FAYETTEVILLE - Benton’s Peyton Pallete continues to be a good bet forging among the starting rotation the first weekend of the Razorbacks’ baseball season.
Arkansas opens as part of the SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge weekend with the Razorbacks, Ole Miss and Mississippi State of the SEC West meeting the Big 12’s Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas Longhorns and TCU Horned Frogs, the Razorbacks’ order of opponents on Feb. 19-20-21 at the major league’s Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“Peyton Pallette has thrown real, real well,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn volunteered during a Friday press conference also involving pitcher Zebulon Vermillion and second baseman Robert Moore. “We’re pretty sure, as of now unless something happens, he’s going to get a start next weekend.”
Pallette, reclassified a freshman with all 2020 collegiate baseball players retaining their 2020 eligibility for 2021 when COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season in mid-March pitched four times in relief in 2020 with a 1.59 ERA and a save in Arkansas’ final game before the COVID cancellation.
What’s turned the right-hander from long reliever to likely weekend starter?
“I would say just his demeanor on the mound is different,” Moore replied. “You can tell with some guys when they get on the mound that they’re ready to get you, and some guys are timid. As a hitter, over the past year you can just see the confidence build up in him. Whenever you look out there and see him on the mound, you know it’s go time because he’s going to bring it and if you don’t match his intensity or his focus, you’re going to get dominated.”
Better presence and better stuff?
“Obviously his stuff has gotten a lot better,” Moore said. “But you can tell just by the way Peyton walks around he’s very confident, believes in what he has and he’s not afraid to throw his fastball in any count, which is a big trademark to being a great pitcher.”
Veteran Vermillion notices a difference in his comrade in arms.
“He’s definitely grown up a little bit,” Vermillion said. “He’s got a lot more confident with his stuff. He’s throwing great right now. He’s going to be huge on the pitching staff. Last year, he was a young guy. Pretty much just getting out there and getting comfortable and confident. He’s definitely made that improvement. He’s grown up and more mature this year.”
Off his 7.1 shutout innings in relief last year, Vermillion could be this year’s closer. He won’t start closing since he might start starting in Arlington.
“Zeb Vermillion has thrown really well,” Van Horn said. “We might give him an opportunity to start next weekend.”
So who finishes if Vermillion starts?
“I feel like we’ve got a couple of guys lined up to finish out some games for us if we decide to start Vermillion,” Van Horn said.
For now he trusts in Trest. Third-year sophomore right-hander Elijah Trest.
“He’s throwing the ball real well right now,” Van Horn said. “He’s a guy I have a lot of confidence in. He spots his fastball well. He’s 95-96 mph about every pitch. His slider’s better. It’s got a little more depth this year. He’s probably the one that we’ll probably go to right away. We could close games now with maybe guys that aren’t throwing the ball at 95-plus, but we’ve got two or three more that could.”
“If you wanted to go with a young guy you could put Jaxon Wiggins in there,” Van Horn said.
Wiggins stands 6-6 as a freshman right-hander from Roland, Oklahoma. “He’s got a really good arm, up to 97-98 mph already,” Van Horn said also citing a couple of veterans. “(Kevin) Kopps could do it. I feel like (Kole) Ramage could close out games. They’ve both been really, really good this year. Kopps has super good, and fun to watch.”
Afield and at the bat it seems the Hogs are set everywhere but first base and right field.
Catcher Casey Opitz, center fielder Christian Franklin and designated hitter Matt Goodheart, veterans of two College World Series teams, were voted Preseason First-Team All-SEC by vote of the SEC coaches. So was Moore with just 17 games last year as the starting second baseman as an early high school grad.
Jacob Nesbit, defensively among the best, returns at third and Braydon Webb returns in left.
Transfer Jalen Battles has claimed Philadelphia Phillies draft choice Casey Martin’s Arkansas shortstop spot enabling Moore to stay at second in what should again be a strong double-play tandem.
“Jalen is an unbelievable defender,” Moore said. “He’s very smooth. He’s so in control with his body. He gives good feeds, we work well together, he’s fun to be around and just a great teammate.”
Greenbrier’s Cayden Wallace, a true freshman, and redshirt Zack Gregory contest in right.
Transfers Brady Slavens via East Tennessee State and Cullen Smith via Johnson Junior College contest at first.
“Realistically I would like to get both of those guys in the lineup at the same time,” Van Horn said. “They both hit left-handed and they hit well. They both have power. I can always flip Cullen over to third if Nesbit is not hitting well. The defense from Nesbit is just elite really at this level. He’ll get the opportunity to start that first game for sure.”