The Fresh Faces of Arkansas Baseball: Incoming Freshmen

by William

Photo courtesy of Arkansas athletics

Authored by Brady Michael

Arkansas baseball begins its 2022 season in less than a month. The Razorbacks will likely rely on some important newcomers after losing nine players to the Major League Baseball Draft.

It hasn’t been a great week for the program as it was learned that projected Opening Day starting pitcher Peyton Pallette is done for the season. To potentially ease some doubt, head coach Dave Van Horn reeled in the No. 4 recruiting class, according to Collegiate Baseball.

Since 2017, Arkansas has had a top-10 recruiting class march into Fayetteville each season. That is a true testament to Van Horn and his staff.

The current class includes three players each from Texas and Arkansas, two players from Missouri, and one player from each Alabama, California, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

With 15 total commits, four are rated in the top 100, according to Perfect Game. Arkansas’ class finished behind UCLA, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Vanderbilt had the highest number of players ranked the top 100 with five.

As with many recruiting classes, the program couldn’t dodge the MLB Draft.

Drafted Arkansas Commitments

Maxwell Muncy, IF to the Oakland Athletics (first round, No. 25 overall)

Jordan Viars, OF to Philadelphia Phillies (third round, No. 84 overall)

Drew Gray, OF to Chicago Cubs (third round, No. 93 overall)

Braylon Bishop, OF to Pittsburgh Pirates (14th round, No. 403 overall)

Drake Varnado, SS to Arizona Diamondbacks (17th round, No. 498 overall — did not sign)

There was no surprise in losing Muncy, Gray, and Viars to the draft. The one shock came when Bishop put pen to paper and signed with the Pirates after going back and forth between staying in Fayetteville and turning pro. Varnado will be a player that will be battling to crack the two-deep this coming season.

He will certainly be an asset long-term as he made the decision to hold off on his professional aspirations. Unlike Bishop, there were some of Arkansas’ signees that had no doubt they would get the phone call on draft day, but decided to come to Fayetteville instead. In doing so, they get to play for one of the best college coaches and in front of one the best fan bases in the game.

They’ll also work to increase their draft stock for three years down the road. Here is a list of some of players that have a great chance of seeing some playing time in their first season in a Razorback uniform:

*All ratings are according to Perfect Game; ratings are out of 10.

No. 10 Peyton Stovall, SS, Haughton, LA

Stovall was rated as the 47th-best player nationally and as the 11th-best shortstop. He received a PG rating of 9. During his senior season of high school, Stovall racked up a .489 batting average and a .649 on-base percentage. Expect him to be vying for time behind returning shortstop Jalen Battles. There is also a good chance that he might see time at other spots in the infield.

No. 33 Hagen Smith, LHP, Bullard, TX

Hagen Smith was rated as the 71st-best player nationally and as the 12th best left-handed pitcher. He did not receive a PG rating. Peaking at a 93-mile-per-hour fastball, Smith put up video game numbers by finishing the season with a 0.19 ERA and a perfect record of 11-0. With the losses of both Kevin Kopps and Patrick Wicklander to the draft as well as Pallette to Tommy John surgery, the expectations have rose even higher.

Before the news of Pallette broke, it was expected that Smith would be the youngster battling to become the day three starter. Now, his role has only grown. It is likely he will be one of the three starters along with senior Connor Noland and sophomore Jaxon Wiggins. Smith is one of the highest-rated pitchers to step on campus, so don’t be surprised if he becomes a household name in Fayetteville.

No. 25 Brady Tygart, RHP, Hernando, MS

Tygart was rated as the 73rd-best player nationally and as the 20th-best right-handed pitcher. He received a PG rating of 10. With a fastball cracking the 95 MPH mark his senior year and with it topping out at 99 MPH, he was also a force to be reckoned with in high school. During his senior year, Tygart played in 28 total games — both as a pitcher and a position player. He dished out an ERA of 0.31.

The righty will likely have the second-highest velocity on the team right behind Wiggins. As with Smith, the role has only increased for Tygart. He should be a key member of the bullpen this season. He’ll battle with the likes of Heston Tole and Zach Morris to be one of the primary relievers.

No. 44 Max Soliz Jr., C, Madison, AL

Soliz was rated as the 119th-best player nationally and the eighth-best catcher. He received a PG rating of 10. The 6-foot-5 prospect posted a batting average of .395 and an on-base percentage of .521 as a high school senior. With the departure fan favorite Casey Opitz, it seemed like Soliz had a great opportunity to come in and battle Dylan Leach for the starting spot. With the addition of Michael Turner, it will be more of an uphill battle to find playing time this coming season.

No. 35 Vincent Trapani, RHP, Eau Claire, WI

The lone man up from north, Trapani was ranked as the 128th-best player nationally and as the 40th-best righty while receiving a PG rating of 10. According to Perfect Game, his fastball clocked in at 95 MPH, which most certainly was difficult for high school hitters to catch up to. His senior season stats however, could not be found. Expect Trapani to be in a battle for a relief spot in a bullpen that will need young guys to emerge.

No. 5 Kendall Diggs, IF, Olathe, KS

Diggs was rated as the 141st-best player nationally and as the fifth-best third baseman. He received a PG rating of 9.5. Dealing with a shortened season and only playing in three games, Diggs scrounged up a .300 batting average and a .417 on-base percentage. As a player who made a lot of contact in high school, Diggs could be a lethal hitter down the road. Baring more unexpected injuries, don’t expect Diggs to make a major impact in 2022.

No. 16 Gabe D’arcy, OF, San Clemente, CA

D’arcy was rated as the 204th-best player nationally and the 32nd-best outfielder and received a PG rating of 9.5. Although none of his senior year stats could be found, the 6-3 outfielder was rated as the second-best in the state of California. For the sake of talent comparison, the state contained 12 top-100 players. D’arcy is more than likely a redshirt prospect, but don’t be surprised if he makes a push for playing time in the outfield.

No. 27 Nick Moten, RHP, Florissant, MO

With a semi-large drop in the ratings, Moten was rated as the 373rd-best player nationally and as the 130th-best right-handed pitcher. He posted a PG rating of 9. With a fastball peaking at 91 MPH, the Missouri native will provide more bullpen depth. His potential however, seems to be higher than some of the guys already mentioned. With him already harnessing a smooth pitching form, Moten might be a player to watch this coming season. There is already word out of Fayetteville that he had a nice fall. Keep his name in the back of your mind as the season edges closer.

Others

Other players not mentioned that fell outside of the top 400 players nationally were: shortstop Jake Putz (455 overall), pitcher Jake Faherty (457 overall), outfielder Cameron Leach (500-plus overall), third baseman Austin Ledbetter (500+ overall), shortstop Reece McWilliams (500+ overall), and pitcher Reid Svahn (500-plus overall). While those players might not see the field this season, expect them to find some playing time down the road.

The departure of so many great players will certainly be felt and noticed by the entire fan base when the opening series rolls around. Guys like Matt Goodheart, Casey Opitz, Lael Lockhart, Christian Franklin, Patrick Wicklander, Charlie Welch, Kevin Kopps, and more will all be remembered forever.

Those players helped revive a starving fan base, hungry for a team to make national noise. Now, all we can do is look to the future and what Van Horn is putting together as his recruiting prowess will continue for years to come. It all starts with this 2022 recruiting class.

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