Arkansas baseball team begins practice with high expectations

With the football and basketball teams not giving fans much to cheer about this year, the Arkansas faithful are hoping that baseball season will finally create a reason to cheer.

The eagerness can be felt around campus as the highly touted Diamond Hogs take the field for their first official practice on Friday. The team is slated to scrimmage three times at Baum-Walker Stadium over the next four days, with Friday’s first pitch is set for 2 p.m.

The treacherous weather continues to play a role in activities, so Head Coach Dave Van Horn hopes to get some help from Mother Nature over the weekend. Arkansas got outside for the first time on Wednesday, but just a light workout, shagging flyballs and working on pop-up communication.

The Razorbacks will take off on Saturday, due to weather, as well as the Razorback Invitational track meet being held next door.

“But we will go back at it on Sunday and throw the first pitch at 12 noon,” Van Horn said, as he met with the media on Thursday. “Then we will scrimmage again on Monday. And next week looks great, so that’s the plan right now.”

After a disappointing early exit from the Fayetteville Regional last May, expectations are soaring for the Hogs as they try to reach the College World Series for the fourth time in six years. Arkansas is ranked No. 2 in the Perfect Game Preseason Top 25, and No. 3 in the D1Baseball poll.

“I think we lost maybe seven starters in the field again, just like we did the previous year, and maybe the year before that,” Van Horn said. “We’ve been very fortunate that some of the young freshmen have developed into good sophomores, and now they’re good juniors. Guys that maybe didn’t play every day last year because of injuries, have come in and really made a jump. And our pitching staff, the young guys have gotten better, and we’ve plugged in a portal guy, here and there.

“And I think the polls reflect that a little bit. What they probably like is that our pitching is good and it’s deep. And that there is a lot of potential there with our offense. But who’s to say how that is going to turn out.”

The anticipation for the upcoming season began in the fall, as Arkansas brought in the nation’s top recruiting class, as well as some key additions through the transfer portal, adding to an already impressive roster of returners.

The Diamond Hogs posted a 43-18 overall record in 2023, winning its fourth overall SEC championship and its second in the last three seasons. They are the only SEC program and one of just two teams in the country with at least 40 wins in each of the last six full seasons.

Van Horn plans to use this first weekend to get his players back in the groove of playing on an actual field, as they have been confined primarily to the indoor facility since the fall season ended in October.

“Really, this weekend is all about getting live at-bats on a baseball field, with our pitchers going, and running the bases. When you are throwing to hitters inside, they’re not running. They’re just swinging. The pitchers obviously have an advantage inside. It’s harder to hit inside, in an area like that. Although our guys do a good job in there, outside is just a different feel. So really, more than anything, its just a matter of playing the game with live at-bats for our hitters, just playing baseball.”

Arkansas will open the season at home with a four-game series against James Madison, beginning on Feb. 16.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire