Arkansas baseball middle infield has connection

Arkansas shortstop Wehiwa Aloy is shown during a scrimmage Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The critical forming of synergy between University of Arkansas middle infielders Peyton Stovall and Wehiwa Aloy will have to be on pause for a while.

Stovall, the Razorbacks’ junior second baseman, is expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks after suffering a broken bone in his right foot during Monday’s scrimmage.

The injury will not require surgery, a UA spokesman said, but it will likely mean Stovall’s return to action would come in mid-March with the Razorbacks slated to open SEC play March 15 against Missouri.

Stovall was hit by a Tate McGuire pitch square on the right foot as the lead-off batter in the bottom of the first inning in Monday’s scrimmage. He remained in the box as Hunter Grimes was placed on first base in his stead and, after Grimes stole second base, Stovall laced a would-be double into the gap in right-center field.

However, Stovall was clearly favoring the foot and did not get much past first base before hobbling back and was again replaced by Grimes. Though he tried to go back in the field to open the second inning, he was pulled on defense.

Stovall remained in the lineup and later added a single and a pop-up.

Stovall, a 5-11, 200-pounder from Haughton, La., will now have a second consecutive season with a major injury. He played through a shoulder injury for parts of last season before being shut down in late April and eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in June. He was cleared to return to action in December.

Among the top options for Coach Dave Van Horn to replace Stovall in the near term are Peyton Holt and Jared Sprague-Lott, who are battling for the starting job at third base, or freshman Nolan Souza. Holt filled in for Stovall late last season and served as a spark plug for Arkansas offensively down the stretch.

However, if Holt is seen as the likely long-term third baseman, turning to Sprague-Lott — whom Van Horn described as the team’s utility infielder in his Monday speaking appearance at the Swatter’s Club in Fayetteville — might make more sense.

Sprague-Lott is a 6-0 senior from Philadelphia who transferred from Richmond after hitting .279 with 5 home runs, 39 RBI and 50 runs scored for the Spiders in 2023.

Holt, a senior from Greenwood, hit .392 in 31 games, including 19 starts, with 2 home runs and 17 RBI last season.

Stovall batted .295 as a freshman while mostly playing first base with 6 home runs and 31 RBI in 52 games. He then batted .253 with 5 home runs and 31 RBI in 38 games last season.

Talking to media after his Swatter’s Club appearance, Van Horn talked about the importance of getting his middle infielders in harmony.

“It’s been good,” Van Horn said, “because Peyton didn’t play catch all fall. When we were on the field, he was doing all his rehab and all his work.

“So when we came back first day of [spring] practice, Aloy was playing catch with Jared Sprague-Lott, who’s his roommate. He’s more of a third baseman, so I went up to Peyton and I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to play catch with [Aloy].’

“He goes, ‘Yeah,’ and then Aloy, I said, ‘You’re going to play catch with [Stovall],’ and so now that’s a strong partnership.”

Van Horn has always stressed the idea middle infielders should know how their double-play partners will send feeds and cover the base and all the other intricacies of the positions.

“They just need to know each other,” Van Horn said. “They need to have a feel if they’re going to flip it or backhand it. They just need to know each other and know the spin of the ball, everything.

“Wehiwa is really, really easy to get along with. He’s not super loud. He’s fun to be around. The guys all like him, and I think he’s really enjoying his time here.”

Now it seems Aloy could be regaining his warm-up partner in Sprague-Lott as the Razorbacks, a consensus top-5 pick in preseason polls, continue to progress toward the season-opener Feb. 16 against James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium.