FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn hinted Friday an Arkansas Razorbacks future for Blaine Knight he apparently wasn’t seeing last Monday night.
Monday night after Van Horn’s Razorbacks’ season ended in their 3-2 Fayetteville Regional loss to Missouri State at Baum Stadium, the Arkansas coach was asked about "having" to pitch Knight in relief Monday after the right-hander from Bryant had thrown 105 pitches starting last Saturday’s night’s 5-4 winner’s bracket loss to Missouri State.
Knight retired the two batters he faced Monday.
Van Horn explained it wasn’t "have to" on his part pitching Knight in his Razorbacks’ farewell. Knight concluded a great season as a turning 21 draft eligible sophomore in the upcoming Major League draft.
"He didn’t have to," Van Horn asserted Monday. "Blaine Knight really wanted to go after those two guys. He really wanted to go out and pitch one more time. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore. He’ll probably be moving on here shortly."
But in his Friday season wrapup press conference, Van Horn said, "If Blaine Knight comes back…"
What changed from Monday’s "He’ll probably be moving on here shortly" to Friday’s "If Blaine Knight comes back?"
"He does," Van Horn said. "His family. A few other things probably I can’t talk about."
Obvious ones are that it’s been Knight’s lifelong dream to pitch for the Razorbacks and to enter the 2018 season as the staff on team team that just went 45-19 must have appeal.
So would adding another 10 pounds like Knight did after the 2016 season bringing his weight to a still too slender 165 on a 6-3 frame.
"If he gets better, bigger and stronger, which he will, he moves way up," Van Horn said of Knight’s potential. "And when you move way up, it (draft signing money) can go way up. We’re optimistic. It’s his decision. We don’t get involved when you start talking about that kind of money. But if they call and ask, we’re going to give them our opinion. There’s a chance. I had two or three coaches in our league tell me ‘That kid needs to come back.’ He’ll be the guy they all talk about next year."
Knight’s All-SEC catcher, returning junior-to be Grant Koch, was asked how big for the 2018 Razorbacks should Knight, 8-4, 3.28 ERA with 96 strikeouts vs. 20 walks, return.
Whatever Knight chooses, Koch said, "We have his back - I have his back - no matter what decision he makes. But selfishly we would love to have him back because of how good we know he is."
Off the great years they compiled, junior first baseman Chad Spanberger, .305, 20 home runs and 67 RBI, and junior transfer pitcher Trevor Stephan, 6-3, 2.87 with a high 90’s fast ball and 120 strikeouts vs. 20 walks, surely will get draft offers too good to refuse, Van Horn said.
Van Horn said he also anticipates fourth-year junior/three-year letterman second baseman Carson Shaddy and junior three-year letterman left fielder/DH Luke Bonfield turning pro.
Though Jared Gates hit a home run in both of the final games with Missouri State, Arkansas won 11-10 from Sunday night into past 3 a.m. after Sunday evening beating Oral Roberts, 4-3 in the losers bracket final, Van Horn anticipates the junior third baseman returning to improve his draft stock after hitting just .246.
Sophomore right-hander Isaiah Campbell, projected to be the staff ace coming off the 2016 season but hardshipped after surgery removed bone chips in his arm, should return full go, Van Horn said.
The coach said the 2018 prospects are more dicey for pitchers Keaton Mchaving played only 14 games when his season ended with a stress fracture in his leg.Kinney and Cody Scroggins, neither pitching in 2017 after Tommy John arm surgery.
Van Horn, pitching coach Wes Johnson and for volunteer coach Josh Elander do all the recruiting since hitting coach/recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello became Tennessee’s head coach.
Van Horn lauded Elander as an eventual big-time coaching prospect but said the plan is for him to continue his two-year volunteer coaching commitment.
Van Horn said he’s not lacking for interested candidates.
"The interest level is very high," Van Horn said. "Former head coaches. Some head coaches. Obviously some recruiting coordinators at other schools. up and comers. A little bit of everything. Really the last 36 hours my phone has been non-stop, either with texts or phone calls."