The votes are in: SEC coaches pick Hogs to take title

University of Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith, who was named a preseason All-American by several organizations, added first-team preseason All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches to his resume Thursday.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
University of Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith, who was named a preseason All-American by several organizations, added first-team preseason All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches to his resume Thursday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FAYETTEVILLE — Coach Dave Van Horn had a sneaking suspicion when he addressed University of Arkansas baseball fans earlier this week that his 22nd edition of the Razorbacks would be well-regarded.

Van Horn, already backed up by a passel of preseason polls that picked the Razorbacks in the top four, got further confirmation Thursday that his thinking is shared by others.

SEC coaches installed Arkansas the favorite to win the SEC championship in preseason voting released by the league office. The Razorbacks, last year’s SEC co-champs with Florida, received nine first-place votes, while defending College World Series champion LSU was the choice of three coaches and Florida the pick of the remaining two.

Van Horn told a big audience at the Swatter’s Club on Monday that fall and spring scrimmages have been “over the top competitive” as the Razorbacks work 23 newcomers into the program.

“The other thing is just trying to get to know each other … with the amount of [new] guys,” Van Horn said. “It’s still a work in progress, trust me. I’m not going to say we’re the closest team yet, but I do think we’re going to get there.

“I do know by looking at them and watching them work that they all have a burning desire to be good. They all want to play professional baseball and they all want us to win. If you can get a good mix there it makes for a fun situation.” Additionally, the Razorbacks were picked to win the SEC West title and received nine first-place votes to take the division, followed by LSU

(5), Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Florida was an overwhelming pick to win the SEC East with 11 first-place votes, followed by Tennessee (2), Vanderbilt (1), South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri. This is the final year of divisional play in the SEC with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas for the 2025 season.

The past four College World Series champions — Vanderbilt (2019), Mississippi State (2021), Ole Miss (2022) and LSU (2023) — reside in the SEC and the past three from the ultra-competitive SEC West.

Arkansas has won the division title four of the past five years, a feat Van Horn described Monday as “unheard of.” A pair of Arkansas juniors — left-handed pitcher Hagen Smith and outfielder Kendall Diggs — were also preseason first-team All-SEC choices by the league coaches.

Smith (8-2, 3.64 ERA) is on track to be the Razorbacks’ opening day starter on Feb. 16 against James Madison. The 6-3, 225-pounder from Bullard, Texas, had 109 strikeouts and 42 walks and 56 hits allowed in 71 2/3 innings last season, with 11 starts and 2 saves among his 18 appearances.

Diggs, a 6-0, 210-pounder from Olathe, Kan., hit .299 with 12 home runs, a team-high 63 RBI, 12 doubles and 51 runs scored last season. Diggs spent much of the season as designated hitter before a series of injuries installed him in right field, where his defense evolved into a strength. He is targeted for another stint in right field this season.

A total of 12 schools had representatives on the two preseason All-SEC teams, led by Florida with four and Tennessee with three. Gators sophomore Jac Caglianone was a first-team pick as a first baseman and a second-team choice as a starting pitcher.

  photo  Arkansas outfielder Kendall Diggs, who hit 12 home runs with 63 RBI last season, leads a Razorbacks team that was picked to win the SEC on Thursday by the league’s coaches. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)