The landscape of college sports is changing at a rapid pace and baseball is no different, albeit a sport with very specific and unique issues.
On Wednesday, the Division I Council “endorsed” several recommendations — which are expected to be approved by the DI Board of Directors next month — from the Transformation Committee, the group formed last fall to help guide the NCAA through those changes and co-chaired by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio University athletics director Julie Cromer, who previously served as the interim AD at Arkansas.
Included among those potential rules is the creation of a transfer window for winter and spring sports.
Instead of the current July 1 deadline to enter the transfer portal and receive an automatic waiver for immediate eligibility at your new school, athletes would now have a 60-day timeframe beginning the day after NCAA Tournament selections are revealed to do so, essentially pushing the baseball deadline into late July.
Had the rule been in place this year, the last day to enter the portal would have been July 29. Next year, the deadline will be July 28 if the rule is officially passed.
As pointed out by D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers, this would actually be a good thing for college baseball players because rosters are in flux through the MLB Draft, which now takes place in mid-July — much to the chagrin of Dave Van Horn and other college coaches.
Until the draft passes, it’s hard to know exactly who is going to be on campus the next season because players expected to get drafted could return to school (much like Jalen Battles last year and Casey Opitz the year before that) or signees could unexpectedly make it to campus (much like Peyton Stovall last year).
It’s really not until the Aug. 1 signing deadline for draftees that things are officially ironed out, but the draft at least gives players a good idea of where they’ll likely stand on the depth chart, so an additional four or so weeks to make a decision would be ideal for student athletes.
Of course, nothing is ever that easy. College baseball coaches — like those in all other sports — are required to renew scholarships by July 1. Having the draft after that date already complicates things, but adding the potential for players to also transfer after that date would make it an even bigger mess.
One potential solution would be to move that deadline to Aug. 1, but Rogers noted that would be unlikely because it’d require the NCAA treating college baseball different than the rest of the sports.
Ultimately, the rule continues the NCAA’s trend of favoring student-athlete freedom over any issues that it may create for coaches like Van Horn and others in college baseball.
Here’s a rundown of Arkansas’ portal movement – both in and out – this offseason:
Arkansas Baseball’s Transfer Portal Additions
SS John Bolton — Austin Peay
A native of Memphis, Bolton began his college career at the junior college level. He hit .317 as a freshman at Hinds C.C. before getting off to a slow start at the plate (3 for 21) in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
However, the 5-foot-9, 179-pound infielder did enough his first year to earn an opportunity at the Division I level and transferred to Austin Peay. He ultimately started 36 games and made 15 more appearances as a junior and then started all 56 games as a senior. Bolton’s batting average jumped from .190 to .287 in his two years with the Governors and, even though he hit just one home run this season, he did have 18 doubles and went 11 for 14 on stolen base attempts.
Primarily a shortstop, Bolton did start a couple of games at second base this year. He’ll join several incoming junior college transfers and returning starter Peyton Stovall as players vying for a spot in Arkansas’ infield in 2023.
C Cal Kilgore — New Mexico State
Originally from the Kansas City area, Kilgore was ranked as the 174th-best catcher in the 2021 class coming out of Blue Valley Southwest High and signed with New Mexico State.
As a true freshman, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound catcher started 33 games for the Aggies, including both NCAA Tournament games. He slashed .250/.307/.337 in 92 at bats with eight extra-base hits (all doubles) and 11 RBIs. Kilgore also struck out 35 times with only seven walks. Defensively, he committed seven errors in 272 chances, giving him a .974 fielding percentage, plus allowed two passed balls and threw out 10 of 38 potential base stealers.
The Razorbacks have now brought in three transfer catchers for next season, as Kilgore joins Oklahoma transfer Hudson Polk and JUCO transfer Parker Rowland. They are the only catchers on the 2023 roster.
C Hudson Polk — Oklahoma
Ranked as the 65th-best catcher in the Class of 2020 coming out of Coppell, Texas, Polk was a lightly used catcher at Oklahoma over the last two years — including 2021, when he was a teammate of current Arkansas outfielder Jace Bohrofen. He appeared in just 16 games for the Sooners, including seven starts.
Most of that action came this season, when he made six starts for an Oklahoma team that finished runner-up at the College World Series. In limited action with the Sooners, he hit .318/.483/.636 with one home run and eight RBIs in 22 at bats. Last summer, Polk played in the Texas Collegiate League and slashed .272/.362/.383 in a larger sample size of 81 at bats. Defensively, he’s made just one error in 72 chances for a .986 fielding percentage at the collegiate level, but he’s also thrown out only one of nine potential base stealers.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, Polk fills a serious need for the Razorbacks. He joins incoming JUCO transfer Parker Rowland as the only two catchers currently on the roster for 2023.
LHP Julian Bosnic — South Carolina
Until he was sidelined by a flexor strain in his elbow suffered shortly before the start of the season, Bosnic was expected to be one of South Carolina’s top two weekend starters in 2022. The injury eventually required a “minor” surgery that kept him out the entire year.
It was a disappointing development for the left-hander, as he was coming off a really solid redshirt sophomore campaign in which he posted a 2.84 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 25 walks in 50 1/3 innings across 22 appearances – all but four of which were out of the bullpen. Opponents hit a minuscule .133 – and slugged just .181 – against Bosnic in 2021, leading to him being taken in the 16th round of the MLB Draft, but he opted to return to school. That was actually his third season in college. He redshirted as a true freshman because of Tommy John surgery and then threw 6 2/3 hitless and scoreless innings, albeit with eight walks, before the pandemic in 2020.
Assuming he’s fully healthy, Bosnic figures to be a key left-handed arm on Arkansas’ staff next season. The Razorbacks will almost certainly be replacing Evan Taylor, so there’s a chance he slots into his setup role, but considering it’s what he was expecting this year at South Carolina, he may also be yet another pitcher who competes for a spot in the starting rotation.
UPDATE: Bosnic was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 14th round of the 2022 MLB Draft. It seemed like he’d still make it to campus, but he ended up signing with the Pirates at the last second.
SS Jordan Sprinkle — UC-Santa Barbara
As the starting shortstop for a UC-Santa Barbara team that was in and out of the top 25 over the last two seasons, Sprinkle was a first-team All-Big West selection as a redshirt freshman last year and second-team pick this past season. He was also the Big West’s Co-Freshman Field Player of the Year in 2021, an honor he shared with projected first-round pick Brooks Lee.
Sprinkle picked up those accolades after slashing .353/.402/.536 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. His average and power dipped some this year, as he posted a .285/.381/.416 slash line, but he did more than double his number of walks (14 to 31). It’s also worth noting that he’s a prolific base stealer, leading the Big West by a wide margin each year, successfully swiping 51 bags in 65 attempts the last two seasons combined.
The Razorbacks are bringing in numerous infielders from the junior college ranks, but with his experience and production for a high-caliber Division I program, Sprinkle figures to be the frontrunner to replace Jalen Battles as their starting shortstop. However, as a third-year sophomore, he is eligible to be taken this month’s MLB Draft. Some experts tabbed him as a potential first-round pick before the season and, even with his dip in production, MLB Pipeline still has him at No. 140 on its list of the top 200 draft prospects.
UPDATE: Sprinkle was taken by the Chicago White Sox in the fourth round of the 2022 MLB Draft and signed for full slot value of $452,900.
INF/OF Tavian Josenberger — Kansas
A two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 selection in his only two years at Kansas, Josenberger is viewed by many as a legitimate prospect in the 2023 MLB Draft. In fact, entering last season, he was tabbed the 44th-best college prospect for his class by Baseball America.
That came after a breakout freshman campaign that saw him slash .316/.392/.413, tie the school record with a 24-game hitting streak and break the Big 12 record with a 6-for-6 performance against Oklahoma. Not surprisingly, he was named to the Big 12’s All-Freshman Team. The switch-hitting Kansas City native saw his production slip a bit as a sophomore, with his OPS dropping 62 points, but he still hit .276 and scored a team-high 43 runs. He also stole 11 bases each year.
Where exactly Josenberger ends up defensively remains to be seen. He was the Jayhawks’ center fielder in 2021, and that’s a position the Razorbacks definitely need to fill, but he was their starting second baseman this year.
RHP Koty Frank — Nebraska
Originally from Tushka, Okla., a tiny town with a population less than 400, Frank began his career as a walk-on at Eastern Oklahoma State C.C. and earned an opportunity to play at Nebraska – which he made the most of by going 8-1 in 27 appearances over the last two years.
In his first season with the Cornhuskers, Frank was a bullpen arm who had a 4.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 27 1/3 innings across 13 appearances. That included a solid 3 2/3-inning outing in which he retired the first 11 batters he faced against Northeastern in the 2021 Fayetteville Regional. He pitched again a couple days later against the Razorbacks and took the loss in the deciding game, as he walked a couple of guys before Charlie Welch’s famous eighth-inning home run. Frank was even better as a senior. Making seven starts and seven relief appearances, the right-hander posted a 3.81 ERA with 70 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 59 innings.
Although his velocity doesn’t blow you away, he has a four-pitch mix highlighted by a “slider-change” that might make you “fall out of your chair,” according to his JUCO pitching coach. Finding a spot in Arkansas’ starting rotation might be tough next year, but his arsenal – coupled with his ability to throw strikes – could make him a key bullpen arm in 2023.
OF Jared Wegner — Creighton
The pandemic and an injury severely limited him as a sophomore and junior, but Wegner finally got healthy this year and enjoyed a breakout senior season at Creighton. He was named first-team All-Big East after slashing .343/.459/.635.
Despite the Bluejays playing their home games at the spacious Charles Schwab Field, which is also the home of the College World Series, Wegner still hit a team-high 11 home runs in 49 games. He also led Creighton in RBIs (53) and stolen bases (11) while posting an impressive 1.094 OPS.
Wegner decided to use his extra year of eligibility by entering the portal and playing elsewhere, leading him to Arkansas. A corner outfielder for the Bluejays, he’ll fill a void in the Razorbacks’ outfield created by the departure of all three of their starters.
2022 Transfer Portal Departures
RHP Elijah Trest — undecided
Prior to the pandemic in 2020, it seemed like Trest was on his way to a breakout sophomore season, as he posted an impressive 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings and was tied for the team lead with seven appearances in 16 games.
He ended up being a solid, albeit sparsely used, arm as a junior with a 3.14 ERA in 14 1/3 innings and even got drafted in the 19th round by the Rockies. Instead of signing, though, Trest returned to school for his senior year.
Unfortunately for the White Oak, Texas, native, innings were once again hard to come by. That was likely due to his lack of command, which was evidenced by him averaging more than one free pass per inning (12 walks, 3 HBP in 14.1 IP). With one year of eligibility remaining because of the pandemic, Trest will finish his career elsewhere.
OF Zack Gregory — Grand Canyon
Perhaps the most notable portal entry of the offseason, Gregory was the Razorbacks’ primary starting left fielder this year. His departure likely means Arkansas will have just one of nine regulars returning from its lineup (Peyton Stovall).
A converted infielder, Gregory split time in left as a redshirt sophomore in 2021 and at the start of 2022 before winning the job outright thanks to his knack for getting on base.
Through the first 37 games of the season, he was one of the Razorbacks’ top offensive threats with a .296 batting average and 1.047 OPS. From that point on, though, he struggled mightily at the plate. Over the final 30 games, he went 7 for 65 (.108) with just one extra-base hit and struck out in 53.8% of his at bats. His .212 season batting average was the second-worst on the team this year, but his 16 HBPs tied for eighth on the UA single-season list.
He will continue his career with Grand Canyon, the program Arkansas beat in its first game of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at the Stillwater Regional.
C/OF Max Soliz Jr. — undecided
A hard-hitting freshman from Alabama, Soliz appeared in just five games this year, with his lone start coming against Illinois-Chicago in mid-March. He went 2 for 9 with a double, one RBI, one walk and four strikeouts.
Although he came to Arkansas as a catcher, he didn’t get any innings behind the plate defensively, instead serving as a designated hitter or playing right field in his limited action. He also didn’t catch much in practice, indicating he likely wouldn’t play the position in college. His departure was still significant, though, because it left the Razorbacks without a catcher on their 2023 roster for the time being.
RHP Gabriel Starks — undecided
Starks came to Arkansas as a raw, but talented, in-state prospect from Watson Chapel High. He didn’t pitch much as a true freshman, but flashed enough potential that the coaching staff kept him around for another year.
During his sophomore campaign this year, Starks got on the mound 12 times — half of which were in SEC play or the postseason — and posted a 4.63 ERA in 11 2/3 innings. He had 18 strikeouts and also held opponents to a .205 batting average. That showed Starks has good stuff, but he struggled to consistently throw the ball over the plate. His free passes (10 walks, two HBP) outnumbered his innings, plus he had three wild pitches.
RHP Heston Tole — Texas
Similar to Will McEntire this season, Tole didn’t even see the mound until about midway through 2021. Once he did, though, the freshman was very good. He posted an impressive 2.25 ERA with 20 strikeouts and only two walks in 12 innings across 10 appearances – seven of which were either in SEC play or the postseason.
Considering how well he pitched, it was widely expected he’d be a key arm for the Razorbacks as a sophomore, but that didn’t happen. Although he had a respectable 3.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts and only three walks in 14 1/3 innings, Tole was hit hard this year. After holding opponents to a .195 batting average without any extra-base hits last season, foes had a .339 batting average and .508 slugging percentage against him in 2022 – despite only one of his 10 appearances coming in SEC play.
Tole’s last appearance was on May 3, when he gave up two earned runs in 1/3 of an inning in a 6-4 loss to Missouri State. He made the travel roster for the postseason, but is now headed back to his home state to play for the Longhorns.
C Dylan Leach — Missouri
Taking the lead from Robert Moore, Leach opted to skip his senior year of high school to enroll at Arkansas early. He figured he’d be competing for the starting job at catcher, but Casey Opitz returned to school and he was instead the backup, slashing .257/.469/.439 with more walks (11) than strikeouts (9) in 35 at bats while starting 10 games.
With Opitz gone, Leach once again figured to battle for the No. 1 catcher spot, but the Razorbacks brought in Michael Turner as a graduate transfer and he won the job instead. He still got a little more playing time, though, and slashed .224/.297/.517 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 58 at bats while starting 16 games. One of the highlights of the season came in a midweek blowout of UCA, as Leach not only hit for the cycle, but homered twice – once each from both sides of the plate.
It didn’t take long for Leach to get snatched up by another SEC team, as he announced his transfer to Missouri just two days after he revealed he was entering the portal.
RHP Mark Adamiak — Missouri
After redshirting last season and then pitching in the Cape Cod League, Adamiak was mentioned as a potential weekend starter heading into 2022. The former Wichita State commit who flipped to Arkansas late in the process had touched 98 mph and was in the thick of the battle for the No. 3 spot in the rotation until taking a line drive off his leg in his final preseason scrimmage.
He did end up making three midweek starts, but was inconsistent on the mound despite all nine of his appearances coming in non-conference play. Adamiak posted a 3.95 ERA with 18 strikeouts and eight walks in 13 2/3 innings, plus opponents hit .264 against him.
Like Leach, Adamiak is staying in the SEC by transferring to Missouri, which is closer to his hometown of Shawnee, Kan.
UPDATE: Adamiak was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 15th round of the 2022 MLB Draft and signed a professional contract, so he won’t pitch for the Tigers after all.
RHP Evan Gray — St. Louis
A top-250 prospect coming out of high school, Gray never lived up to those accolades at Arkansas. He made just nine appearances in three seasons with the Razorbacks, including a redshirt in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The right-hander had a 5.06 ERA in 5 1/3 innings last year and, even though he retired five of the six batters he faced with three strikeouts, he didn’t pitch in a game after an April 3 outing against Mississippi State.
Gray is now heading closer to home, as St. Louis is just over the river from his hometown of Swansea, Ill.
INF Drake Varnado — Arizona State
Part of the Razorbacks’ heralded 2021 signing class, Varnado was the No. 93 overall recruit in the country, according to Perfect Game, and was even a 17th-round pick by the Diamondbacks coming out of high school. He turned down the pros to play at Arkansas, though.
Despite being a top prospect, Varnado had a tough time getting on the field. He started three midweek games and actually went 4 for 8 with four RBIs, but a lot of his 15 appearances were as a pinch runner. For the season, he went 4 for 17 (.235) with one double, four walks and seven strikeouts.
Even though he likely would have been part of the Razorbacks’ travel roster in the postseason, Varnado opted to enter the portal following the regular season and quickly landed at Arizona State.
RHP Vincent Trapani — Illinois-Chicago
Another member of that touted 2021 class, Trapani was the No. 128 overall recruit in the country, according to Perfect Game. Unfortunately, an injury forced him to redshirt this season and he decided to enter the portal. A native of Wisconsin, he has announced he’ll transfer closer to home by heading to Illinois-Chicago – a team the Razorbacks swept in four games during the 2022 season.
OF Gabe D’Arcy — San Diego
A former UCLA commit who flipped to Arkansas, D’Arcy – the No. 204 overall recruit in the 2021 class, according to Perfect Game – made the team out of the fall, but homesickness led to him leaving the team right before the start of the season. He was likely a redshirt candidate, which could have also played a role in his decision. D’Arcy is heading back to southern California to play at San Diego.
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