Arkansas baseball head coach Dave Van Horn met with the media for the first time in 2023 Friday and he announced his team’s three captains for the upcoming season.
Senior lefty pitcher Zack Morris, junior outfielder Jace Bohrofen and sophomore infielder Peyton Stovall were selected by their teammates as team captains.
“The crazy thing about that voting is that there were three or four other guys that were right there,” Van Horn said. “A couple of ’em were transfers, so they like each other a little bit, and they respect each other already, so that’s really good to see.”
Morris is entering his fourth season as a Hog following a career-best campaign in 2022. He recorded 26 strikeouts, 19 walks, allowed nine earned runs on 29 hits and had a 2.31 ERA in 35.0 innings pitched.
“Zack’s a guy that there was definitely some interest in him professionally, as a few of the other guys here,” Van Horn said. “But chose to come back. I think he’s going to be a little bit of everything for us. He can be a guy that can start. He can be a guy that can come in in the fifth and finish the game. He can come in and get a hitter out. So a lot of maturity there.”
Of all Morris’ outings in 2022, his final one was the most polarizing, when he entered in the bottom of the ninth inning with no outs, bases loaded and a 3-1 Arkansas lead in an elimination game against Ole Miss in the College World Series. The left-hander struck out his first batter and then induced a pair of fly outs to left to keep the Hogs alive for one more day.
“He’s been in about as tough a situation as you can be in that second to last game in Omaha,” Van Horn said. “Bases loaded, win or go home. That’s after having a bad start earlier and we gave him the ball because we had confidence in him.”
Stovall saw his ups and downs as a highly-touted freshman in 2022, but he seems primed to be a leader for Arkansas this season. He slashed .295/.373/.425 last year and had 59 hits, eight doubles, six homers and 31 RBI. He came on strong late in the postseason, even having a five-hit performance in the CWS against Auburn to become the first player since 2009 and the first Razorback with five hits in one College World Series game.
“You see a kid that really, the first three-quarters of the season, he was just tight, nervous,” Van Horn said. “Trying to impress everybody, just trying to live up to the hype, and finally we talked with him, he just said, ‘Heck with it,’ then he let it go, and then you saw how good he was. He was probably our best hitter down the stretch.”
At one point, Stovall sat for two weeks, missing both the Auburn and Vanderbilt series, as he was going through a dry spell. During that time he had a conversation with Van Horn about the pressure that he was putting on himself.
“We sat down and he talked to me,” Stovall said. “I told him I was going to continue to work as hard as I could…He said that he continued to believe in me and was still going to give me plenty of opportunities. Fortunately for me, I was able to have success down the road . I think a huge part of that played into that meeting I had with Coach Van Horn.”
Stovall played first base for the Razorbacks last year, but he is set to move to second this season, which is his natural position.
Bohrofen’s 2022 campaign probably did not go as he planned it out in his head. An unfortunate collision with a wall prior to the March 10 game against Illinois-Chicago held him out until April 1, and by that point it was tough for Bohrofen to really find his groove.
The Oklahoma transfer hit with a .228 average in 92 at bats last year, and he racked up 21 hits, eight doubles, one triple, 17 RBIs and three homers. Van Horn said Bohrofen is ready to prove his worth after last season’s struggles.
“I think he’s fed up with what’s gone on as far as how much he’s gotten to play and how he’s played, the injuries,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s ready to have a big year for us. The team voted him one of our captains. He didn’t even get to play last year, hardly, once he hurt himself when he ran into that wall in a pregame drill, which was unbelievable when you talk about it.”
Bohrofen, who will likely start in right field, seems to be ready to put last year in the rearview mirror.
“Last year was a freak deal that happened,” Bohrofen said. “Sometimes that’s just baseball. Everyone has their own journey. I’m just really excited to get on this season and play and win games and get to Omaha and hopefully win the last game of the season.”
The respect in the clubhouse seems to grow quickly, as Bohrofen and Stovall are each just in their second year as Razorbacks — Bohrofen as a transfer from Oklahoma prior to last season, and Stovall as a true sophomore. Like Van Horn mentioned, some new transfers are widely respected, including Kansas transfer Tavian Josenberger.
“He’s been a real leader in the clubhouse and on the field and I think guys gravitate to him,” Van Horn said.
Although the Diamond Hogs may have a bunch of unfamiliar faces entering this season, the team has grown close and seems to be bonding well before the start of preseason practice on Friday. The mutual respect is there, but soon it will be time to compete.