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Baseball Preview: Arkansas

The Tigers faced some of their first adversity this season when they fell to Vanderbilt last week. How will they bounce back against the Razorbacks this weekend?

NCAA Baseball Regional - Fayetteville Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Last week the Tigers ran into a buzzsaw in Nashville against Vanderbilt, and this week it won’t get any easier. The Tigers will be hosting the No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks at Taylor Stadium this weekend, and the Hogs are coming in fresh off a sweep of Kentucky. Arkansas is a perennial power in the college baseball landscape, so let’s take a look at the talent they’ll be bringing to Taylor Stadium this year.

Pitching

Last year the Arkansas pitching staff was led by super reliever Kevin Kopps, this year they look a little different. On Friday, Connor Noland gets the ball as he has shifted from his role as a reliever into a weekend starter. In 5 appearances, Noland has a 3.07 ERA and 38 Ks in 29.1 innings. He will also be coming into Taylor Stadium off possibly his best outing of the year against Kentucky.

While Noland has put up solid numbers and is one of the best arms on one of the best teams in the country, his stuff doesn’t wow you. He’s a good pitcher, but he sits around 90 mph with his fastball and really makes his living with great breaking pitches. Others on this Arkansas staff have more velocity, but Noland has given a solid start every time he’s toed the rubber this year for the Hogs.

The 90 mph fastball may be deceiving, but don’t get it twisted, Noland has a filthy breaking ball:

On Saturday, the Razorbacks will turn the ball over to Texas native Hagen Smith. Smith is the only left-hander and freshman in the weekend rotation for the Hogs, and in his young career he’s quickly carved out an important role for himself in the Hogs rotation.

On the year, Smith has a 3.08 ERA and 32 Ks in 26.1 innings. Contributing to those numbers are Smith’s elite stuff. His abilities had him very high on draft boards in high school, but he chose to take his talents to Fayetteville instead. From the left side, Smith sits low 90s with his heater and a wipeout breaking ball. His delivery is also difficult for hitters to pick up coming from a Chris Sale-esque release point.

Here’s a look at what I’m talking about when it comes to Smith:

Finally, we are at Sunday, and let me tell you, I LOVE the Hogs’ Sunday starter. Jaxon Wiggins is your prototypical right-handed power arm that scouts just salivate over. The sophomore from Oklahoma recently hit 98 mph against Kentucky.

Wiggins doesn’t just have the big fastball though; he has good numbers, too. A 3.38 ERA with 29 Ks in 26.2 innings are great numbers, and with stuff like his, you know MLB scouts are always watching. With a fastball as dominant as Wiggins’ he can have a tendency to rely on it a little too much and that may have hindered his development of secondary pitches. His changeup and breaking ball have shown flashes of greatness, but both are still a work in progress. The Tigers will know they’re going to a get a good amount of heaters from this guy, it’s just a matter of if they can turn them around.

Just look at this heater from Wiggins, it’s almost unhittable:

Hitting

The Hogs’ biggest bat is Michael Turner. The grad transfer from Kent State has quickly made himself a household name in Fayetteville with all his early season success so far this year. Turner catches and can play some infield, but his bat is what you can’t help but notice about him. To this point in the season, Turner is slashing .369/.463/.662 and leads the team in almost every category, including HR and RBI.

If the Tigers leave the ball up to Turner, he’ll likely add some more to those tallies. He’s a great hitter on balls up in the zone, and does much less damage when the ball is down. Nevertheless, he doesn’t have many real weaknesses at the dish and is very patient. If the Tigers want to be successful this weekend, they’ll need to limit Turner.

Here’s a look at just how dangerous Turner’s smooth lefty swing can be:

Turner typically hits third, and his protection in the cleanup spot, Chris Lanzilli is having a fantastic year for Dave Van Horn’s team as well. Lanzilli, like Turner, is another grad transfer who has made instant impact at Baum Stadium. He’s slashing .364/.481/.515 and has 2 HR and 14 RBI this year.

There’s no denying Lanzilli’s ability, but if you had to pick a flaw of his approach at plate it’d be his tendency to pull the ball. He almost always gets his hands extended and tries to pull the ball down the left field line as a right-handed hitter. Even so, he’s flirting with a near 1.000 OPS, so I think he’s doing just fine this year.

Here’s a look at a walk-off bomb Lanzilli hit earlier this season:

While Arkansas has a number of great bats, the last one I’m going to highlight is one of my favorite players in college baseball. Robert Moore is a KC native and has been an important bat for the Hogs for a couple seasons now. Moore slots in right behind Turner and Lanzilli in the order to form a terrifying middle of the order.

The switch-hitting second baseman is slashing .292/.439/.523 and has 2 HR and 15 RBI, and plays with enough swagger for the entire Arkansas team. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter who has a tendency to swing at first pitches and pulls the ball at both sides of the plate, but it most definitely works for him as he hammered 16 HR last year.

Take a look at this clip of Moore from last year, it was easily my favorite batflip of the year:

Game Schedule

Friday | 6 pm | SEC Network +

Saturday | 2 pm | SEC Network

Sunday | 1 pm | SEC Network +