FAYETTEVILLE — With only two starters returning from last year’s College World Series team, Dave Van Horn entered the offseason looking for answers on how to fill out his lineup card for the 2023 Arkansas baseball season.
In addition to Peyton Stovall and Brady Slavens coming back, the Razorbacks returned a pair of key bench players and one redshirt, plus brought in five freshmen, five transfers and eight JUCO signees.
That meant Arkansas had a whopping 23 position players vying for just nine spots in the order, making for a highly competitive fall.
“I thought the competition was outstanding,” Van Horn said early last month. “Made for some really good practices and some very good scrimmages. Guys were getting after it. … What I saw is that the position players know that there’s a lot of spots open and they were fighting for them.”
Last year’s lineup was widely projected to be one of the best Van Horn has ever had from an offensive standpoint, but got off to a frustratingly slow start before finally heating up.
Even though it fell short of expectations, the Razorbacks still hit 106 home runs — three shy of tying the school record set a year earlier. The long ball has become a staple of Arkansas’ offense, as each of the last four full seasons rank in the top five in UA history — with the last three taking the top three spots.
Including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Arkansas has hit 422 home runs since 2018. That is the most in the country over that span and 32 more than the next-closest team in the SEC (Florida, 390).
The Razorbacks lost a lot of that pop to the MLB Draft and graduation, but they still showed an ability to hit the ball out of the park this fall. In 14 scrimmages — most of which were seven innings or less — attended by various members of the media, Arkansas hit 34 home runs. That is expected to carry over into the season, but Van Horn seemed to indicate that this year’s team shouldn’t be quite as reliant on the long ball.
“Offensively, the power is probably a little better than I thought it was going to be,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to hit some home runs, but I think what you’re going to see in this offense, they’re going to fight you pretty good. If the fall is any indication, we should be able to put together a pretty good lineup.”
As things currently stand, it seems like a handful of positions are still up for grabs. The left side of the infield, the two corner outfield spots and catcher could still be won by multiple players.
There’s a good chance that all of them get a shot early in the season and there could be shuffling throughout the year, but Van Horn traditionally settles on a starting nine sometime during SEC play, even if he tweaks the order here and there.
“It always works itself out because it’s a good mix of right- and left-handed hitters, so maybe you platoon,” Van Horn said. “I platoon a little bit early. I always tell the hitters, ‘You guys kind of write the lineup, and you show us who to play. We just put you in a certain order.’ I truly believe that.”
With that in mind, Best of Arkansas Sports took a shot at projecting the Arkansas baseball lineup for the Feb. 17 opener against Texas at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
We combined our own observations from the fall with comments by players and Van Horn, plus used our background knowledge of how he typically likes to construct a lineup, to come up with a 1-9 order…
Projecting the 2023 Arkansas Baseball Lineup
1. Tavian Josenberger — CF
S/R | Jr. | 6-0 | 185
Kansas City, Mo. / Park Hill HS (Kansas)
This is probably the easiest spot in the order to fill out. Not only did Tavian Josenberger establish himself as a starter with a strong showing this fall, but he is a prototypical leadoff man.
He has some pop in his bat, but the portal addition is just a solid overall hitter who has a knack for getting on base. He’s a switch-hitter who puts the ball in play, plus he can run and is willing to swipe a bag.
“Right now, Tavian’s definitely a starter,” Dave Van Horn said. “He had a great fall. Top of the order guy, switch hitter, can bunt, handle the bat a little bit (and) he’s got a little feel for stealing.”
Even though it was with a Kansas program that doesn’t win a lot, Josenberger comes to Fayetteville after two seasons in the Big 12.
He was great as a freshman, hitting .316 with 31 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. That landed him on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and caught the attention of scouts, as he entered his sophomore campaign as a top-100 draft prospect for his class. Unfortunately, Josenberger played much of last season with a back injury, which is believed to have contributed to his batting average dropping 40 points as a sophomore.
Even once he got to Fayetteville, the issue lingered. When he finally got healthy, Josenberger looked like his former self again and beat out heralded freshman Mason Neville for the starting job in center. He actually posted a team-high 1.306 OPS, according to the media’s unofficial statistics, and emerged as a key locker room guy, as well.
“He’s a little bit of an emotional leader for us, too,” Van Horn said. “I can tell the guys kind of gravitate to him and they respect him and he’s into it. We need a little bit of that.”
2. Peyton Stovall — 2B
L/R | So. | 5-11 | 190
Haughton, La. / Haughton HS
One of only two returning starters from last year’s team, there’s no question that Peyton Stovall will be an Opening Day starter for Arkansas baseball. He turned down a lot of money to come to college and had quite a bit of hype as a freshman.
The season probably didn’t go as well as he had hoped, struggling at the plate and battling an injury, but Stovall ended the year on a tear, hitting .429 in the postseason — and that included going 0 for 9 in the last two games. Before that, he was hitting .525 across nine NCAA Tournament games.
The Razorbacks are optimistic that was a sign of things to come for the potential future first-round draft pick. He’ll likely be somewhere in the top part of the order and we’ve slotted him second because that’s where he was last year when he got hot and Van Horn typically sticks with things when they’re working. Plus, he has started putting his best hitter in the 2-hole a lot more in recent years and Stovall is a prime candidate to have that title.
A change fans will see, however, is where the Louisiana native lines up defensively. Stovall was a first baseman out of necessity last season and actually handled the position really well despite being new to it. With Robert Moore moving on to the professional ranks, he’ll slide over to his more natural position: second base.
“He’s a really good second baseman,” Van Horn said. “You guys are going to get to see that. Now that he’s getting everyday reps there, turning the double play, fielding the ball, he’s really good. We’ll be in good shape there.”
3. Jared Wegner — LF
R/R | Gr. | 6-0 | 210
Kearney, Neb. / Kearney HS (Creighton)
A transfer from Creighton, Jared Wegner was the first portal pickup of the offseason for Arkansas. In fact, he announced his commitment to the Razorbacks before the super regionals.
The corner outfielder battled injuries for most of his career, but got healthy as a senior and earned first-team All-Big East honors after hitting .343 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 49 games. Much like catcher Michael Turner last summer, Dave Van Horn was surprised to get a player of his caliber to campus.
“I don’t know why somebody didn’t draft him in 20 rounds,” Van Horn said. “Last year was his first year to play healthy at Creighton and he had a tremendous year. I think getting him through was really big, especially at that position in the outfield. He’s a middle of the order type hitter.”
Wegner’s hot bat followed him to Fayetteville and Van Horn singled him out as an early standout, telling reporters that he was “tearing it up” at the start of fall. Unfortunately, he suffered an oblique injury that caused him to miss some time and he cooled off a bit upon his return.
Van Horn didn’t sound too concerned about it, though, and has referred to him as a starter. It’s not too much of a stretch to think he could have an impact similar to Wake Forest transfer Chris Lanzilli, who quietly led the team with a .326 batting average and slashed an impressive .326/.424/.513.
4. Brady Slavens — 1B
L/R | Sr. | 6-3 | 205
Olathe, Kan. / Olathe Northwest HS (Wichita State/Johnson County C.C.)
Perhaps the most surprising development for Arkansas baseball this summer was the return of Brady Slavens. It was widely expected he would get drafted and begin his professional career, but instead, he’ll play as a rare super senior in 2023.
One reason he likely slipped in the MLB Draft and didn’t get offered what he had hoped was because he was dealing with a lingering elbow injury that required offseason surgery.
It was a successful surgery and Slavens now seems to be primed to remind everyone what he’s capable of — all while going back to the position he played in 2021.
“I think Brady’s in a really good place,” Van Horn said. “He feels good about being here. He’s excited about playing first base. He’s excited about getting on the field instead of DHing all the time like last year because of the elbow.”
The aforementioned surgery kept Slavens out of fall ball, but he was able to take batting practice before the final Fall World Series game and had also started to throw some when Van Horn last met with reporters.
Now that he’s seen the quality of hitters around him in the lineup, the hope is that Slavens won’t feel as much pressure as last year. Van Horn said he wants him to have fun again rather than trying to hit a three-run home run every other at bat.
The Razorbacks have also been working with him on going the other way instead of pulling everything. Slavens did that down the stretch, including on his walk-off single in the Chapel Hill Super Regional that sent Arkansas to Omaha.
5. Caleb Cali — DH (R)
R/R | R-Jr. | 6-3 | 225
Montverde, Fla. / Montverde Academy (Florida State/Hillsborough C.C./College of Central Florida)
One of several junior college players the Arkansas baseball team brought in this offseason, Caleb Cali began his career at Florida State before stints at two different JUCOs.
A third baseman by trade, Cali has “really soft hands” and a good arm, but Dave Van Horn said he sometimes relies on those hands too much instead of solid footwork. Because of that, he’s just a “good” third baseman — compared to being a “great” first baseman.
If Brady Slavens isn’t fully cleared and ready to go on Opening Day, it’s likely that Cali would fill his spot at first base, but Van Horn said the goal is to coach him up and make him “great” in the hot corner.
Regardless of where he ends up defensively, Cali will be in the lineup because of his bat. He was one of the Razorbacks’ most consistent hitters this fall with a team-high .419 batting average and 16 RBIs. He also hit four home runs, which was tied for the team lead.
“He didn’t finish probably the way he would have liked to, but he made an impression on our team in some rankings,” Van Horn said. “We have all the kids fill out forms at the end of the year and they rank them, and he was one of the top hitters. Got some power, he’ll fight you, he knows the strike zone pretty good.”
As much power as he has and as solid as he is with the bat, Cali would be a strong candidate to hit cleanup, or higher in the lineup, but we slotted him in the 5 hole to preserve the alternating left- and right-handed hitters that Van Horn likes to have when possible.
6. Jace Bohrofen — RF (L)
L/R | Jr. | 6-2 | 200
Oklahoma City, Okla. / Westmoore HS (Oklahoma)
When he transferred to Arkansas from Oklahoma last offseason, many penciled Jace Bohrofen into the starting lineup. However, he ended up starting only 24 games.
Bohrofen got off to an ice-cold start, going hitless in his first 17 at bats, before finally breaking out the third weekend of the season. Unfortunately, just as he was turning the corner, he suffered a freak injury when he crashed into the wall during pregame warmups.
That caused him to miss three weeks and when he returned, he split time in left field with Zack Gregory, who eventually took over as the primary starter late in the season.
A former top-50 recruit, according to Perfect Game, Bohrofen has a ton of potential and has flashed it some in the Cape Cod League. Once again, though, an injury prevented him from playing full time.
His knees were still bothering him early in fall ball, but Bohrofen eventually got it going and hit .300 with a couple of home runs with 15 RBIs in the scrimmages attended by reporters.
“If we can get a healthy Jace Bohrofen for one year, I think there would be a lot of pro interest in him,” Van Horn said. “(He’s a) left-handed hitter with power, but he’s got to stay healthy and he’s got a lot of competition, but that’s our plan, is for him to be out there.”
7. Harold Coll — SS (R)
R/R | Jr. | 5-11 | 185
Boston, Mass. / Georgia Premier Academy (San Jacinto J.C.)
When asked about positions still up for grabs when the Razorbacks return from Christmas break, shortstop was the first one mentioned by Dave Van Horn.
It likely would have been Jordan Sprinkle’s spot, but the UC-Santa Barbara transfer got drafted and opted to sign professionally instead of coming to Fayetteville.
There was also a concern that Arkansas might lose JUCO signee Harold Coll to the MLB Draft, but he made it to campus and was the presumed frontrunner to start at shortstop. After all, he was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school, originally signed with North Carolina and then was a standout at San Jacinto J.C., a powerhouse at the junior college level.
However, Coll finds himself in a battle with John Bolton, a transfer from Austin Peay in his final season of eligibility. In an upset, Bolton actually had the edge for the starting shortstop job at the midway point of fall ball — but Coll didn’t pout about it.
“I thought he did a great job of not getting all uptight or dropping his head, pouting or ‘what about me?’” Van Horn said. “I mean, he just came out and worked. I really appreciated the maturity there.”
It wasn’t reflected in his numbers from the fall because he had a bit of bad luck, but Coll swung the bat much better than Bolton. He hit the ball hard right at people, while Bolton had singles that managed to find holes when he didn’t strike out.
Coll has way more power and can hit to all fields, making him the better offensive threat. His issue was inconsistency in the field, which is a problem at that spot because Van Horn has always placed a premium on defense with his shortstops.
“He’s got a really good arm when he wants to throw it, and he’s a good hitter,” Van Horn said. “If you’re talking Bolton, and you’re just talking offense or defense, I’m going to go with Harold on the offensive part, but the defense was a little better the other way. It was good to see the toughness come out, the competitor come out in him, and I think at the end of fall he closed that gap.”
8. Hudson Polk — C (R)
R/R | Jr. | 6-1 | 210
Coppell, Texas / Coppell HS (Oklahoma)
There was a moment this summer when there wasn’t a single catcher on the Arkansas baseball roster. Michael Turner was out of eligibility and got taken in the MLB Draft, while backups Dylan Leach and Max Soliz Jr. transferred out.
Dave Van Horn eventually brought in three and two have separated themselves as the primary contenders, with Oklahoma transfer Hudson Polk and JUCO transfer Parker Rowland (who began his career at Arkansas State) moving ahead of New Mexico State transfer Cal Kilgore.
“I think that we’ve got a good mix there,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got a switch-hitter and a right-handed hitter. They both have a little bit of experience back there and they’re both strong. I thought for the most part, the catching position was hopefully solved.”
Neither guy has much playing experience at the Division I level. Polk was a backup on Oklahoma’s national runner-up team, while Rowland put up big numbers in junior college after starting only 18 games in two years with the Red Wolves.
In his assessment of them since joining the Razorbacks, Van Horn said Polk was “really consistent all fall defensively” with some “good moments at the plate,” while Rowland was “pretty consistent” with the bat, but not as much with the glove.
At catcher — more so than any other position — Van Horn values what a player brings to the table defensively, so that’s why we gave Polk the edge. He also has the intangibles Van Horn looks for at the position.
“You can really see the leadership abilities there,” Van Horn said after the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage against the Texas Rangers’ instructional league team. “He takes control of the game. We didn’t call one pitch — well, maybe a couple, I guess we did late — but other than that, he called every pitch and was solid. His blocking was outstanding.”
9. Kendall Diggs — 3B (L)
L/R | So. | 6-0 | 205
Olathe, Kan. / St. Thomas Aquinas HS
Another spot seemingly still up for grabs is third base. There are several guys vying for the spot, including Kendall Diggs, Jayson Jones, Caleb Cali and even Reese Robinett.
With Cali slotted at DH, we’re giving the nod to Diggs because he’s the most veteran option and Van Horn really likes what he brings to the table offensively.
The longtime Arkansas baseball coach has also said he’s expecting him to make a big jump from last season, when he was a key bench contributor who delivered in some huge moments — most notably with a walk-off home run to beat Ole Miss.
Diggs, who dealt with a groin injury late in the fall, is a really patient hitter who has shown a knack for fouling off a lot of pitches and being a tough out. That makes him a perfect candidate for the 9 hole because Van Horn treats it as sort of a second leadoff spot and Diggs is a solid hitter capable of turning the lineup over.
The two corner infield spots are Diggs’ best positions defensively right now, but he may end up as a corner outfielder at the next level, so he’ll get some more work there when the team reconvenes next month.
But it’s not the glove that will keep Diggs on the field — it’s his smooth left-handed swing, which Van Horn said he needs to find a way to get in the lineup.
“Right now it is all about the bat,” Van Horn said. “I think professionally they are going to put him in left field and right field and just say, ‘Swing that left-handed bat.’ He’s got a long way to go in the outfield and he knows it, but he hasn’t put in much time there.”
Key Bench Players for Arkansas Baseball in 2023
INF Reese Robinett — Fr. | 6-3 | 220 | L/R
OF Mason Neville — Fr. | 6-3 | 200 | L/L
INF Jayson Jones — Fr. | 6-2 | 225 | R/R
INF Ben McLaughlin — Jr. | 6-3 | 200 | L/R
C Parker Rowland — Sr. | 6-3 | 215 | S/R
INF John Bolton — Gr. | 5-10 | 175 | R/R
In recent years, Dave Van Horn has typically only used 4-5 players off the bench on a consistent basis. That number is usually influenced by injuries, so it’s hard to predict. However, the six guys listed above appear to be the top candidates.
The most surprising guy on that list is probably infielder Reese Robinett, an unheralded freshman from Kennett, Mo., who is nicknamed “Big Country” by his teammates.
Throughout the recruiting process, the book on Robinett was that he could really hit, Van Horn said, and he showed that this fall. He struck out a good bit, but also hit .375 with four home runs. His .844 slugging percentage was the best mark on the team.
Robinett was a third baseman in high school, but has also played some first base since arriving in Fayetteville. He could be a left-handed bat in pinch-hit situations, too.
“We’re playing (him) in both spots, but the bat the second half (of fall) was really good, and he proved that he can hit some good pitching,” Van Horn said. “He uses the whole field. He’s got a good swing for a big guy. It’s short and powerful, and I think he’s got a bright future here.”
He may have been the most impressive freshman hitter of the fall, which is surprising because the Razorbacks got both Jayson Jones and Mason Neville to campus.
Jones was the No. 35 overall recruit in the 2022 class, according to Perfect Game, and has a ton of “raw power,” Van Horn said. That was evident when he crushed a 450-foot home run with a 117 mph edit velocity in one of the scrimmages.
Neville was the No. 86 overall recruit and actually got selected by the Reds in the 18th round of the MLB Draft, but chose to still come to Fayetteville. He started out on fire, hitting a home run and triple on the first weekend of fall scrimmages, but then cooled off significantly — which isn’t uncommon, even for the most talented of freshmen.
“He had a stretch in there where he struck out seven times in a row and he was kind of like ‘Wow, this is hard here,’ and finally got him a hit, we all clapped for him, and I think he relaxed a little bit,” Van Horn said. “I mean, Cayden Wallace had the same thing happen to him his freshman year as well, so he’s a good player.”
Another name to keep in mind is Ben McLaughlin, another junior college transfer. He played first and third base throughout the fall and hit four home runs.
“He’s got a good swing, flat swing,” Van Horn said. “I just think that he’s a left-handed hitter that can play some first, he can DH (and) I think he could even pinch hit. He’s got a good makeup about him where he doesn’t get all worked up about things.”
When he met with reporters last month, Van Horn also dropped an interesting nugget: McLaughlin is also a talented pitcher who’s now 1.5 years removed from Tommy John surgery. He may get a look on the mound when the Razorbacks return to campus.
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