FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will begin its fall series on Friday at 3 p.m. in Baum-Walker Stadium.
The teams have been divided into Red-Black squads by Dave Van Horn and his staff. The Black team will send righty Connor Noland to the mound while lefty Caden Monke will start for the Red squad. On Thursday, Dave Van Horn held a Zoom conference with reporters to discuss the series and how the fall practices have gone.
“It’s been really good,” Van Horn said. “Probably one of the better falls we’ve ever had. I think contributing to that would be the fact that we didn’t play a full season in the spring.
“The guys are just really into it. A lot of times after a long season, you finish in June or late June and guys go out and play a little summer ball, they are kind of tired when they get back. We did have some guys go out and play summer ball and do a really nice job but there were a lot that didn’t. They just worked out and tried to train on their own and did a good job. I just felt like from the players, and really from the coaching staff on down, there was a lot of energy. Guys were showing up with a great attitude every day. I think they felt very fortunate to be out there on a baseball field.”
The early press release on the series listed the starting pitchers for the first five games. Are those the 10 pitchers most likely to battle for a starting spot in the season or others not listed?
“I mean it’s hard for me to let you get too deep into that,” Van Horn said. “You need to talk to Coach (Matt) Hobbs about the pitchers. I’ve always been the type of guy that doesn’t mess with our coaches so to speak in the fall. I just let them coach and they tell me who they want to start or try to close. I’m not going to question them one bit.
“Obviously when it gets closer time to real games, I’m going to state my opinion and we’ll discuss all that. Yeah, I’d say right now, that’s the way we see it, but there are some guys coming out of that pen that we’d have no problem starting in a game.
“The way this season could end up being scheduled, so to speak, it might stay the same. It might change. It might be more SEC games, less out of conference games, just so we can control our own destiny, so to speak, SEC. We’re going to need a lot of pitching. If they make us play four games on a week, you’e talking about a lot of arms. So we’re trying to prepare of that, if that happens.
“I know I got around your question a little bit, but for the most part, those will be the guys we’re looking to start. But there’s also been a couple guys that maybe aren’t penciled in to start, but have a chance to start because they’ve been injured, or they’re young or we’re just watching them a little bit more. We’ve got some good young arms in here that are going to compete to get on that mound at the beginning of the game.”
The team appears to be very deep. Van Horn feels there’s players on this team who probably wouldn’t have been back in a normal year.
“With the roster, there’s five or six more guys than we normally would have in here,” Van Horn said. “Because of the shortened draft, we got some older kids back. We also probably, we might have kept a player or two who came out of high school or junior college, maybe three, it’s hard to say. Because coming out of high school kids will tell you they’re not going to sign for x amount of dollars, and sometimes that changes. But they’re here.
“So the fall went well for a couple reasons. No. 1, the competition, the numbers. The numbers were in the pitching. As far as position players, we had about the same amount we normally have. Right about the perfect number where we could have scrimmages where we didn’t have to put either a pitcher in a position or bring in somebody up from the other team, just keep rotating an outfield spot or an infield spot because we didn’t just have enough position players to have two full teams out there. We pretty much had that covered when we had everyone and didn’t have anyone banged up.
“So the competition’s been incredible. You’ve got some young guys that they realize once they get here, the older kids are pretty good. And you can kind of see the ups and downs of the freshmen. Sometimes they question themselves — am I going to get to play this year? But as time goes on, they start to realize that it’s a process and they’re going to get where they need to get.
“I feel like that as far as pitching competition, it’s been second to none. You’ve got guys that were conference starters two years ago and last year that are battling to try to get on the mound and start. Which is a good issue, a good problem for us, because it gives us depth and competition amongst teammates probably that can really, really push your team forward.
Guys feel like they’ve got to continue to work hard and stay dedicated every day, or they’re going to lose their job. And I’ve really seen the pitching staff just kind of build. It’s going to be tough to figure out who we’re gong to travel with our pitching staff, because when you get past number 10 or 11, there’s a lot of good pitchers there. They just need an opportunity, I think.”
While several older players came back who otherwise in a normal year wouldn’t have, Van Horn knows that means the team will probably take a big hit in the 2021 draft year.
“But at the end of the year, we’re going to lose a lot of people off this roster,” Van Horn said. “There could be 15 to 20 kids in a normal draft, that would get drafted and signed. Twenty rounds. They may make it 25 from what I’ve heard. They keep messing with it. We’re going to need all these guys in the future. But the competition’s been incredible.”
Van Horn feels the play of several in this series will help determine the final roster heading into the 2021 season.
“We’ve told the kids that this series is important because there’s still some guys where we’re trying to figure it out a little bit,” Van Horn said. “They need to make a jump and move in front of some people. It’s the last time they have a chance to really impress us and show their teammates and their coaches what they can do.
“In this type situation, a lot of times there are guys that are pretty good in practice every day and they look good. Then you get them in a game, and it doesn’t happen. Those are the kind of guys that in the long run, they’ve got to get it done in a game, because they can fool you, and it doesn’t go so well. So we’re looking for gamers, so to speak, and maybe over this series we’ll have a guy or two jump out there that you kind of go, ‘Wow. You turn the lights on and this guy showed up. He’s pretty good.’
“There’s some other guys that are on the fence right now of whether they need to be here or maybe go play at a junior college and get at-bats or whatever the situation may be. Those are mostly guys that have been in the program for a year or two and haven’t played much. They need to make a move so we know it’s the right thing to keep them here. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s better for them to go get some at-bats or pitch.”
Game – Date – Time – Starting Pitchers (Red vs. Black)
Game 1 – Friday, Oct. 16 – 3 p.m. – LHP Caden Monke vs. RHP Connor Noland
Game 2 – Sunday, Oct. 18 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Kole Ramage vs. RHP Caleb Bolden
Game 3 – Monday, Oct. 19 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Zebulon Vermillion vs. LHP Patrick Wicklander
Game 4 – Wednesday, Oct. 21 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Blake Adams vs. RHP Jaxon Wiggins
Game 5 – Friday, Oct. 23 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – LHP Lael Lockhart vs. RHP Will McEntire
Game 6 – Saturday, Oct. 24 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – TBA vs. TBA
Game 7 – Sunday, Oct. 25 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – TBA vs. TBA
Red Team Black Team
Position Players Position Players
1 Robert Moore 4 Jalen Battles
3 Zack Gregory 5 Jacob Nesbit
6 Michael Brooks 7 Cayden Wallace
8 Braydon Webb 9 Clayton Gray
10 Matt Goodheart 11 Cason Tollett
12 Casey Opitz 15 Dylan Leach
14 Cullen Smith 19 Charlie Welch
16 Zac White 24 Bryce Matthews
17 Brady Slavens 25 Christian Franklin
44 Jackson Cobb 26 Ethan Bates
18 Lael Lockhart 13 Connor Noland
21 Jacob Burton 20 Elijah Trest
27 Blake Adams 22 Jaxon Wiggins
28 Kole Ramage *29 Nate Wohlgemuth
32 Zack Morris 31 Caleb Bolden
34 Nick Griffin 33 Patrick Wicklander
35 Ryan Costieu
36 Peyton Pallette 39 Evan Taylor
37 Caden Monke 40 Corey Spain
38 Mark Adamiak 41 Will McEntire
48 Heston Tole 43 Miller Pleimann
49 Liam Henry 45 Kevin Kopps
50 Matthew Magre 46 Tyler Cacciatori
58 Evan Gray 52 Louis Stallone
59 Issac Bracken 55 Gabriel Starks
88 Zebulon Vermillion 57 Nathan Rintz
*also listed as an outfielder