Improving Webb in center of Hogs' plans

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Friday, February 4, 2022
Arkansas center fielder Braydon Webb is shown during a scrimmage Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Fayetteville.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas center fielder Braydon Webb is shown during a scrimmage Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — In two decades as Arkansas’ baseball coach, Dave Van Horn has rarely had to worry about defense in center field. 

Among the center fielders who have played for Van Horn are big leaguers Craig Gentry, Brett Eibner and Andrew Benintendi, and All-SEC picks Christian Franklin and Dominic Fletcher. The Razorbacks’ center field was patrolled by Benintendi, Fletcher or Franklin for most of eight seasons between 2014-21 — an era full of spectacular catches and outfield assists from the position. 

So it was notable when Van Horn recently said Braydon Webb is “as good as any center fielder I’ve ever had." 

When Van Horn was reminded of his past greats in center, he said, "He’s right there with all those guys.”

Webb, a fifth-year senior from McKinney, Texas, appears to be the Razorbacks’ most likely starter in center field when the 2022 season opens in two weeks with a three-game series against Illinois State. 

“You guys haven’t seen him play like I have, because he hasn’t been in the lineup enough,” Van Horn said in a press conference last week. “But the guy can absolutely play outfield.”

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Coaches have been high on Webb since he arrived from Grayson (Texas) College prior to the 2020 season, but he has had trouble staying in the lineup due to injury and inconsistency at the plate. 

Those struggles seem to be behind him now, though he admitted a quadricep strain suffered late in fall practice had him less than 100% when preseason work began last weekend. 

“It’s gotten a lot better,” Webb said. “I’m just trying to get it to where it needs to be come season so I can play to the best of my ability.”

Webb has wowed when he has been in the field at full health. He is one of the Razorbacks’ fastest players, which allows him to cover a lot of ground. 

While filling in for Franklin during the first game of the NCAA super regional against North Carolina State last June, Webb tracked a fly ball from near the wall in straight-away center and caught it behind shortstop. He has also showed promise with his arm, such as Game 1 of a series against Auburn last April when as a left fielder he threw out a runner trying to score on a fly ball. 

He had leaping catches at the wall during late-season wins over Tennessee and Florida last May, and his best defensive play might have come during the Razorbacks’ season opener against Texas Tech last February. With the game scoreless in the fourth inning, Webb made a leaping catch at the wall in left-center field, robbing the Red Raiders of an extra-base hit that might possibly have been a home run.

His defensive plays were often referred to on social media as a #webbgem.

“I think if you’re going to be able to win in this league, you better be able to catch it in the outfield,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can hit, but we’ve got to play good defense.”

Webb cites “the little things” as the reason for his defensive success, “not just going through the motions when we’re doing drills, but trying to get something out of it. I think over time if you consistently do that, you put yourself in a good position coming in a game where you just react, just play the game and use that muscle memory.” 

He goes all out defensively. During the fall of 2019, Webb suffered a hairline fracture in his shoulder blade area when he dove for a ball in foul ground down the left-field line. Webb made an “incredible” catch, Van Horn said, but it cost him most of the rest of fall practice. 

While playing in Martinsville, Va., in the Coastal Plains League last summer, Webb said he dislocated his shoulder when he jumped at the wall to catch a ball.

“That’s always how I play,” Webb said. “I’m always hustling out ground balls or trying to take the extra base, and sometimes the downside to that is you put your body in a tough situation to where you’re banged up all the time.” 

In addition to his great fielding, Webb was one of Arkansas’ best hitters during fall practice. Official stats were not kept for those scrimmages, so Webb’s fall totals are unknown, but Van Horn said he hit seven home runs. 

One of Webb’s home runs came on the first pitch he saw from Connor Noland during the Razorbacks’ first fall scrimmage. The next day he homered in his first at-bat against Jaxon Wiggins.

“Webb had an incredible fall until he got hurt,” Van Horn said. “I mean, he led our team in about everything; I’m talking home runs, batting average, stolen bases — you name it.”

It was the kind of offensive production the Razorbacks expected when they signed Webb out of Grayson, where he hit .450 with 14 home runs and 31 other extra-base hits in 55 games in 2019. His 25 doubles were second most in JUCO baseball that year and he had 66 RBI.

“You look at his numbers from junior college, they were incredible,” Van Horn said. “We get him here, we’re thinking, ‘Man, what a great athlete.’

“He was already good. It’s just a matter of getting on the field.”

Braydon Webb showed power during fall scrimmages with seven home runs. (Photo by Charlie Kaijo/Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Webb was Arkansas’ clean-up hitter and left fielder to begin the 2021 season, but he started the year 1 for 23 and was no longer an every-day starter by midway through SEC play. Webb started 22 games and played off the bench in 26 last season, oftentimes as a defensive replacement late in tight games. 

“I got off to a slow start and I couldn’t really come out of it as early as I wanted to,” Webb said. “I’ve battled a lot of things off the field and tried to get right mentally so I can play to the best of my ability.” 

Webb said when he gets past the quadricep injury, it will be the best he has felt at Arkansas. During a recent interview, Webb said he felt good mentally and spoke openly about how a November baptism in his church changed his life.

"I had a come to Jesus moment," Webb said. "I've always been a hard worker and tried to be the first one there, last one to leave. It's tough when you don't get the results you work for.

"I truly believe God has a purpose for me. He used a season of disappointment and difficulty to help prepare me for this one."

One of Webb’s biggest issues at the plate a year ago was striking out 43 times in 92 at-bats.

But when Webb made contact, good things often happened. Despite a .174 batting average, he had an OPS of .785. He hit 6 home runs and 4 doubles, walked 21 times, was hit by 8 pitches and had 16 RBI. 

“What do we need to do to get him off to a better start? Maybe we hit him down (in the batting order) a little bit,” Van Horn said, “just let him climb the ladder or let him stay down there and hit.”

Webb hit leadoff, middle of the order and low in the order during the Razorbacks’ first scrimmages of preseason practice that began last week. He was 2 for 8, reached base 4 times on a walk or hit by pitch, and had 4 strikeouts. 

Van Horn indicated last week he isn’t too concerned with Webb’s offensive numbers. His presence in the lineup this year will be largely based on how he plays center field. 

“Webb’s our answer from a defensive standpoint, for sure,” Van Horn said. “Even if he doesn’t get off to a good start offensively, that’s OK. It’s kind of like having a shortstop; if he doesn’t hit a whole lot, that’s OK. Just field everything and make all the plays."

Braydon Webb At a Glance

YEAR Redshirt Senior


WEIGHT 200 pounds

POSITION Outfielder

HOMETOWN McKinney, Texas


PREVIOUS SCHOOL Grayson (Texas) College

NOTABLE Webb changed his jersey number to 24 this season. He wore No. 8 last year….Webb has a career fielding average of .960 and fielded .981 last season….Webb is 8 for 9 in stolen-base attempts at Arkansas and was successful in all six attempts last season….Webb’s twin brother, Braxton, is a former pitcher at Oklahoma.

CORRECTION: Webb arrived at Arkansas before the 2020 season.


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