Growing up in Nebraska, attending the College World Series was an annual tradition for Jared Wegner. Now, he hopes his next trip to the event is with his new team.
The first-team All-Big East outfielder announced last month that he was transferring from Creighton to Arkansas for his final season of college baseball.
It’s a surreal opportunity for Wegner, whose hometown of Kearney, Neb., is less than a three-hour drive from the College World Series site in Omaha.
“As a young kid, I went to a lot of the College World Series games since I’m from Nebraska and you always saw Arkansas there,” Wegner told Best of Arkansas Sports. “I always liked watching them play, so it was kind of an easy decision for me. I really like the type of baseball that they play.”
Although he hasn’t yet visited Fayetteville, some of Wegner’s family has and they had positive reviews. That exposure, plus those trips to the College World Series, gave him a taste of the fan support at Arkansas.
His preconceived notions were confirmed as he did research on the Razorbacks and their baseball program when he was in the portal.
“I was just looking stuff up online, looking at some YouTube videos,” Wegner said. “The facilities are crazy nice. That’s always cool. I saw a bunch of pictures of all the fans and stuff — that’s kind of something you dream of, playing in front of fans like that. … I’m definitely excited to get down there.”
Becoming a Star at Creighton
A self-described “physical player who plays the game extremely hard,” Wegner hasn’t had too many chances to showcase all of his tools over the last four years at Creighton.
In his first season with the Bluejays, he showed potential by starting 38 games and slashing .264/.369/.336 with 20 RBIs. He was set to build on that the next year until an injury derailed his upward trajectory.
Early in the 2020 season, about a week before the COVID-19 outbreak, Wegner fouled off a pitch and suffered a broken hamate bone — one of eight bones in the wrist and a common injury among baseball players.
The injury lingered into his junior year, too, and — combined with the pandemic — limited him to 22 appearances in which he hit .277 in 83 at bats. Only four of his 23 hits over that span went for extra bases, resulting in a .373 slugging percentage.
“Come to find out, there was still a piece of the bone in there,” Wegner said. “I was trying to play on it with three cortisone shots my junior year, like throughout the year, trying to play through it. My wrist just hurt all the time and I ended up getting another surgery.”
Wegner used last summer to rehab and, for the first time in two years, get fully healthy. The result was a breakout 2022 campaign in which he posted a .343/.459/.635 slash line with 28 extra-base hits — including 11 home runs — and 53 RBIs while starting all 49 games. That earned him first-team All-Big East honors.
In addition to leading Creighton in home runs and RBIs, he also led the team with 11 stolen bases on 12 attempts. Wegner had an impressive 1.094 OPS as a senior — 383 points higher than his career OPS entering the year.
When people ask him what contributed to the difference, Wegner points to his health.
“When you have a hand problem and every swing your hand hurts, it’s tough to play,” Wegner said. “I definitely knew it was in me, but it felt good to get healthy and kind of put that behind me. It was cool to help the team as much as you can.”
Hogs’ Recruitment of Jared Wegner
The state of Nebraska is unique in that American Legion Baseball — essentially high school baseball in the summer — is king. That is not great for recruiting purposes because that’s when most players with collegiate or professional aspirations hit the road with travel ball teams.
That’s the trap Wegner found himself in as a three-sport athlete at Kearney High School. Finally, the summer before his senior year, he made the decision to play for the St. Louis Gamers organization.
“I actually left and went and played in St. Louis for a travel team there and lived there for the summer,” Wegner said. “My coach told me I probably came a year or two late because all the big schools recruited those guys the sophomore year of high school or junior year of high school, so I was kind of late on that.”
Wegner said he was recruited by a few mid-major programs, but ultimately picked Creighton because it was close to home. It also didn’t hurt that the Bluejays played their home games at TD Ameritrade Park — now known as Charles Schwab Field.
Granted an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, though, Wegner decided to spend his fifth season of college baseball elsewhere.
“I just wanted to get out and experience something new,” Wegner said. “I enjoyed my time at Creighton, but I needed something new — new coaches, new voices. Also, I wanted to play in a Power Five – specifically the SEC – was always a dream of mine.”
The experience of being recruited this time around was much different than when he was in high school. Coaches constantly called him and about 20 schools ended up reaching out.
It didn’t take long for a group of frontrunners to emerge, with Arkansas beating out Alabama, South Carolina and Notre Dame for Wegner’s services.
He admitted that when Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson first texted him, it “put a smile across my face” and he was pretty excited about the Razorbacks being interested.
“It was pretty crazy,” Wegner said. “I didn’t know what to expect. Talked to some people who have gone through that process before and they said it happens fast.
“I was just getting a lot of texts and calls, a lot of phone calls with my dad and trying to figure out the availability of outfielders and who they have coming back. Coach Thompson, he reached out and we had a quick chat and it went well and the rest is history.”
Wegner’s Role with Arkansas Baseball
As impressed as he was by the fans, facilities and history of the Arkansas baseball program, the biggest factor in Jared Wegner’s decision was likely the fact that there will be plenty of opportunities for him to play in his final season of eligibility.
The Razorbacks could return just one of nine primary starters in their 2022 lineup and that’s first baseman Peyton Stovall, who is expected to shift over and play second base next year.
All three of their starting outfielders are officially gone, with center fielder Braydon Webb and right fielder Chris Lanzilli exhausting their eligibility and left fielder Zack Gregory entering the portal.
Jace Bohrofen will be back after starting 24 games, splitting time with Gregory in left early in the season, but beyond that, it’s unclear who will be in Arkansas’ outfield. Wegner was primarily a corner outfielder at Creighton and expects to do the same with the Razorbacks, helping fill that void.
“It was honestly a perfect situation,” Wegner said. “I looked it up right away and saw they had two seniors. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a good opportunity for me to go play there.’”
Until he reports to Fayetteville, Wegner is playing summer ball in the NECBL for the Newport Gulls in Rhode Island — hence why he didn’t take any visits before committing out of the portal.
Unlike some transfers across the country, he is not considered to be a draft risk this summer despite being eligible. Instead, Wegner is hopeful a solid year with the Razorbacks can lead to him hearing his name called in the 2023 MLB Draft next summer.
“I haven’t heard a whole lot from scouts about the draft,” Wegner said. “If I do end up just getting a free agent deal, I am going to go to Arkansas. … I had a couple guys reach out. Obviously I’d love to get drafted — that’s a dream of mine.”
Although he was the first, Jared Wegner wasn’t the last transfer portal addition by the Razorbacks this offseason. They’ve also landed right-hander Koty Frank from Nebraska and infielder/outfielder Tavian Josenberger from Kansas.
As mentioned above, Arkansas has a lot of spots to fill and head coach Dave Van Horn is expected to do so with even more transfers. It’s something he’s had quite a bit of success with in recent years.
Just this past season, Lanzilli and catcher Michael Turner — transfers from Wake Forest and Kent State, respectively — had the top two batting averages on the team. In fact, they were the only players to hit above .300.
Lanzilli ended up starting 59 games and hit a team-high .326 with 11 home runs (including three in the College World Series) and 40 RBIs. Turner was arguably the most consistently clutch hitter on the team, hitting .323 with nine home runs and 53 RBIs.
The Razorbacks also added Bohrofen from Oklahoma last offseason. He was hampered by an injury, but still started 24 games and hit .228 with three home runs and 17 RBIs. His role will likely increase in 2023.
The season before that, Cullen Smith from East Tennessee State was a regular starter and hit .263 with 11 home runs and Lael Lockhart from Houston was a significant contributor as a member of the weekend rotation.
In 2019, Trevor Ezell transferred in from Southeast Missouri State and helped the Razorbacks make it to Omaha by hitting .329 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs. He also landed on the SEC All-Defensive Team for his play at first base.
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