Defensive standout Jalen Battles, one of the more electrifying shortstops to ever suit up for Arkansas baseball, is back for his senior campaign in 2022. As a starter, his presence will have a major impact on the Razorbacks’ defense. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the San Antonio native since the end of a successful junior season, however. He’s had to work hard to recover from a labrum injury that required surgery in August. The surgery kept him out of fall baseball activities, including all fall scrimmage games.
In 2021, Jalen Battles hit .269 with six home runs and 43 RBIs in a team-high 61 games. While those numbers don’t pop off the pages, he played his best when the Hogs needed it, being named the SEC Tournament MVP and making the Regional All-Tournament team. He also blasted a moonshot to win a game at Louisiana Tech in the 10th inning.
In that tournament, Battles hit 7-13 with five RBIs. He followed that up with seven runs in the Fayetteville Regional.
In 2022, Jalen Battles will have what he lacked at the start of the 2021 season – experience against SEC pitching. With a stacked Arkansas baseball lineup, Battles will likely spend most of his time near the bottom of the lineup again this year but he could step up his offense.
In one of the first spring scrimmages, he hit in the two-hole between Peyton Stovall and Robert Moore. In the first spring scrimmage, Battles went 2-4 at the plate with four RBIs and a walk. Overall, in four scrimmages, Battles batted .308 with four hits and 6 RBIs.
Dave Van Horn on Jalen Battles’ Improvement
“As far as offensively, from what I’ve seen he’s a lot better,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said in a recent press conference. “We were disappointed that we didn’t get to coach him a whole lot in fall because we felt like if he could take one more step with the bat, he could be a force. Because he was one of our better hitters down the stretch. The first half of the season, not so much, here and there, big home run against Louisiana Tech, won us that extra inning game, so big hits but not a lot of hits. Different player now.”
Van Horn also explained that Battles has gotten a lot stronger in his lower half from rehab and not using his upper body as much. That should help increase his power numbers.
The 6’2″, 210 pounder’s hitting may go under the radar but he is an important piece to the lineup. Battles has a knack for timely hitting and this lineup should create plenty of opportunities for him to clean up the bases from the bottom of the order. Look for him to hit .280 with 50 RBIs in 2022.
The San Antonio product, who went to the same school as Van Horn in McLennan Community College, is good with a glove, but has room to improve as well. He had 11 errors in 2021 with his .956 fielding percentage. Most of his errors seemed to be mental lapses and being too casual on routine ground balls, so with a little more experience under his belt his defense should be even more refined.
Battles is no stranger to a highlight either. As you can see below, he recorded a diving stop against Tennessee in the SEC tournament to rob the Volunteers of a hit.
In 2021, Battles routinely made difficult plays look easy but his fielding should be even better in 2022. He and second baseman Robert Moore give the Razorbacks a dangerously talented middle infield.
“It’s fun playing with Robert,” Jalen Battles said in an interview over the summer. “I trust him, he trusts me. I know whenever there’s a ball hit to either one of us, we’re going to make the play. I’d say we work really well together. We bond together, we have that good chemistry. He’s a fun dude to be around. Honestly, I kind of relate us to [Carlos] Correa and [Jose] Altuve in a way. It’s fun to work with him.”
“It’s the best double play combination we’ve had here in 20 years,” Van Horn said. “Jalen didn’t take a ground ball until December. He didn’t need to because he can field. We just need to get him healthy.”
Jalen Battles and the 2022 MLB Draft
Battles is ranked as the 271st prospect in the 2022 MLB Draft according to Prospect Live. There’s always a chance of him falling due to being a senior and not having the leverage of a younger player, but this means he should go around the 9th or 10th round.
Jalen Battles will look to improve on a solid 2021 season this year. The glove work is already great and his bat is impressing Van Horn so far in the spring. He will be a very important piece on another talented Razorback baseball team that still knocking as loudly as ever on a national championship door that has gone unopened for far too long.