Diamond Hogs open season against stiff competition

Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

There’s snow on the ground with sub-freezing temperatures. It must be college baseball season, y’all.

Honestly, shouldn’t the college season be pushed forward a month until mid March, when there is less likelihood of snow drifts and limb-numbing temperatures?

Pushing the season back would create issues with the Major League Draft, summer-league ball, and what not, but it might also increase ticket sales and drive interest across the college baseball landscape.

Of course, ticket sales usually aren’t an issue for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Even if it’s too cold to attend the games, Hog fans are going to renew their season tickets to enjoy those wonderful spring evenings and afternoons later in the season when the Ozark weather is perfect.

The only thing to keep Razorback baseball fans from spilling out of Baum Stadium is the Covid-19 pandemic, which is going to limit attendance to about a fourth of what is normal this season.

Maybe those numbers can be adjusted upward later in the season when more and more of the population is vaccinated, but I’m guessing not.

Oh, well, that’s enough of my annual gripe about the way-too-early start to college baseball. After the suspension of last year’s season in mid-March because of the virus, honestly, I’m glad the Hogs are beginning play.

And what a way to start.

The No. 8 Razorbacks open their season Saturday at 7 p.m. in the College Baseball Showdown at Arlington, Texas.

The Hogs play the No. 4 Texas Tech Red Raiders in their opening game, followed on Sunday with at 7 p.m. against No. 9 Texas, and at 6 p.m. Monday against No. 11 TCU.

Dave Van Horne’s Razorbacks will know exactly where they stand and how they need to improve following this Invitational that boasts a roster of squads that likely will only be topped at the SEC Tournament in May or the College World Series in June.

The Hogs’ schedule this weekend is much tougher than any first-round Regional site in the NCAA Tournament.

All three games are being televised by the FloBaseball streaming channel, which can be subscribed too for $12.99 for a month.

The Razorbacks’ starters for the Showdown might surprise some Razorback fans.

Former weekend starters Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander will be in the bullpen as righty Zebulon Vermillion starts Saturday, righty Peyton Pallette gets call Sunday, and lefty grad-transfer Lael Lockhart sees his first action as a Razorback after transferring in from Houston.

However, Van Horn said that Nolan and Wicklander will still play a huge role for the Razorbacks this season whether they work their way into a starting role or out of the bullpen in long relief.

The Razorbacks should be strong up the middle this season. Sophomore Robert Moore returns at second base with junior college transfer Jason Battles manning shortstop.Jacob Nesbitt has nailed down third base; however, he or Moore could play shortstop and Battles could play either second or third. That’s just how versatile the trio is. Casey Opitz returns at catcher for his senior season.

Van Horn said Moore was so strong at second last year in the Covid-shortened season that he liked ho efficiently he turned a double play. Moore’s probable Major League position is second base.

Christian Franklin will be an anchor for the Hogs in center field. Braylon Webb should be a fixture in left field. Freshman Cayden Wallace will get a shot at right field, and with his talent, he’s likely to hold the spot.

Matt Goodhart, a fourth-year junior, will likely get the call at first base, but will be in the batting lineup as designated hitter, if not. Lefty Cullen Smith was a heavy hitter in fall ball and will see time at first, but also could play at second or third.

As it stands, this should be another strong team for Van Horn. Just how strong, as always, depends on how the pitching falls into place.

It might not feel like it outside as we deal with a half-foot of snow, but the college baseball season is here.