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Arkansas baseball ranked as high as No. 2


FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' baseball season is nearing with the opener set for Feb. 16 when James Madison comes to Fayetteville for a four-game series.
Dave Van Horn held a Zoom call on Thursday with beat writers covering the team. The Hogs enter the 2024 season with high expectations including a ranking as high as No. 2 in the nation. The return of junior second baseman Peyton Stovall from injuries that cut 2023 short has Van Horn excited.
"Getting Stovall back, man he’s been amazing," Van Horn said. "Again, fielding, accuracy of his arm has been great. Getting him and Wehiwa (Aloy) to play together, play catch together everyday, get to know each other. That’s one thing, because you just want the middle infielders to just kind of know what they’re doing before it happens. Just getting that infield squared away. We’ve got a little battle at first base with (Ben) McLaughlin and (Jack) Wagner. One hits left, one hits right. One can DH. Wagner could actually play some outfield if we needed him to, as well. But that’s something that is going to be ongoing, and it’s a good thing. It’s healthy competition amongst teammates.
"At third base, you’ve got (Peyton) Holt over there. He’s a spark plug, gamer, good player. He had a good fall. With (Jared) Sprague-Lott, who came in from Richmond, honestly he’s maybe our best defender just fielding the ball. I’m not saying he’s the best shortstop, but as far as just fielding the ball at third and all positions combined, he’s going to be an incredible utility guy and maybe an everyday starter. It’s a good thing."
Aloy will play shortstop and is a transfer from Sacramento State. Van Horn also talked about the outfield and how its shaping up.
"The outfield, we’ve got to get that," Van Horn said. "Maybe left field is still up there. We’ve been playing Jayson Jones out there. Late fall and in the drill work, he’s been working out there like 80% of his time. A little bit at third. If the bat gets going, it could really help us. A lot of the times in left field, whether it’s in summer ball, Division I baseball or the Big Leagues, it’s about swinging the bat and being a good defender. You don’t have to be overly special out there if you can hit enough.
"So that’s up in the air with him and (Will) Edmunson and maybe (Ross) Lovich. Lovich was someone who missed most of fall practice that’s healthy now. Left-handed hitter that transferred in from Missouri. We’ll see how that plays out. Ty Wilmsmeyer in center is our best defender. You’ve got (Hunter) Grimes battling and some other guys battling. But we’ll just have to see how that all turns out. I think it’ll be a work in progress. If it comes down to just defense, it’ll be Wilmsmeyer."

Junior Kendall Diggs finally found a home in right field last season. He has also served as designated hitter some in his career. Van Horn also talked about his options at catcher.
"I’m not all about not having an everyday guy," Van Horn said. "I want our players to know that when they walk through the door, they don’t have to look at the lineup most of the time. I think it just makes for a better player, a better situation. If you earn the job, you’re the best catcher, you’re the best hitter, the pitchers like throwing to you. There’s a combination there. But we are very fortunate that we have… I mean, we have Parker Rowland back who started for us last year. Yeah he didn’t hit much, but he caught extremely well and did a great job with our pitching staff.
"You’ve got Hudson White, who came in here from Texas Tech, who was splitting time back there with a younger player. And he has made a huge jump on the defensive end. He throws well. Athletically he could play other positions. And he was our best hitter in the fall, as far as just barreling up the ball, hitting the ball all over the field, tough out, taking walks, fouling off pitches. You know he’s going to be in the lineup and it’ll be hard to beat him out. But that’s a good problem. Then freshman Ryder Helfrich is as talented a freshman catcher as I’ve ever had and I had James McCann in here who was pretty darn good, and I’ve had some good ones."
Helfrich is from Discovery Bay (Calif.) Clayton Valley Charter High School. Van Horn continued talking about his freshman catcher.
"You think back to James’ first year it was catch and throw," Van Horn said. "Then his bat came on, it probably came on his junior year when he probably led us in hitting, even with those terrible bats we had to use that year. But Ryder has a lot more bat potential this year, and If he keeps getting better with the bat, which I’m sure he will, arm strength, receiver, he was outstanding the first five weeks of fall baseball. The last week not so good. And I don’t know if he kind of just hit the wall or what happened. But he’s kind of hard on himself and he’s a really good player. He just need to relax and play.
"But you know I mean you’ve got Hudson Polk, who came out and hit in the fall and caught the ball better and is a great guy, a great team guy and we all feel like one day he’s going to coach at a high level and for a long time if that’s what he wants to do. So you go from having two guys last year that didn’t hit a whole lot and did a pretty good job behind the plate to having guys that — we’ve got four guys. How do you let that happen as a coach? Well, first off, it’s a good problem to have but you know you bring in a transfer guy because you think you’re maybe going to lose your freshman catcher and then he doesn’t sign. Welcome to our world of professional baseball draft mid-July … I won’t go into that tirade again. But it’s an issue."