FAYETTEVILLE — Though returning in 2019 as sophomore stalwarts after being fantastic freshmen for the national runner-up Arkansas Razorbacks, All-SEC freshmen third baseman Casey Martin and left fielder Heston Kjerstad appear on the move.
For now, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said at his Tuesday season wrapup press conference, he doesn’t have Martin at third or Kjerstad in left.
The turned pro departures of 2018 senior second baseman Carson Shaddy, junior shortstop Jax Biggers and junior right fielder Eric Cole has Van Horn thinking that Martin of Lonoke and Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas, could fill two of those holes.
Martin actually played some second base when Shaddy was briefly sidelined by injuries in 2018.
Junior to-be Jack Kenley, who also can play second or third, filled in at short when Biggers was out with a broken finger and is a front runner wherever Martin doesn’t fit in.
“We already know he (Martin) can play third,” Van Horn said. “He played shortstop in high school. We’re going to give him an opportunity to play short this fall and some second. Down the road in professional baseball I see him as a second baseman. I think at this level, if he can show he can be consistent, I think he’d be a great shortstop, as will Kenley. I’m going to let those two guys battle it out.”
Van Horn threw a new name Tuesday in the second base hopper.
Bryant native Trevor Ezell, a three-year letterman at Southeast Missouri State hitting .377 with six home runs and 50 RBI in 2018, will work on his masters with 2019 baseball eligibility as a graduate transfer.
“He was their top hitter every year he played pretty much,” Van Horn said. “He had one year he got hurt and got a redshirt year so he’s got another year left. He’s coming off surgery on his throwing shoulder so he might not even get to hit until late fall. But he’s very experienced and hopefully we get him rolling to help us early. If he’s not ready to throw yet full go he could DH for us. He’s a switch-hitter and a very polished hitter.”
If Ezell reports well by February, “he’ll be more than in the mix,” Van Horn predicts.
Kenley will be in the thick of it, too.
“He really got better in the little playing time he had this last season,” Van Horn said. “He’s probably the hardest worker as far as pre-game and practice that we have on the team. We feel like he’ll be ready. He needs more at bats so he’ll play every day this fall. He’ll probably get 70 or 80 at bats.”
Kjerstad presently moves left to right.
“To me, he’s more of a right fielder,” Van Horn said. “He actually throws really well.
“He’s actually a good outfielder. Yeah, he dropped a couple balls late in the season, but running and getting the ball, he’s been good.”
Kjerstad, Martin and Kenley all are eschewing summer ball to lift weights and and work on their conditioning in Fayetteville.
Junior-to-be center fielder Dominic Fletcher and junior-to-be pitcher Matt Cronin were advised by Van Horn to turn down opportunities continuing their baseball summer in the Cape Cod League after finishing their stint with Team USA.
“We felt it was best for them to go home and rest that the chances of them getting hurt were probably greater than them improving their game,” Van Horn said. “Really probably less guys playing summer ball than we’ve had in the past due to such a long season.”
Arkansas and national champion Oregon State played college baseball’s final game in the June 28 championship game at the College World Series.
However some 2018 reserves that Van Horn counts upon to contend to start in 2019 like catcher Casey Opitz, first baseman Jordan McFarland and pitchers Caleb Bolden, Zebulon Vermillion and Jacob Kostyshock are playing summer ball.
Some who played reserve roles in 2018 seek more playing time elsewhere. Pitchers Bryce Bonnin and Jacob Rutledge and outfielders Cole Turney and Easton Murrell are among those transferring as sophomores to junior college.
Recurring arm problems has forced junior left-hander Weston Rogers and senior right-hander Keaton McKinney to retire from the game while left-hander Hunter Milligan of Greenbrier will sit out 2019 because of injuries.
“From what it’s looking like right now, he (Milligan) has got arm problems,” Van Horn said. “He had surgery, I guess, his senior (high school) year. I think he was told a couple days ago it looks like he’s going to need some surgery. So I think he’s going to have surgery and do his rehab back at home and maybe go to school closer to home. We’ll see how it goes and then see if we’re going to bring him back. But he won’t be able to pitch this year.”
Milligan was sidelined last year after pitching four innings in three games.