Peyton Holt’s Ignorance is Actually an Advantage for Hogs, Inner Circle Explains

Peyton Holt, Arkansas baseball, Fayetteville Regional, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Baumology / Craven Whitlow

Peyton Holt left the baseball world buzzing when he pulled off his now-famous “deke” play to help Arkansas preserve a series-clinching win over Florida last month.

Not only did it take the top spot in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays the next day, but ESPN color commentator Chris Burke — who was on the call that day — said during the SEC Tournament that it was the talk of the Milwaukee Brewers’ clubhouse when he called one of their games soon afterward.

Incredibly, Holt had made a similar type of play a year earlier when he used a pump fake to turn a very unconventional and equally spectacular double play as an infielder against LSU at the 2023 SEC Tournament.

Those two standout sequences are perfect examples of perhaps Holt’s best attribute: His baseball IQ. It’s a skill that shined through even at an early age and has crossed over into multiple sports over the years.

“When he was 8 years old, he did the same play, where he was a shortstop and there was a soft line drive to him with the bases loaded,” his father, Keith Holt, told Best of Arkansas Sports. “They thought he was going to catch it and he let it hit off his palm and hit the ground, and then turned to triple play. But nobody told him to do that.

“He’s 8 years old and here he is thinking, and spur of the moment, to do that. That’s when you knew that mentally he was exceptional. It’s not just that he’s athletic. He’s athletic, but he can really process things a lot faster than some people.”

Graduating from the little league and pee wee fields, Peyton Holt’s IQ remained arguably his biggest asset.

On the football field, it turned him into Connor Noland’s top wide receiver and made Greenwood High’s offense almost unstoppable.

“I think there was one game in football where I looked out at him and we got a look that we liked,” Noland said. “I just tapped my helmet, told him to run a fade route and he took it for about 60 yards. Just little stuff like that. He always was doing that on the baseball side and football side.”

So maybe, as shocking as it was in the moment, Holt’s heads-up play against the Gators shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.

It also probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the player once viewed as too small to play in the SEC is now a key cog on the No. 5 overall seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, which begins play in the Fayetteville Regional against Southeast Missouri State at 2 p.m. CT Friday on ESPN-Plus.

Peyton Holt’s Multi-Sport Background

The things Arkansas baseball fans are seeing Peyton Holt do now are just a continuation of what Keith Holt has seen from his son since a young age.

From being unstoppable in soccer as a 4-year-old to being the first kid in his age group capable of throwing and catching a real baseball, it was clear he was on another level.

“Everything he did, he picked up really fast,” Keith Holt said. “It didn’t matter if it was skateboarding, he tried everything and he picked it up really fast.”

The Holt family moved from Greenwood to Russellville midway through Peyton’s first grade year so his father could take a job with Southwestern Energy. However, as a Greenwood native, it was always Keith’s goal to make it back home.

That dream became a reality late in Peyton’s eighth-grade year. He finished out the basketball season in Russellville and then the family moved back to Greenwood, where Keith now runs his own roofing company and where Peyton would eventually join a pretty impressive pipeline to Arkansas.

Although he also played on the varsity basketball team his first three years with the Bulldogs before deciding to focus on baseball, Peyton Holt did most of his damage on the diamond and on the gridiron.

As good as he was as a shortstop in baseball, he was equally as impressive in football — both as a wide receiver and a quarterback.

The latter was his primary position for most of his life, even leading Greenwood’s ninth-grade team to an undefeated season, but with Connor Noland a year ahead of him, he moved to wide receiver. For two years, he was the future Arkansas quarterback’s top target.

Holt earned All-State honors and helped the Bulldogs win the Class 6A state title his junior year in 2017, during which Noland said he was used for “everything and anything” in their offense.

“He was option A, B and C,” Noland said with a laugh. “He was just a great athlete, great route runner. He knew how to find the spaces. … He was our deep threat, our middle threat, we’d throw screens to him. Any way we could get the ball in his hands was how we ran that offense and he really made everything click.”

With Noland moving on to play for the Razorbacks, Holt moved back to his natural spot and earned All-State honors again, this time as a quarterback: That led to another state title.

“He didn’t take a snap at quarterback for two years, and then his senior year he was the quarterback and just picked up where he left off,” Keith Holt recalled. “I mean, it took him one game. They got beat by Northside his first game, and then they won the rest of the season and won the state tournament. That’s all it took him was one game to get back in the swing of things.”

The Long Journey to Arkansas Baseball

In an alternate reality, Peyton Holt might have continued his football career at the next level. Connor Noland believes he was talented enough to do it, but isn’t sure what position he would have played.

Of course, that’s a moot point because he was also really good at baseball and where, given his 5-foot-10 frame, he probably had the highest ceiling.

However, that size also limited his options coming out of high school. Dave Van Horn said he remembered Holt being athletic and strong for his size, but believed he needed to go off and get some at bats elsewhere.

“We were waiting for a big school, and they pretty much said the same thing,” Keith Holt said. “That his size and that they didn’t think he could have SEC pitching, and that he just wasn’t ready for that level.”

One team that did really want him was Louisiana-Lafayette, which was one of the top mid-major programs in the country at the time. Led by legendary coach Tony Robichaux, the Ragin’ Cajuns made back-to-back super regional appearances in 2014 and 2015.

Holt signed with Louisiana-Lafayette with the understanding he’d be able to go in and compete for early playing time, but that all changed when Robichaux died from a heart attack in the summer of 2019. He honored his commitment, but new coach Matt Deggs cleaned house upon his arrival. All but one freshman was cut, including Holt.

That sent him searching for a new home, which he found in Neosho, Mo., at Crowder C.C.

“That’s when we realized that he wasn’t big enough to go to an SEC school at first, that we were naive to think that he was ready,” Keith Holt said. “Then he started lifting weights and just being himself at Crowder.”

Not only did Holt produce at a high level during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and the following 2021 and 2022 seasons, but he also transformed his body. By the time he left Crowder, he’d put on 20 pounds from high school.

Holt was primarily a second baseman, but when an injury sidelined him for a few games, Logan Chambers — who eventually signed with Tennessee and was the recruit at the center of the Van Horn-Tony Vitello kerfuffle — filled in and hit several home runs.

When he got healthy, Holt returned to the lineup, but played a little bit of everywhere, getting action at all three outfield spots and at third base — foreshadowing what would eventually happen at Arkansas.

“I saw him play a couple of times and he held his own,” Van Horn said. “Then when we got him, we didn’t know if we were going to play him at third, second, outfield. He basically played them all, but told us he would play anywhere, not a problem.”

Arkansas getting him out of JUCO came as a bit of a surprise to his parents. Keith Holt said he didn’t even know the Razorbacks were recruiting him until almost right before he committed.

Several other big-time programs, like Ole Miss, TCU and Oklahoma, were showing interest, but the dream was always to make it back to the Natural State. Arkansas’ success, though, meant Holt’s parents weren’t sure if that was realistic.

“Arkansas was the furthest one from his mother and mine, our thoughts, because Peyton just never mentioned them,” Keith Holt said. “He waited until Coach Thompson had said that there was a real possibility that he was going to go there. He told us the day before Coach Thompson was coming up to watch him hit and said, ‘Hey, I just want y’all to know I’ve got an opportunity to play at Arkansas. Coach Thompson’s going to come watch me hit.’”

Sure enough, Thompson extended an offer to “show up and work.” He didn’t get any portion of Arkansas’ 11.7 scholarships, so he arrived in Fayetteville as — and still is — a walk-on.

Adversity to Stardom…Twice

That’s just what Peyton Holt did. Despite no assurances, he had a solid fall and made the Arkansas baseball team in 2023. However, there wasn’t really anywhere for him to play.

His natural spot was seemingly second base, but Peyton Stovall had that position locked down. Caleb Cali also locked down the starting job at third base, so his playing time was sparse for much of the season, even though he produced in limited opportunities.

Then, midway through the year, Stovall was shelved with a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. Holt slid into the role of starting second baseman and didn’t skip a beat.

For the season, he slashed .392/.489/.581 with eight extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 74 at bats. Holt was even better against SEC competition, helping the Razorbacks win the conference by going 15 for 34 (.441) and stealing five bases in his 13 appearances, which included nine starts.

One of the biggest questions over the offseason surrounded where he’d end up defensively. Van Horn told reporters that he’d be in the lineup somewhere, but described him as a utility guy who could play anywhere — an assessment echoed by his former teammate, Connor Noland.

“He’s a gamer, utility guy,” Noland said. “You can put him anywhere in the field. I’m sure he could probably play catcher if you really needed it. I wasn’t surprised at all. He’s always had that knack for stepping up in the big moments.”

Although he served as Arkansas’ emergency catcher when Parker Rowland missed the Georgia series with an injury last season, Holt didn’t have to worry about putting on catchers’ gear this offseason. Instead, he was viewed as the frontrunner to win the starting job at third base.

That looked like what was going to happen until a couple weeks before the season. Stovall suffered a broken foot in a scrimmage, so Holt slid over to second. That opened the door for Jared Sprague-Lott, who was initially believed to be a defensive wizard who would struggle at the plate.

What unfolded was the worst-case scenario for Holt, as Sprague-Lott emerged as one of the team’s best hitters and remained at third base even when Stovall returned from injury. Suddenly there was no where for Holt to go, just like last year.

He started only one SEC game over the first four weeks of the conference slate despite hitting .372 through early non-conference play. It would have been understandable if Holt pouted about the lack of playing time, but Van Horn praised him for his leadership and attitude during that stretch.

That could be written off as coach-speak, but Keith Holt said it was legitimate. It’s safe to say Peyton handled it much better than his parents.

“I can’t stress enough how, as a dad, I would call selfishly upset that, ‘Why aren’t you getting an opportunity?’” Keith Holt admitted. “Peyton’s like, ‘Dad, don’t worry about it. These guys are all good. I’ll get my time. Let’s just enjoy this and have fun.’

“He never once had a bad attitude. He calmed me down and I’m sure he calmed other people down, because he wasn’t worried about it. That was probably as a parent the proudest I’ve been was that his whole focus was being a great teammate, and he couldn’t care less about stats.”

Holt’s patience paid off when, midway through conference play, he was moved to the outfield. It was a move the Razorbacks had toyed with before, but didn’t deploy in a game until a midweek game against San Jose State on April 9. 

The move stuck. 

To say he’s adjusted nicely in his conversion from infield to outfield would be a massive understatement. Since then, the Greenwood native has been a walking highlight reel, even landing on the SEC All-Defensive Team as an outfielder with multiple starts in all three spots.

“We were just hoping that defensively in the outfield that he could make all the plays he’s supposed to make,” Van Horn said. “The great play, the superstar play, the over-the-head catches, those are just a plus for us. I don’t think I could have foreseen that.”

Whether it’s been spectacular diving catches on the warning track or throwing out runners on the base paths, Holt’s baseball IQ has been at the forefront of it all.

However, a major key to some of those plays might actually be his lack of knowledge and experience in the outfield.

“To me, part of him having some success was, he doesn’t really know how it works,” Keith Holt said. “He doesn’t know that some of those balls are not supposed to be caught. He thinks he’s supposed to catch everything. A real outfielder would’ve known to not dive on the warning track to go cut it off and take the bounce. He just thinks he’s supposed to catch everything.”

Of course, Holt has also continued being a contributor at the plate. Entering the NCAA Tournament, he’s slashing .309/.409/.468 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. His batting average isn’t nearly as high as last year, but he’s shown increased power and a knack for delivering in clutch situations.

He hit a go-ahead home run the inning before his “deke” play against Florida. Against Alabama, his ninth-inning blast forced extras. Holt’s two most recent home runs came at the SEC Tournament, when he almost single-handedly got Arkansas back into the game against Kentucky.

Beyond the web gems and bombs, though, Holt has been the heart and soul of the team that is trying to give the Arkansas baseball program its first national title.

Van Horn said he’s going to give you everything he’s got and that when you throw in his talent, “good things happen.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s living out a childhood dream of playing for his home state school.

“You can get somebody from out of state that has the heart and the desire that Peyton has, but maybe they don’t have the knowledge or the experience (or) have the luxury of growing up around it and (knowing) how important it is to a lot of people in the state,” Van Horn said. 

“So I think that’s the plus. He’s fun to be around and he brings a little extra excitement to the game, just because he wants to win so much for the Razorbacks.”


The Greenwood-to-Arkansas pipeline has been pretty good to the Hogs in recent years, even before Peyton Holt:


More coverage of Arkansas baseball, the NCAA Tournament and the Fayetteville Regional from BoAS… 

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