RazorbacksSports

Dave Van Horn Fall Baseball Presser

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Saving the final game of Arkansas’ 2020 covid-19 terminated college baseball season, Peyton Pallette may get the opportunity to win among the first for the Razorbacks in 2021.
The right-handed freshman from Benton, deemed a freshman again since all who played last year’s abbreviated spring sports return with the same eligibility, started Friday’s preseason drills forging toward the front of the pitching line.
He pitched four times in relief last year with a 1.59 ERA and a save for the 11-5 Razorbacks Now he contests to be among the starters when Arkansas, along with fellow SEC West members Ole Miss and Mississippi State, opens the season challenging the Big 12’s Texas Tech, Texas and TCU Feb. 19-21 at the Texas Rangers’ Global Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“We’re going to give him every opportunity the next three weeks to prove to us that he could start for us,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Friday. “His stuff’s been really good. His bullpens have been outstanding, velocity seems up, getting bigger and stronger.”
Pallette has always been agile.
“He’s an outstanding defender in the middle of the field as far as being a pitcher,” Van Horn said. “He can field his position. If he can show us over the next few weeks that he can give us four, five, six innings, he’s got as good a chance of starting in the first weekend as anybody.”
Of course with veteran starters Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander and every role pitchers Kevin Kopps and Kole Ramage among the returnees and a host of talented freshmen and transfers added, much remains determined through the preseason scrimmages that commenced with Friday’s first practice.
But Pallette is in the hunt.
Kopps and catcher Casey Opitz explained why.
“When he came in out of high school he was throwing high 80s, just kind of a normal guy,” Kopps said. “But here he jumped up four miles and now he’s jumped up another four miles an hour and his command and stuff have gotten a lot better. He’s got a really bright future.”
Opitz sees the 2020 freshman pup that would bite grown into a 2021 pit bull.
“He’s got that mentality of he wants to attack guys,” Opitz said. “Coming in as a freshman, you’re trying to figure out how your stuff works. Now he’s got a really good feel for how his stuff works and how he wants to attack hitters with it.”
Opitz says it’s not just velocity though that’s certainly up.
“He’s just continuing to get better,” Opitz said. “His curveball is even better. He’s added to his secondary pitches, so he’s looking like a real threat.”
Position wise, Arkansas opened Friday’s preseason baseball entrenched up the middle with Opitz, Robert Moore and Christian Franklin returned at catcher, second base and center field and acclaimed transfer Jalen Battles replacing turned pro Casey Martin at short.
“I don’t think there’s too many teams who can match up with us up the middle,” Van Horn said.
Or defensively at third base returning starter Jacob Nesbit.
That’s why fall ball freshman phenom hitting third baseman Cayden Wallace of Greenbrier now competes with redshirt freshman Zack Gregory in right field, the position, vacated by Heston Kjerstad’s first-round drafting to the Baltimore Orioles.
“Wallace has an opportunity to get in the lineup right away,” Van Horn said. “A third baseman kind of by trade, we’re working him more in the outfield now, just because there’s more possibilities to get his bat in there to bring some power to the lineup. You know he can run as well. So he’s been doing a nice job in the outfield, working hard at it.”
Franklin likes what he sees glancing left, returning left fielder Braydon Webb, and glancing at Wallace and Gregory battling in right.
Franklin said the third baseman is becoming a right fielder.
“He’s a super hard worker,” Franklin said. “He’s been working with me and the other outfielders and Coach (Nate) Thompson pretty much since we got back. He’s definitely a lot better outfielder than he was before the break. If he can get the defense down, it’s going to be huge.”

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