FAYETTEVILLE — A pair of intrasquad scrimmages over the weekend marked the start of fall ball for Arkansas baseball.
The Razorbacks played five innings Friday and Sunday in their first action inside Baum-Walker Stadium since being eliminated from the 2023 NCAA Tournament by TCU.
This squad looks much different than that one, though. The 47-man fall roster — which can be found below — includes a whopping 24 newcomers. That number consists of freshmen (14) and transfers (10).
Best of Arkansas Sports made it out to the ballpark for the opening scrimmage Friday afternoon and also acquired statistics from Sunday’s scrimmage despite not physically being present.
Here are a few takeaways from what we saw Friday, plus some comments from head coach Dave Van Horn…
Solid Defense for Day 1
The very first at bat of fall was a blooper by Jayson Jones down the left field line that looked like it was going to get down for a hit and probably result in extra bases. However, sophomore Reese Robinett raced back from his third base position and snagged it with his back to the plate for a sensational catch.
That set the tone for what was a really solid day in the field for Arkansas. There was just one error and it came on a failed pickoff attempt by freshman left-hander Jack Smith. Other than that, it was really clean.
A play in the fourth inning was the best example of that. Missouri transfer Ty Wilmsmeyer couldn’t quite make a diving catch on the warning track in right-center to rob Peyton Holt of a double, but recovered quickly to get the ball in to Richmond transfer Jared Sprague-Lott at second base. He then fired a perfect relay throw to the plate, forcing Wehiwa Aloy to retreat to third base, but catcher Hudson White threw to Robinett who made the tag to complete what was an 8-4-2-5 putout.
Robinett also made a heads-up play by throwing home on a soft ground ball with the bases loaded and only one out, preserving his team’s 2-1 lead in what was the final inning of the scrimmage. It was even more impressive considering Dave Van Horn said he hadn’t been taking ground balls at third base and will likely be a first baseman.
Kansas transfer Stone Hewlett, a left-hander, picked off Hudson White, as well, with first baseman Ben McLaughlin making an accurate throw to Aloy covering the bag to complete the out.
“I thought we played extremely good baseball for the first time out,” Van Horn said. “I mean, hit the cutoff man, relayed to the plate. We handled the ball on a pickoff play and got a guy out. Just the little things. Pitchers threw strikes, we fielded the ball. … It was kind of fun to watch it.”
Pair of Hawaiians Battling at Shortstop
The Razorbacks have two players from Hawaii on this year’s team and both of them are infielders and competing for the starting shortstop position.
Sophomore Wehiwa Aloy is probably the frontrunner as a heralded transfer from Sacramento State, but freshman Nolan Souza is a top-100 recruit who was personally recommended to Dave Van Horn by former Arkansas infielder Rick Nomura, another Hawaii native.
Even though he committed 17 errors and had a .928 fielding percentage as a freshman, Aloy’s defense was praised by Van Horn on Friday. The veteran coach said he has a very accurate arm and is actually stronger than Jalen Battles was at this point in his career.
His power was on display in the scrimmage, as he ripped a single into left field that had a 110 mph exit velocity.
“He had a 110 exit veto and had top spin on it,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t square it up. It’s fun to watch.”
Van Horn also said that Souza “has a chance to be special” and could have made a lot of money had he wanted to go pro straight out of high school instead of come to school. He’s lived up to the hype and then some so far.
“He’s a better defender than I thought I was getting right out of high school,” Van Horn said. “I’ve seen all the videos, we’ve seen him play in person, but when he got here, he just seems like he feels like he belongs. It’s exciting for me as a coach to see freshmen I think have a chance to play a lot, play a lot every day and physically be able to handle it.”
Lofty Comparison for Freshman Catcher
One of the more intriguing position battles for Arkansas baseball this fall is at catcher. Even though last season’s top two guys — Parker Rowland and Hudson Polk — are back, two newcomers are also firmly in the mix and started behind the plate Friday.
Texas Tech transfer Hudson White is a heralded prospect for next summer’s MLB Draft and a proven bat in high-major college baseball, but Van Horn admitted after the scrimmage that he still has some work to do defensively.
He is likely the starter at this point, especially if he can make the defensive improvements the Razorbacks are expecting of him, but freshman Ryder Helfrick shouldn’t be discounted either.
At No. 46 overall, he is Arkansas’ highest-ranked recruit on Perfect Game to make it to campus this year. In a small sample size, Helfrick hit well in the California Collegiate League this summer, and then he crushed a home run with a 111 mph exit velocity in Sunday’s scrimmage.
As is the case for most young catchers, the biggest question is whether or not he can handle the position defensively and the early returns on that are encouraging. Van Horn said he’s been impressed with how well he’s handled the Razorbacks’ talented pitching staff — which has numerous arms that throw in the upper-90s — in bullpen sessions, even if the lighting isn’t perfect.
“He’s catching pitches that’ll normally hurt somebody (and) he’s making it look easy,” Van Horn said. “He’s strong with really good hands. I see a little bit of James McCann in him as a freshman, as far as receiving, and that’s a huge compliment to him.”
Helfrick is also extremely athletic. In Friday’s scrimmage, he nearly beat out an infield single and Van Horn said he was clocked at about 4.3 seconds from home to first — a really good time for a big guy (6-1, 200) who’s been squatting behind the dish.
An Electric Freshman
The first freshman to see the mound in a scrimmage this fall was right-hander Gabe Gaeckle, who was a top-100 recruit who easily could have signed professionally out of high school.
He faced four batters in his lone inning of work, including a strikeout of Hunter Grimes, and topped out at 97 mph despite it being his first live action of the fall.
“Gaeckle was nervous for some reason (and) still threw the ball 97 mph,” Van Horn said. “That’s probably the worst he’s been since he’s been here. He’s been electric.”
The California native also induced a ground out by Helfrick and got Ben McLaughlin to pop out. The only batter he failed to retire was Jayson Jones, who made him pay for throwing a 96 mph fastball in a 3-1 count by crushing it 387 feet for an opposite-field home run.
“He knew exactly what he was getting,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know why the pitcher, it was Gaeckle, threw three breaking balls in a row after throwing a strike. All of a sudden it’s 3-1 and everybody in this stadium knew he was getting a fastball, including Jones, and he hit it 102 or 103 mph off the (building).”
Arkansas Baseball Injury Updates
One player noticeably absent from either lineup Friday afternoon was Eastern Illinois transfer Lincoln Riley.
He is expected to compete for a spot in the outfield, potentially in center, but he’s dealing with a shoulder strain suffered in the final game of last season.
“First few drills of our skill workout here, it started bothering him again,” Van Horn said. “We’re not going to let him throw or swing the bat for a while. Maybe late October and the offseason he gets to go and then we’ll see what happens in January, February.”
As expected, second baseman Peyton Stovall (shoulder) is still not participating in drills with the team, but Van Horn said he’s getting closer and could be just a couple weeks away from beginning to throw again, as he recently had an encouraging appointment with his doctor.
“They told him they felt he was ahead of schedule,” Van Horn said. “He’s been working hard on his body. He’s been working hard in that training room every day doing all the exercises. He sees what’s going on out here and I think he’s anxious to get back out.”
Van Horn remains confident that he’ll be able to play second base in 2024 despite labrum surgery being what forced Trevor Ezell to move from second to first base in his lone season at Arkansas.
Also, shortly before the scrimmage, right-hander Dylan Carter sent a cryptic tweet that read “1 week.” He is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he had in early May, which was believed to not only end his 2023 season early, but also make it nearly impossible for him to return in 2024.
However, it seems like there’s a chance he could get back on the mound sooner than expected.
“He’s way ahead of schedule just because of his work ethic and I think everything is healing maybe as good or better than they thought,” Van Horn said. “It’s just a waiting game on that. I don’t see him doing anything for us at the beginning of the season, but maybe before it’s over.”
Arkansas Baseball Scrimmage Box Score (Sept. 8)
2023 Fall Roster for Arkansas Baseball
|No.||Player||Pos.||Yr.||Ht.||Wt.||B/T||Hometown / High School / Previous School|
|1||Ty Wilmsmeyer||OF||Grad.||6-2||185||R/R||Springfield, Mo. / Glendale HS / Missouri|
|3||Nolan Souza||INF||Fr.||6-3||210||L/R||Honolulu, Hawaii / Punahou HS|
|4||Jack Wagner||INF/OF||Grad.||6-0||200||R/R||Wichita, Kan. / Maize South HS / Kansas / Tarleton State|
|5||Kendall Diggs||OF||Jr.||6-0||205||L/R||Olathe, Kan. / Saint Thomas Aquinas HS|
|6||Ben McLaughlin||INF||Sr.||6-3||215||L/R||Golden, Colo. / Golden HS / Hutchinson CC|
|8||Hudson White||C||Jr.||6-1||200||R/R||Keller, Texas / Byron Nelson HS / Texas Tech|
|9||Wehiwa Aloy||INF||So.||6-2||200||R/R||Wailuku, Hawaii / Baldwin HS / Sacramento State|
|10||Peyton Stovall||INF||Jr.||5-11||190||L/R||Haughton, La. / Haughton HS|
|11||Jaewoo Cho||RHP||Fr.||6-3||200||R/R||Seoul, South Korea / IMG Academy|
|12||Jared Sprague-Lott||INF||Sr.||6-0||190||R/R||Philadelphia, Pa. / Springside Chestnut Hill HS / Richmond|
|13||Jayson Jones||INF||So.||6-2||220||R/R||Savannah, Texas / Braswell HS|
|14||Ross Lovich||OF||Sr.||6-0||185||L/L||Overland Park, Kan. / Blue Valley West HS / Missouri|
|15||Lincoln Riley||OF||Grad.||5-10||190||R/R||Cedar Rapids, Iowa / Cedar Rapids Washington HS / Southeastern CC / Eastern Illinois|
|16||Hudson Polk||C||Sr.||6-1||210||R/R||Coppell, Texas / Coppell HS / Oklahoma|
|17||Hunter Grimes||OF||R-Sr.||6-1||185||R/R||Kerrville, Texas / Tivy HS / UTSA / McLennan CC|
|18||Reese Robinett||INF||So.||6-3||215||L/R||Kennett, Mo. / Kennett HS|
|19||Will Edmunson||OF||Jr.||6-1||200||R/R||Luther, Okla. / Homeschool / Hutchinson CC|
|20||Gabe Gaeckle||RHP||Fr.||6-0||190||R/R||Aptos, Calif. / Aptos HS|
|21||Mason Molina||LHP||Jr.||6-2||225||R/L||Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. / Trabuco Hills HS / Texas Tech|
|22||Ty Waid||C/INF||Fr.||6-2||225||R/R||Texarkana, Ark. / Arkansas HS|
|24||Peyton Holt||INF/OF||Sr.||5-10||205||R/R||Greenwood, Ark. / Greenwood HS / Crowder College|
|25||Brady Tygart||RHP||Jr.||6-2||215||R/R||Hernando, Miss. / Lewisburg HS|
|26||Tate McGuire||RHP||Fr.||6-3||210||R/R||Liberty, Mo. / Liberty North HS|
|27||Ryder Helfrick||C||Fr.||6-1||200||R/R||Discovery Bay, Calif. / Clayton Valley Charter HS|
|28||Koty Frank||RHP||Grad.||6-2||220||R/R||Tushka, Okla. / Tushka HS / Eastern Oklahoma State College / Nebraska|
|29||Austin Ledbetter||RHP||Jr.||6-1||200||R/R||Bryant, Ark. / Bryant HS|
|31||Dylan Carter||RHP||R-Jr.||6-2||205||R/R||Bentonville, Ark. / Bentonville West HS / Crowder College|
|32||Hunter Dietz||LHP||Fr.||6-6||230||R/L||Trinity, Fla. / Calvary Christian HS|
|33||Hagen Smith||LHP||Jr.||6-3||225||L/L||Bullard, Texas / Bullard HS|
|34||Diego Ramos||RHP||Fr.||6-3||195||S/L||Vian, Okla. / Vian HS|
|35||Jordan Huskey||LHP||R-Fr.||5-11||190||L/L||Quitman, Ark. / Greenbrier HS|
|36||Parker Coil||LHP||So.||6-3||190||R/L||Edmond, Okla. / Edmond Memorial HS|
|37||Jake Faherty||RHP||Jr.||6-3||185||R/R||Georgetown, Ky. / Great Crossing HS|
|38||Colin Fisher||LHP||Fr.||6-3||215||L/L||Noble, Okla. / Noble HS|
|39||Tucker Holland||LHP||Fr.||6-6||235||R/L||Fayetteville, N.C. / The Burlington School|
|40||Ben Bybee||RHP||So.||6-6||230||R/R||Overland Park, Kan. / Blue Valley Southwest HS|
|41||Will McEntire||RHP||R-Sr.||6-4||225||L/R||Bryant, Ark. / Bryant HS|
|43||Kade Smith||INF/OF/RHP||Fr.||6-0||200||R/R||Searcy, Ark. / Harding Academy|
|44||Parker Rowland||C||Sr.||6-3||215||S/R||Tulsa, Okla. / Bishop Kelley HS / Arkansas State / Eastern Oklahoma State College|
|45||Gage Wood||RHP||So.||6-0||205||R/R||Batesville, Ark. / Batesville HS|
|46||Christian Foutch||RHP||So.||6-3||230||R/R||Littleton, Colo. / Chatfield HS|
|48||Cooper Dossett||RHP||So.||6-0||190||R/R||Springdale, Ark. / Har-Ber HS|
|49||Stone Hewlett||LHP||Sr.||6-1||195||L/L||Leawood, Kan. / Rockhurst HS / Kansas|
|51||Jack Smith||LHP||Fr.||6-4||220||L/L||Moulton, Ala. / Hartselle HS|
|52||Jonah Conradt||RHP||Fr.||6-3||175||R/R||Greenville, Wisc. / P27 Academy|
|55||Josh Hyneman||RHP||R-Fr.||6-4||245||R/R||Jonesboro, Ark. / Jonesboro HS|
|61||Adam Hachman||LHP||Fr.||6-5||230||L/L||Wentzville, Mo. / Timberland HS|
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…