Van Horn teases future SEC schedule, previews '24 season at Swatter's Club

Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn is shown, Friday, March 3, 2023, before the start of the Razorbacks’ 12-2 run-rule-shortened win over Wright State at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Even Dave Van Horn admitted to being pleasantly surprised by the turnout at Monday’s first Swatter’s Club meeting of the season for University of Arkansas baseball at Mermaid’s Restaurant.

A throng approaching 275 fans packed in to hear Van Horn discuss the roster, schedule, health updates and even the upcoming schedule with the season opener against James Madison 11 days away.

One of the biggest pieces of news was one Van Horn admitted he maybe shouldn’t spill but he couldn’t help himself regarding the Hogs’ SEC home games in 2025, based on recent communication from the SEC.

“Next year’s home schedule, those five series, they’re pretty cool. There might be a couple of teams that have a ‘T’ on their hat,” Van Horn said, a reference to Texas and Tennessee. “Might be. Not sure. But get your tickets now.”

Van Horn sounded excited about the potential for the Razorbacks, who are coming off an SEC co-championship with Florida and are a preseason top 4 selection by all the publications that have released polls.

“It was pretty cool to see this many people come out,” Van Horn said. “It was a nice day. There’s a lot of hype around the baseball program right now. They know that we have a chance to be pretty good and I think it’s all just coming together for us.”

The 22nd year head coach called recent scrimmaging by the Razorbacks “over-the-top competitive.”

Van Horn provided a few injury reports as well, including for pitchers Ben Bybee and Tucker Holland.

Bybee is dealing with a hamstring issue that has flared up from time to time since last summer and which pulled him out of his last scrimmage last week, Van Horn said.

Bybee was supposed to be on track to pitch in Monday’s scrimmage but he was held out for precautionary measures, which meant freshmen Colin Fisher and Tate McGuire squared off.

“He’s a little irritated with that,” Van Horn said of the 6-6 sophomore right-hander. “He wants to pitch. And we’re ‘Well, we don’t need to throw you. We need you to get healthy.’ Because he’s been throwing the ball good. He’s got another pitch or two this year, he’s bigger and stronger and he throws a lot of strikes.”

Holland, a 6-6 freshman left-hander from Fayetteville, N.C., who was rated the No. 87 national prospect by Perfect Game in the class, has been sidelined to open the season.

“It’s not a surgery,” Van Horn said. “It’s more about … a bone issue that is bothering him. It might just be a situation where we have to let that heal for a while. There’s no reason to try to rush him because he could really get hurt.”

Van Horn talked as if left field and catcher will be two key positions to watch at the outset with many other positions close to being taken.

Van Horn said sophomore Jayson Jones, Missouri transfer Ross Lovich and junior college transfer Will Edmunson were in the mix in the corner outfield spot.

“Left field is still a battle, but if we could get Jones to swing it like he does in batting practice … because he hits the ball harder day-in and day-out … every swing is recorded and it’s pretty amazing.”

Van Horn called the depth at catcher, between returners Parker Rowland and Hudson Polk, Texas Tech transfer Hudson White and freshman Ryder Helfrick, the best he’s had at Arkansas.

“Usually you hope you have one real good one and one that just needs a little time,” he said. “If you have a third guy that plays another position, that’s a really good catching situation, having two-and-a-half so to speak. Having really four guys that can catch, it’s a great situation but it’s also a hard situation.”

Van Horn said the trio of left-handers Hagen Smith and Mason Molina and right-hander Brady Tygart are on target to be opening weekend starters and the fourth spot in the series against James Madison is still up in the air.

Bybee and freshman lefty Colin Fisher are among the candidates to start Game 4 if the weather allows.

Van Horn made sure to talk to the crowd about his satisfaction regarding last year’s team, which battled injuries to key pitchers and a series of position players but kept winning series and captured the program’s fourth SEC West title in the last five years.

“That’s unheard of,” Van Horn said. “They probably over-achieved.”

Van Horn ended his talk with some advice after describing that in today’s NIL and NCAA Transfer Portal climate, SEC teams are always going to be older, more experienced and really good.

“Don’t go crazy if it doesn’t go good here and there,” Van Horn said. “Last year we ran out of gas, and we knew it. We were limping going into the regional.”