How the Sprague-Lott vs Holt Dilemma is Similar, Different from Other Recent DVH Decisions

Jared Sprague-Lott, Peyton Holt, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Baumology

FAYETTEVILLE — With one of the deepest rosters in the country, the hardest part of Dave Van Horn’s job as the Arkansas baseball coach these days involves personnel decisions made long before first pitch.

Whether it’s figuring out which pitchers to include on the 27-man roster for the weekend or just filling out the lineup from game to game, the veteran coach has to put more thought than usual into each of his choices.

Perhaps one of the most surprising of those through the first three weeks of SEC play has been the lack of playing time for Peyton Holt, who has started just one of nine conference games despite owning the second-best batting average on the team at .327.

Instead, Jared Sprague-Lott — the transfer from Richmond — has emerged as essentially the full-time starter at third base.

Speaking at the monthly Swatter’s Club meeting Monday afternoon, Van Horn provided some insight behind the decision — and his reasoning was about what you’d expect given other similar decisions he’s made in recent years.

“He’s a spark plug,” Van Horn said about Holt. “You’ll see him in the lineup tomorrow. Kind of a numbers game, really, and then a defensive thing because the other third baseman is really experienced, longer armed and defensively a little bit more advanced.”

That doesn’t mean Holt is a bad defender because he isn’t. He’s made his fair share of SportsCenter-worthy plays the last two years, especially last season when he took over for an injured Peyton Stovall.

The Greenwood native quickly became a fan favorite because of those defensive gems and his offensive production, as he ended up hitting .392 in 74 at bats.

However, Holt is a natural second baseman who was going to move to third base in order to get his bat in the lineup this year with Stovall back in the mix.

It hasn’t quite played out like that, though. Stovall broke his foot before the season and missed the first 12 games of the year, which moved Holt back to second and led to Sprague-Lott getting an opportunity as an everyday player.

Originally, Sprague-Lott was expected to be the top utility infielder capable of filling in virtually anywhere because of his glove, which Van Horn praised as one of the best on the team, but didn’t hit well enough in the preseason to truly challenge for a starting job. What actually unfolded early on was him committing several errors while also being the Razorbacks’ hottest hitter.

That has flipped back since then, as he’s played nearly flawless defense at third base and cooled off significantly at the plate. He’s just 5 for 29 (.172) in SEC play, resulting in his season average dropping from .381 to .296.

Van Horn sticking with him through those offensive struggles is consistent with what he’s done the last couple of years.

Last season, John Bolton was the starting shortstop despite struggling mightily at the plate (.182 in SEC play) because he was an excellent defender, while Harold Coll — the more offensive option — was relegated to the bench.

Two years ago, Zack Gregory emerged as the starting left fielder over the more heralded Jace Bohrofen, albeit for different reasons. Despite hitting just .212, Gregory initially won the job because of his knack for getting on base, but when that went away, he remained in the lineup down the stretch because the Razorbacks were rolling on their way to Omaha and Van Horn didn’t want to change anything up.

The logic from both of those situations could apply to Sprague-Lott and Holt, as Sprague-Lott has played tremendous defense at third base, his natural position, and the Razorbacks are 8-1 in SEC play for just the second time ever.

What’s working in Holt’s favor, though, is that he has much more of a proven track record at this point than Coll or even Bohrofen. His .392 batting average last season wasn’t inflated by non-conference cupcakes, as he actually hit .441 in 34 at bats against SEC competition, and he’s hitting .327 so far this year.

There’s a good chance he’ll get another opportunity beyond Tuesday’s midweek matchup with Arkansas State at some point over the final seven weeks of the regular season.

“I think he’s been great,” Van Horn said. “He’s been a great teammate. Real popular. … He’s going to do big things for our team this year. To me, it’s still early.”

Arkansas’ Midweek Starting Pitcher

Another decision Dave Van Horn has to make for Tuesday’s game is who to start on the mound.

A couple of weeks ago, it would have been an obvious answer because freshman left-hander Colin Fisher has been so good in that role for the Razorbacks.

However, after throwing 39 pitches across 2 2/3 innings in the series finale at Auburn, he wasn’t available to start the midweek game against Little Rock last Tuesday.

Instead, right-hander Ben Bybee made his season debut after missing the first part of the year recovering from mono. All he did was throw three nearly perfect innings, with his only blemish being a two-out single, while striking out five of the 10 batters he faced.

Bybee threw 49 pitches in that start, so Van Horn left him off the 27-man roster for the weekend. Fisher was available to pitch against LSU, but never did.

That made it a relatively easy decision to go with Fisher against Arkansas State, but Van Horn said Bybee would still pitch — just out of the bullpen instead of as the starter.

Those are just two of several pitchers he plans to throw against the Red Wolves, with right-hander Dylan Carter and left-hander Parker Coil being a couple others.

“I’d like to get a bunch of them work,” Van Horn said. “I know we probably won’t get to pitch them all. First we’ve got to try to win the game, but we also want to get some guys in if we can.”

How to Watch Arkansas vs Arkansas State

Date: Tuesday, April 2

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

First Pitch: 6 p.m. CT

TV/Stream: SEC Network-Plus

Dave Van Horn Interview

Check out what Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn had to say to reporters after Monday’s Swatter’s Club meeting…

YouTube video


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS… 

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