FAYETTEVILLE — With the season just six weeks away, preseason rankings are starting to trickle in and there are once again high expectations for Arkansas baseball.
In the two polls that have come out so far, the Razorbacks are No. 4 by Perfect Game and No. 7 by Collegiate Baseball entering 2023. The Baseball America, D1Baseball, NCBWA and USA Today Coaches polls have yet to be released.
That puts them firmly in the mix for a fourth trip to Omaha in five tries. It’d be a return trip after last season’s run ended with a loss to Ole Miss in a winner-take-all semifinal at the College World Series.
However, as usual, it won’t be an easy path through the SEC. Half of the conference is ranked in the top 10 of at least one of the preseason polls.
LSU is No. 1 in both, while Collegiate Baseball has Florida at No. 2 (No. 8 on PG) and Perfect Game has Tennessee at No. 2 (No. 5 on CB). Other top-10 SEC teams include Texas A&M (No. 4 CB/No. 10 PG), Ole Miss (No. 6 PG/No. 24 CB) and Vanderbilt (No. 9 CB/No. 11 PG).
Auburn is the eighth-ranked team on Perfect Game, checking in at No. 17, while Collegiate Baseball also ranks Mississippi State at No. 22, giving it eight top-25 SEC teams, as well.
Collegiate Baseball’s preseason poll actually goes to No. 50, with Auburn (No. 37), Georgia (No. 39), South Carolina (No. 47) and Alabama (No. 49) ranked, but outside of the top 25. The only SEC teams outside of the top 50 are Missouri and Kentucky.
The D1Baseball preseason poll is scheduled to come out Jan. 17.
Preseason All-America Nod
Despite having expanded second- and third-team lists, no Arkansas baseball players were included on Collegiate Baseball’s Preseason All-America teams. The only other time that has happened in the past six years was 2021, when the Razorbacks spent a majority of the season at No. 1.
Perfect Game, on the other hand, did recognize one Arkansas baseball player: Left-handed pitcher Hagen Smith was a third-team selection as he enters his sophomore season.
Both organizations tabbed LSU center fielder Dylan Crews as their Preseason Player of the Year, while Perfect Game also named a Preseason Pitcher of the Year. That honor stayed within the SEC, as well, going to Tennessee’s Chase Dollander.
Barring injury, the Razorbacks will get to face both of those players. The Tigers will host Arkansas in Baton Rouge, La., the weekend of March 24-26 and the Volunteers visit Baum-Walker Stadium the weekend of April 14-16.
Jaxon Wiggins, Others Among Top MLB Draft Prospects
They didn’t land on either of the aforementioned All-America teams, but Arkansas did have two other pitchers listed among the top 100 prospects in the 2023 MLB Draft released by MLB Pipeline last month.
Right-hander Jaxon Wiggins — who looked very much the part of a staff ace this fall — checked in at No. 55, while left-hander Hunter Hollan is No. 83. Wiggins is entering his third season with the program and Hollan is a first-year guy as a junior college transfer from San Jacinto J.C.
Those may have been the only two current Razorbacks on the list, but the early rounds of 2023 MLB Draft will still be very important for Dave Van Horn because his No. 1 signing class is at risk of being picked apart by the pros.
As further evidence of that possibility, seven Arkansas baseball signees are among the top-100 prospects on MLB Pipeline, highlighted by the crown jewel of the class — third baseman Aidan Miller — at No. 12.
The other potential future Razorbacks listed are left-hander Adam Hachman (No. 41), right-hander Barrett Kent (No. 54), shortstop Nazzan Zanetello (No. 58), shortstop Walker Martin (No. 73), left-hander Hunter Dietz (No. 75) and right-hander Dylan Questad (No. 96).
It’s also worth noting that, much like the preseason rankings and preseason All-America teams, the SEC dominates the MLB Draft prospect rankings, as well.
Each of the top five prospects play within the conference, as do seven of the top 10 — with those seven hailing from five different teams.
Top Transfers for Arkansas Baseball
With only two returning starters in the field, Dave Van Horn went heavy on transfers to rebuild his lineup in 2023. Based on some preseason rankings from D1Baseball, it seems as though he did a pretty solid job.
Three Razorbacks landed on the organization’s ranking of the top 100 transfer portal additions of the offseason, while five landed on its ranking of the top 50 JUCO transfers.
Jared Wegner (No. 19) and Tavian Josenberger (No. 27) from Creighton and Kansas, respectively, could lock down two of the three starting spots in the outfield, while Hudson Polk (No. 90) from Oklahoma appears to be the frontrunner to start at catcher.
Polk’s top competition behind the plate is Parker Rowland, who checked in at No. 28 on the JUCO list. He was followed by Caleb Cali (No. 30) and Harold Coll (No. 48), both of whom are projected as starters.
Arkansas brought in only two transfer arms — both from the JUCO ranks — and they’re looking like contributors in 2023, especially left-hander Hunter Hollan. In addition to being a top-100 draft prospect, as mentioned above, he is No. 7 on D1Baseball’s ranking. The other is right-hander Cody Adcock (No. 41).
Arkansas Baseball Roster Update
Now a few years removed from the 2020 season that was wiped out by the pandemic, college baseball rosters are slowly getting back to normal, but they can still be somewhat enlarged thanks to relaxed limitations.
The 35-man limit is back in place, but can be expanded to 40 in order to account for players who were on the team in 2020.
During the fall, the Arkansas baseball roster featured 45 players. That has shrunk to 40 after the departures of infielders Jude Putz, Easton Swofford and Ryan Ward, and pitchers Nick Moten and Matthew Magre. (Putz has transferred to Florida State, while Swofford is taking the JUCO route at Crowder C.C.)
Only two current Razorbacks — pitchers Zack Morris and Will McEntire — were on the team in 2020, allowing Arkansas’ active roster to expand to 37. That means three players must redshirt this season.
There were also a couple of number changes between the fall and spring roster. Infielder John Bolton switched from No. 19 to No. 9, the number he wore at Austin Peay, and freshman right-hander Ben Bybee switched from No. 47 to No. 40.
The 2023 roster included updated weights for all of the players, as well. Unlike the football team, which is more specific, the Arkansas baseball team lists weights in multiples of five. Several players lost or gained 5 pounds, but a handful had double-digit changes from the fall.
Most notably, right-hander Will McEntire is now listed at 240 pounds, which is up 15 pounds from the fall roster and his playing weight last season. Outfielder Jared Wegner (220) and right-hander Cody Adcock (210) are up 10 pounds, while catcher Cal Kilgore (185) is down 10 pounds.
One other change between the fall and season roster worth mentioning is the title for former Arkansas standout DJ Baxendale. He was listed as a graduate manager in the fall, but is now the Director of Analytics.
Curious what the Arkansas baseball lineup will look like in 2023? Here’s our projection:
2023 Arkansas Baseball Roster
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