Thu June 27, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Arkansas Baseball Round-Up
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' Dave Van Horn held media session on Wednesday to discuss various topics and put a wrap on the 44-16 season.

Van Horn and the Hogs were eliminated at the Fayetteville Regional for the second year in a row. Van Horn said following the season he was intent on getting his team more reliant on speed and athleticism in the future instead of such reliance on power. While Van Horn can't name specific recruits he was asked if recruiting is going in the direction of changing the team to more what he envisions?

"A few guys," Van Horn said. "It’s just a couple. It’s not like you’re going to have a lineup of really good runners that are more run scorers than producers. You’ve seen it just watching the games through the tournament. You’ve got to be able to hit it over their heads, you’ve got to hit some home runs, you’ve got to have some power.

"But you need some athletes in there that can steal a bag and steal a bag when everybody knows you’re going to steal. We’re working on that so it’s definitely something like we feel we’re addressing. Again, we’ve got to get these kids to show up and then we’ve got to deal with, in some cases, the draft, because some of these kids are older. For the most part it looks like we’re going to get these new guys and some of these young guys and a couple of juco guys."

Van Horn and other coaches are still adjusting to the transfer portal and other aspects of building a team. Formerly baseball coaches had to worry about losing players to the MLB Draft, but now the transfer portal is a factor. Van Horn talked about how he's adjusting. While players leave via the transfer portal it's also a great opportunity for a school to add proven players to its roster.

"I do," Van Horn said. "I mean college baseball is super popular right now and I truly believe that. It gets better. The teams are better. The players are bigger, stronger, they’re older. And it’s because of being able to jump around. Teams have been able to go through a little free agency in the summer and fill in some spots. Obviously once the season starts or school starts that is what it is. You can’t dip into the minor leagues. But you have this window right now where you can fill in.

"It’s not apples to apples because there are some teams that have a lot more NIL money to dish out than other teams. Frankly, those teams that have it, they’re doing very well. We have to deal with that. But we want to bring in the player that it’s not all about the money. Yeah it would be nice to pluck one here or there. But we’ve got to get the right ones and frankly you have a budget. It is what it is. I think we’ve done a good job navigating and getting better and figuring out how to handle it. You know, you have to almost over-recruit some of these older guys that are in the portal if you’re getting some guys that are draft eligible because basically they might say one thing but realistically if somebody offers them they’re probably going to sign."

It's known that Arkansas has eight transfers. Van Horn was asked what that number might look like in the end?

"Well, we’re still pretty active, honestly, but I can’t put a number on it because there’s getting ready to be a lot more movement," Van Horn said. "You’re going to see some movement from a couple teams in Texas, and some of them might jump from one team to the other. Or, maybe this is their time to get out and do something else. There will be some big names, but you’re talking a lot of money for some of these kids that are going to be out, and I mean a lot (of money). I don’t think people realize what’s going on in the NIL scene in college baseball when you’re talking two, three, $450,000 to get a player. Again, there’s some that can do it a lot, some that can do it a little. It’s never over because of that draft that should have been last week, or the week before, which would have been nice. Because it affects everybody. It trickles down all the way to the incoming high school senior that’s coming to school."

Former Arkansas assistant Tony Vitello is now the head coach at Tennessee. The Vols won the national championship defeating Texas A&M in the finals. A&M not only lost the game, but the next day lost its coach to the University of Texas. Vitello was very complimentary of Van Horn after winning the title.

"I didn’t see it," Van Horn said. "Yesterday probably mid-day I got a screenshot of what was said. So I pulled it up and tried to find it, just wanted to hear what he had to say. I really appreciate it. It’s bittersweet because they won it and we didn’t. People are happy there and people are not happy here. Really for what we do here, we’re trying to develop people. We’re trying to develop our players into men and good people. On the coaching side, have these guys go out and be successful and have a career. Even Andy Sawyers at SEMO, coached him, he coached with me a little bit. I coached him hard and he mentioned it that I was kind of tough on him, because I thought he could be better than he was. I think he appreciates it not. But yeah, I appreciate that a lot, I really do."

One player who didn't have the season at the plate expected of him was Kendall Diggs. On Wednesday, Van Horn explained why.

"I was wondering when somebody was going to ask me about Kendall," Van Horn said. "You look at Kendall’s year, the first 14 or 15 games of the year, he was hitting upper 300s. .380, .370. When he slid headfirst on a wet field or an over-watered field - whatever you want to call it. It was early in the game - and he kind of got stuck and he hurt that shoulder. We all kind of groaned in the dugout. We didn’t know it at the time. He shook it off. Well, it’s a complete tear in his labrum. I think it’s like front and back. He is right now in the process of getting lined up to have surgery to get that fixed. He could still sign and be drafted. I think somebody might draft him. We’d love to have him back. He would have to miss all of Fall. It’s his non-throwing shoulder. It’s his left shoulder. You’ve got to give him credit. How tough was he to play all year long with that injury? He hurt it a couple of more times throughout the season. He ran into the wall at Kentucky. There was another time he hurt it. He made diving catches. He just played through it. Hats off to him.

"It really hurt his offense. It altered his swing, it took away a little quickness. I know it probably had to hurt when he swung at certain pitches in certain areas. In a way, he disguised it. I’ve got to give credit to him with how tough he was. I hope we have an opportunity to coach him next year. Because he can get back and play. (Matt) Goodheart had the same injury, (Trevor) Ezell had the same injury. Those guys did nothing but hit here. Ezell’s was on his throwing arm and he hurt before he got to Arkansas when he was at SEMO. We took him in anyway and he learned how to throw side-armed. He played first base for us. Goodheart, it was pretty bad. He got through it and did a good job for us.”

"Kendall, if he comes back, will have an opportunity to play outfield. Honestly, obviously he could DH, play outfield. Who’s to say he didn’t play in the infield for us as well because that’s what he came here as so we’ll see. I’ve been in contact with him a lot, when I say a lot, a few times since season ended. Through texting recently, couple of phone calls. I will talk to him in the next day or two about some things. He was invited to the combine to go do some conversations. I don’t know how many he had, if any. Appreciate him trying because he was hurt."

The MLB Draft is set for July 14-16.