Coming out of St. Petersburg, Florida Jefferson High School Charlie Welch was rated a decent college prospect, the number seven rated catcher in the state. Welch was very interested in Arkansas but the attraction was apparently not mutual.
“He actually came to our camp and we didn’t take him,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn recalled. Van Horn was apparently looking for more pop at the plate in a catcher so Welch ended up committed to South Carolina but that didn’t work out either.
“There was a coaching change. They told him they didn’t want him to come,” Van Horn explained. “It was crazy.”
But as Van Horn would learn Welch is not one to give up. He went to Pepperdine out of high school, appearing in 26 games with 24 starts during his freshman season. Welch hit only .211 but he did connect on four doubles with 10 RBI on the season and showed some early power with runners on base. Welch connected on a grand slam in his first collegiate at bat against against CSU Bakersfield.
Looking to juice up his hitting, Welch went the junior college route, returning to Florida and St. Johns River State College where he hit .280 with four home runs, 17 RBI and 20 runs scored in 26 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Still trying to improve his hitting Welch ended up playing summer baseball in the Texas League. That’s where Van Horn saw him for a second time and Welch approached him again.
“He wanted to come here,” Van Horn said with a smile. “He was hitting home runs in that summer league. He had five or six home runs with a wood bat and he hadn’t played in a lot of games. We’re going, ‘Hey, that guy’s got some pop’ and we said, ‘We want you to come here.'”
Welch knew that Arkansas’ lineup was loaded but was determined to accept whatever role that was offered to get on the field. Of his eventual opportunity as a pinch hitter and number three catcher Welch said, “I knew coming in I was going to have to fight for any chances of playing time and I really just didn’t get frustrated about it. I come in every day with the same mentality. If they call my name I’m ready to rock.”
Rock indeed. Heading into post season play Welch is currently hitting .421 with 16 hits, five home runs and 15 RBI in just 38 at bats. His teammates are blown away by those numbers.
“Pinch hitting is so hard to do and what he’s doing is absolutely unbelievable,” teammate Brady Slavens raved. “You’re sitting down for a good portion of the game then you get called up right at the last second and you hit like him? It’s unbelievable.”
Van Horn has a more practical explanation for the success Welch has enjoyed as mostly a pinch hitter, telling reporters, “He gets ready early. It’s not like I just call on him and he runs over, panics and finds his helmet. He’s got it in his hands along with his bat. He’s thinking about the pitchers and he’s looking at scouting reports.”
“Coach Van Horn really likes me against lefties,” Welch revealed. “So anytime a lefty will get up in the pen I start looking at scouting reports and just kind of mentally prepare myself to go face that guy. If I face him, great. If I don’t, it’s on to the next one.”
“He’s such a weapon off the bench,” Van Horn said of Welch’s mission against left-handed hurlers. “They make a move. They’re thinking they’re going left on left. We get to plug him in there and it’s worked out a lot more than it hasn’t.”
Even though his numbers have been outstanding for a pinch hitter, Welch wasn’t exactly a household name among Hog baseball fans until the Florida series. His walk off hit to right center in game two, giving Arkansas its first outright SEC title since 1999, had over 11,000 at Baum-Walker Stadium on their feet as Welch was chased around the infield by his teammates in a wild celebration.
Less than 24 hours later he played a key role in the Razorbacks’ seven-run 7th as Arkansas ended the regular season with a three-game sweep of the Gators. Over 33,000 fans piled into the home of Hog baseball over the weekend. It was Welch’s first exposure to a full house at home and admittedly it blew him away.
“It’s just surreal being out here with these guys in front of this fan base,” Welch gushed afterward. I mean, you can’t beat it.”
Those fans can thank Welch for his perseverance. Even though DVH told Welch no the first time they met, when the head Hog was finally moved to make an offer three years later, Welch jumped at the chance not knowing that he would deliver the RBI to give Van Horn his first outright league championship.
Some would call that fate.