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FAYETTEVILLE — A trio of baseball players have left Arkansas’ program since the conclusion of its annual Fall World Series last month, HawgBeat has learned.
Returning freshman Bryce Matthews and incoming freshman Michael Brooks have entered the NCAA transfer portal, while a source said Clayton Gray – another incoming freshman – is also moving on.
They are the Razorbacks’ first three departures since early in the summer, but that is not uncommon in college baseball this time of the year.
There are always transfers following the fall semester as playing time and depth chart positioning for the upcoming season becomes clearer. It was especially expected this year because of the roster crunch facing the sport.
Thanks to the coronavirus eligibility relief granted by the NCAA and the shortened MLB Draft, Arkansas had 52 players on its fall roster – one of the highest totals during head coach Dave Van Horn’s tenure.
Although he didn’t mention any names, Van Horn said earlier this month that there would likely be some players move on and indicated they would be mutual decisions.
“It’s usually a good two-way conversation talking about what’s best for the individual and then best for our team, what we see in the future, obviously what we see this spring and playing time,” Van Horn said. “A lot of times it boils down to what does this individual need to work on.”
Brooks is a notable departure because he was one of the Razorbacks’ top recruits in their 2020 class. A middle infielder from Florida, he was the No. 105 overall prospect in the country and a top-25 shortstop, according to Perfect Game.
Sources have indicated he got off to a solid start this fall, but struggled down the stretch. In the six-game Fall World Series, Brooks went just 1 for 16 with one RBI, three walks and five strikeouts. His .063 batting average was the lowest among the Razorbacks’ 19 players.
Just ahead of Brooks in batting average was Matthews, a top-500 recruit out of Colorado. Although he’s shown glimpses of some power, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder has been inconsistent at the plate. In the Fall World Series, he went 1 for 14 (.071) with a double and two walks, plus half of his plate appearances ended with strikeouts.
Matthews did make SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays this fall, but it was with his glove. Playing in left field, he robbed Matt Goodheart of a potential game-tying home run in the final inning of one of the scrimmages.
As a freshman during the shortened 2020 season, Matthews – who also got some work at first base over the summer – appeared in just three games and went 1 for 4 with a pinch-hit double against South Alabama. Playing in the Northwoods League this summer, he hit .242/.337/.385 with four home runs and 16 RBIs, but also struck out 37 times in 91 at bats.
Much like Brooks, Gray was a touted member of the Razorbacks’ incoming group of freshmen. Coming out of Cabot High, he was the No. 211 overall prospect nationally and the top outfielder in Arkansas for his class, according to Perfect Game.
Gray had a slightly better showing at the plate during the Fall World Series than the other two, but still hit just .231 (3 for 13) with a double, two RBIs and three walks. His seven strikeouts were tied for second on the team in the event.
All three players were seemingly behind several others on the depth chart at their respective positions, so playing time was likely to be hard to come by in 2021 had they remained at Arkansas.
According to a source, Gray has committed to Crowder C.C. in Neosho, Mo., where he’ll play alongside Arkansas signee Dylan Carter, a right-handed pitcher originally out of Bentonville West.
Brooks told HawgBeat that he is exploring some Division I opportunities, but if that doesn’t work out, he could also take the JUCO route. Having played just one season in college that doesn’t even count because of the eligibility relief, Matthews could consider Division I and JUCO options, as well.