Arkansas prep MLB Draft prospect Slade Caldwell 'addicted to baseball'

Caldwell's life has revolved around the game since he was 12
Valley View's Slade Caldwell is projected to be picked in the first round of the MLB Draft.
Valley View's Slade Caldwell is projected to be picked in the first round of the MLB Draft. / Ted McClenning

Valley View baseball coach Josh Allison routinely received phone calls regarding players he needed to be on the lookout for as they prepared to join his high school team in Jonesboro, Ark.

Those calls were normally taken with a grain of salt. One call stuck out, though. It was from Oklahoma State volunteer assistant baseball coach Matt Holliday, a former major league star.

He asked if Allison had seen incoming freshman Slade Caldwell play. Allison knew of Caldwell but hadn’t seen him in action.

“[Holliday] was calling me to ask my opinion of [Caldwell],” Allison said. “He said [Caldwell] ‘was big time.’ Oklahoma State wanted him bad.”

Holliday was right. Caldwell made an instant impact as a freshman and helped the Blazers to the Class 4A state championship and soon after committed to Mississippi much to Holliday’s chagrin.

Before he was done at the now-Class 5A juggernaut program, Caldwell added another state title and became one of the nation’s top prep baseball players. MLB Draft experts predict the 5-foot-9, 182-pound center fielder will hear his name called somewhere near the middle of the first round Sunday night.

“It has been a blessing. Sometimes the outside noise can be a distraction, but having a chance to go in the first round is a real thrill,” Caldwell said. “I have dreamed from a young age of being a major league baseball player.”

Slad Caldwell
Slade Caldwell was an All-American. /

Caldwell, who reported to Mississippi this summer, said he will watch the draft with a small group of family and friends at a local baseball facility.

It took Allison only a couple of pitches at the freshman tryout to understand why Holliday was so giddy. Allison explained that freshmen line up to take batting practice from a machine that is set on a high rate of speed.

“Most of the time the bat swings the freshmen instead of them swinging the bat,” he said.

But not for Caldwell. He was ready for the test and belted a long shot over the light pole in right-center field.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my,’” Allison said. “That was really impressive. He showed he was pretty special.”

Caldwell said he got to that point by committing to baseball by the time he was 12. He continued to play football into high school, but baseball consumed him.

“All my thoughts each day revolve around baseball and how I can get better, from working out and doing yoga to what I eat,” he said. “Around 11 or 12, I was obsessed with playing whiffle ball in the yards with my friends, and I started hitting more. Baseball took over.”

Allison noticed that Caldwell was so compulsive that he brought his lunch to school so that he could ensure he’d consume the proper number of calories and maximize his nutritive value.

Slade Caldwell
Slade Caldwell broke the Arkansas career steals record this season. / Ted McClenning

“People ask me how he got so good, and I tell them that he is addicted to baseball,” Allison said. “His life revolves around it.”

Caldwell batted third as a freshman and totaled 36 RBIs. Valley View beat Magnolia 8-1 for its first title since 2009.

Caldwell and Co. weren’t as fortunate in 2022 and 2023. Harrison beat Valley View 10-9 on a walk-off in 10 innings in the 5A state title game Caldwell’s sophomore season, and Little Rock Christian walked off the Blazers 4-3 in nine innings Caldwell’s junior season.

Caldwell’s final trip to the title game ended on a positive note as Valley View had no problem knocking off Maumelle 5-0 in May and finishing with a 31-2 record which landed the Blazers in a handful of national Top 25 rankings.

“There was no question we were going to win [the state championship]. It didn’t even enter our minds we might lose,” Caldwell said. “It was a great way to end my high school career.”

Caldwell, a four-time all-stater, batted .478 with 49 walks, 51 stolen bases, 58 runs, 18 RBIs and four home runs in the spring. He earned the Gatorade Arkansas High School Baseball Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year, and he won Gwatney Chevrolet’s Arkansas High School Baseball Player of the Year award. He also landed on the Perfect Game and ABCA/Rawlings All-American teams.

He had little time to celebrate the end of a prolific prep career before heading to Oxford, Miss., to begin his college career.

“The [Mississippi coaches] wanted the freshmen to get here for summer school,” said Caldwell, who graduated from Valley View with honors. “It’s been good being here and working out.”

Depending on what happens Sunday night, Caldwell might not stay on the Mississippi campus. A first-round selection guarantees Caldwell millions. If he decides to remain in college, he won’t be draft eligible for another three years.

“It will be a tough decision,” Caldwell said. “My family and adviser and I have a ballpark figure on where I need to go,” he said.

Valley View baseball
Slade Caldwell won two state titles in his four years in high school. / Ted McClenning

Caldwell added that the theory that a player who is drafted in the first round must not risk injury and take the guaranteed money offered isn’t always the best option.

“I think it could go either way,” he said. “Sometimes, you could develop over those three years and improve and increase your stock and become the best version of yourself. Some people are scared to go to college, but some people need more development.”

No matter what Caldwell decides, Allison is proud that ninth-grader who hit a couple of mammoth homers is close to making his dreams come true.

“I think ‘neat’ is the right word for it,” he said. “It’s just really neat that a guy lived up to the hype from Day 1 and is excelling at this kind of level. It is really exciting to have a first-rounder come out of this school. It’s been really fun to see it all happen.”

-- Nate Olson | | @ndosports

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Nate Olson


Nate Olson has covered prep and college sports in Arkansas since 1998. He has managed several newspapers and magazines in The Natural State and has won numerous awards for his work. Nate, who also has six years of public relations experience, has appeared statewide on radio and television throughout his career, and currently co-hosts a high school football postgame radio show.