OPS (1.061), home runs (5) and RBIs (11). Simply put, Aloy hit the ball well and hard.
There were some concerns about Aloy’s defense based on his .928 fielding percentage and 17 errors last year at Sacramento State, but he did a lot to quiet those this fall. In fact, he showed a knack for making some highlight reel plays.
He may not be Jalen Battles in that regard – few are – but Aloy appears to be at least as solid defensively as Bolton was last year and he’s far more of a threat at the plate than Bolton ever was. He’s actually drawn some comparisons to Battles, the former Arkansas baseball standout, from Van Horn.
“Aloy is a very, very good defender,” Van Horn said. “He’s got an extremely accurate arm, and it’s strong. He’s a big-bodied shortstop, kind of Jalen Battles-type size, but he has more strength for his age than Jalen did as a sophomore. We didn’t have Jalen until he was a junior, and Aloy is stronger than him as a sophomore.”
Other Projected Starters for Arkansas Baseball
Wehiwa Aloy almost certainly won’t be the only transfer in the starting lineup when James Madison comes to Baum-Walker Stadium to open the season Feb. 16.
As things currently stand, there are two more projected to complete an outfield that already has Kendall Diggs penciled in as the right fielder. JUCO transfer Will Edmunson and Missouri transfer Ty Wilmsmeyer appear to be the front runners in left and center field, respectively.
Edmunson has done nothing but hit during the calendar year of 2023. He slashed .454/.534/.741 in 58 games with Hutchinson C.C. in the spring, slashed .420/.477/.637 in 39 games in the Sunflower League this summer and then slashed .306/.358/.449 this fall at Arkansas.
Even though he didn’t quite have the same pop with the Razorbacks as he did at his other stops, it’s encouraging to see him continue to hit for a nice average against a higher level of competition. It’s also worth noting that Edmunson almost always at least puts the ball in play – he hardly ever strikes out or walks.
In 474 plate appearances across his JUCO, summer league and fall ball seasons, he drew only 36 walks and was hit by a pitch 24 times for 60 free passes, while compiling just 39 strikeouts. Edmunson was also Arkansas’ best base stealer this fall, going 7 for 7.
Wilmsmeyer hasn’t been nearly as productive at the plate Indeed, he’s downright struggled, hitting just .158 with 17 strikeouts in 38 at bats — but Van Horn isn’t too concerned about that because he did hit at a high level in the SEC last season.
Playing at Missouri, the Springfield, Mo., native slashed .311/.380/.482 as an everyday starter for the Tigers. His average dipped to .294 against SEC competition, but all seven of his home runs came during conference play, leading to an .888 OPS.
Plus, the veteran coach has been known to sacrifice a little offense at premium defensive spots and center field certainly qualifies as that.
“He’s made diving catches, catches at the wall,” Van Horn said. “He’s fearless out there. Offensively, it hasn’t been a good fall for him, but I think it’s been a good learning experience. … He didn’t let it get him down or bother the other parts of his game.”
Another reason we’ve penciled him in as the starting center fielder is because he appears to be the best option. Eastern Illinois transfer Lincoln Riley missed the fall with an injury (more on him later) and Edmunson, who has played there some, profiles better as a corner outfielder. The only other candidate would be Hunter Grimes, who went 1 for 12 with nine strikeouts in SEC play last year and is a converted infielder.
Still Vying for a Starting Spot
A couple of players to keep an eye on during preseason practices leading up to the season are Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner and Texas Tech transfer Hudson White. Both will play a decent amount in 2024 even if they don’t start on Opening Day, but getting a nod from the jump isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
White was one of the Razorbacks’ more heralded transfers of the class and landed at No. 33 on D1Baseball’s list of the top “impact transfers” in all of college baseball. One reason for that is because he plays catcher, a spot at which Arkansas got very little offensive production last season.
In two years with the Red Raiders, White slashed .276/.382/.464 with 17 home runs and 89 RBIs, so he is immediately a better option at the plate than either of the Razorbacks’ returning catchers who split time last year – Parker Rowland and Hudson Polk. It also doesn’t hurt that he has good plate discipline, as evidenced by his team-high 10 walks with only three strikeouts this fall to go along with a solid .888 OPS.
However, the key for White – who is No. 67 on Future Star Series’ list of the top 2024 MLB Draft prospects – is improving behind the plate. That’s especially important since catcher is another premium defensive position at which Van Horn is sometimes willing to sacrifice offense for defense. He’s also being pushed by true freshman Ryder Helfrick, who has drawn James McCann comparisons from Van Horn, and even Rowland and Polk had very productive falls.
It’s also entirely possible that he gets some action at first base if Arkansas wants to get his bat in the lineup. That’s where Wagner is fighting for a starting job, as well, along with returners like Ben McLaughlin and Reese Robinett.
Things started off slow, but Wagner finished the fall on a high note by hitting home runs in each of the Fall World Series games to improve his fall OPS to .979. It’s that bat that will earn him at least some starts in 2024, as he is coming off a season in which he hit .337 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs in 48 games – granted that was in the WAC and not the SEC.
First base is where he played most of the fall, but Van Horn said he’s also a candidate to start in left field – where he played alongside Tavian Josenberger at Kansas – and at designated hitter.
“We brought him here to help solidify our lineup a little bit with some offense,” Van Horn said after the Fall World Series. “He brings some attitude, and you got to see that a little bit the last couple of days.”
The Other Arkansas Baseball Transfers
Among the other Arkansas baseball transfers who have yet to be mentioned, Jared Sprague-Lott and Ross Lovich have the best chance to see the field in 2024.
An all-conference performer at Richmond, Sprague-Lott hit .315 with a .951 OPS in 135 games across three seasons with the Spiders. He wasn’t quite as productive this fall, but he did hit .281. More importantly, though, Sprague-Lott showed he’s capable of playing multiple spots in the infield.
The Razorbacks still have Jayson Jones, but Sprague-Lott could potentially be a top backup capable of filling in when there are injuries or someone just needs a day off.
Lovich was a teammate of Ty Wilmsmeyer at Missouri and could fill a role similar to Sprague-Lott, but in the outfield. He struggled mightily at the plate this fall, going just 3 for 25 (.120), but did hit .305 in 16 SEC games last season.
Viewed more as a corner outfielder, Lovich did start 11 games in center as a freshman and could be an option there, if needed.
The player Arkansas likely brought in to compete with Wilmsmeyer in center field, though, was Lincoln Riley from Eastern Illinois. He hit .307 for the Panthers last season, but was more known for his defense.
Unfortunately, he missed all of the fall with a shoulder injury suffered at the end of last season and it’s unclear when, or if, he’ll get cleared for 2024 – or if he’ll ever suit up for the Razorbacks.
“We’re still trying to figure it out with him,” Van Horn said. “I don’t even think he can swing the bat for a little bit longer. I think he’s either going to have to come back on fire after Christmas ready to go or there’s going to be a potential to redshirt…and I don’t even know if he wants to redshirt. I don’t know if he’s going to say, ‘Oh this is my fifth year and I’ve had enough of this.’ We have to talk to him about it.”
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