2023 College Top 25 Preview: No. 11 Arkansas
Last season: 46-21 (18-12 in SEC), reached CWS
Final ranking: No. 4
Coach (record at school): Dave Van Horn (796-423, 20 seasons)
The good news: Arkansas returns the bulk of a pitching staff that helped it last season reach the College World Series, falling just one win shy of playing for the national title. Key veterans like Connor Noland, Kole Ramage and Zebulon Vermillion are gone, but starters Will McEntire, Hagen Smith and Jaxon Wiggins return, as do top relievers Zack Morris and Brady Tygart. Smith and Tygart were freshmen last season and pitched in significant roles, which have them prepared for more in 2023. Wiggins is one of the hardest throwers in the country and has premium upside. Morris is unexpectedly back for a fourth season in Fayetteville and could pitch in a variety of roles for the Razorbacks.
The bad news: While Arkansas has much of its pitching staff back, its lineup faces the opposite situation. The Razorbacks lost seven regulars from last year’s team, with only infielder Peyton Stovall and veteran slugger Brady Slavens returning. Slavens’ 16 home runs last year were tied for the most on the team, a welcome boost for the Razorbacks. But they still have to replace a lot of production. Jace Bohrofen and Kendall Diggs will be asked to step into larger roles in 2023, but mostly the Razorbacks will be turning to newcomers in the lineup. Outfielders Tavian Josenberger (Kansas) and Jared Wegner (Creighton) are two experienced hitters transferring in, while junior college infielders Caleb Cali and Harold Coll have exciting upside. Arkansas will need the newcomers to fit in both offensively and defensively, as the Razorbacks have been one of the best defensive teams in the country for the last two years. Replacing a middle infield of Jalen Battles and Robert Moore won’t be easy but finding the right balance of offense and defense is crucial.
Player to know: Jaxon Wiggins, RHP.
Wiggins has a big right arm and has run his fastball up to 100 mph in short stints and the upper 90s as a starter. His exciting, high-octane stuff gives him considerable upside, and he’s pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He’s also still learning to harness it, however, and last year went 6-3, 6.55 with 82 strikeouts and 43 walks in 66 innings. If Wiggins is at his best in 2023, he can give Arkansas a premium starter that’s capable of matching up with anyone in the SEC. With that in mind, his development is one of the key stories to watch.
Path to Omaha: Arkansas last year found itself in a reverse of this year’s situation—an experienced lineup, but a greener pitching staff. The Razorbacks finished a game behind Texas A&M in the SEC standings and made it to Omaha. Now, they’ll try to do it with the script flipped. Their lineup has talent, but they’ll need it to gel sooner than later to withstand the rugged SEC West. The way Arkansas has hit over the last several years under hitting coach Nate Thompson, it’s reasonable to be optimistic about the lineup coming together. But finding the right leaders in the new-look lineup will be just as important as Arkansas looks to make it to the CWS for the fourth time in five seasons.
2023 NCAA Baseball Tournament Bracket
It's here! You can find the full NCAA Division I Tournament bracket here.
|3B||Caleb Cali||R-Jr.||Transfer—JC of Central Florida|
|SS||Harold Coll||Jr.||Transfer—San Jacinto (Texas) JC|
|SP||Hunter Hollan||Jr.||Transfer—San Jacinto (Texas) JC|