FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks’ long 46-20 baseball season ended two games into the College World Series but for several continues into the summer.
For some that could include playing on Team USA’s international touring team.
Sophomore catcher Casey Opitz already has all but made the team already, and sophomore right fielder Heston Kjerstad and sophomore shortstop Casey Martin are getting opportunities to make the Team USA roster, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said during his Monday season-wrapup press conference.
Originally, Van Horn said the summer plan was to rest Opitz after he caught 58 games and let him lift weights and work on his hitting in Fayetteville, but that becomes his fall ball plan.
“Now he’s going to play for Team USA,” Van Horn said. “I think they feel like he can be the best defensive catcher out there who’s a junior- to- be. As far as I know he doesn’t have to make the team, he’s on the team.”
2019 Preseason All-Americans Kjerstad, .345, 13 home runs 48 RBI in 2018, and Martin, .345 with 13 home runs, and 49 RBI in 2018 as third baseman on Arkansas’ national runner-up team, are getting a Team USA look following Kjerstad hitting .327 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI for the 2019 SEC West co-champion Hogs while Martin’s average dipped to .286 but his power numbers upped to 15 home runs and 57 RBI.
“Kjerstad’s going to play,” Van Horn said. “He’s got a little workout with Team USA. If that goes good, he’ll play with them. If not he’ll probably go to the Cape (the summer ball Cape Cod League). Martin is going to go work out with Team USA and see how that goes.”
Both hope to improve their defensive skills over the summer.
As hitters, Van Horn said both need to walk more and strike out less.
In 266 at bats Kjerstad walked 21 times and struck out 65.
Martin in 283 at bats walked 30 times and struck out a team high 79.
After three seasons playing some but not enough contending at first base and or designated hitter, junior Jordan McFarland is moving into the transfer portal for his 2020 senior year.
McFarland hit .271 in 29 games as a reserve in 2017 and often was a regular in 2018 hitting .299 in 45 games with 29 starts.
However, he was beaten out for first base by Jared Gates in the 2018 Hogs’ stretch run for the College World Series, and beaten out in 2019 by graduate transfer Trevor Ezell, hitting .329 with 10 home runs, 47 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
Still, even while only hitting .238 with two home runs and 12 RBI for all his 24 games in 2019, McFarland came through as a role-player in SEC games, hitting .400, going 6 for 15 with a home run and a double.
“He’d like to go to another Division I school and hopefully get an opportunity to play right away,” Van Horn said. “He just wants to play and I don’t blame him.”
Business school honors graduate Ezell moves on from his one Razorbacks year signing a pro free agent contract but McFarland couldn’t be promised ample playing time. Sophomore designated hitter Matt Goodheart, the team’s leading hitter both in all games batting .345 and SEC games, .369, gets a first base shot.
“We’ll spend a lot of time with him (Goodheart) on the defensive end, see how he can improve there with his footwork at first base,” Van Horn said. “Obviously he’s a pretty good target. Almost 6-foot-2, skinny kid, long arms and legs. He fields the ball well, he’s just got to get comfortable and move better over there.”
Goodheart, and returning outfielders Christian Franklin, Curtis Washington and Trey Harris and infielder Coby Boulware, redshirted in 2019 as a sophomore transfer from TCU, all are playing summer ball, Van Horn said.
Jacob Nesbit, the freshman starting third baseman Jacob Nesbit in 2019, hits the weight room this summer in Fayetteville, Van Horn said.
Other than some who didn’t pitch much in 2019 but could be counted upon in 2020, including freshmen Cade Monke, Jacob Burton, Liam Henry and Elijah Trest, Van Horn said he’s “taking it easy on the pitchers,” regarding summer ball.
With Isaiah Campbell, already signed by the Seattle Mariners, and drafted pitchers Jacob Kostyshock, and Cody Scroggins also expected to turn pro along with drafted center fielder Dominic Fletcher and drafted second baseman Jack Kenley, Van Horn said of 2019 freshman starters Patrick Wicklander and Connor Noland, “they could be special,” Van Horn said.
Relievers Kevin Kopps, Kole Ramage, Marshall Denton and Zebulon Vermillion worked enough during the season without further taxing their arms in summer ball.
Third-year sophomore Caleb Bolden, redshirted in 2019 coming off Tommy John surgery but counted upon for 2020, also won’t pitch summer ball.
Kopps pitched strictly middle relief in 30 appearances in 2019 but with Campbell departed, “We’re going to give Kopps every opportunity to start,” Van Horn said.