FAYETTEVILLE — By next week when he meets with media, after this week’s Fourth of July holiday and some recruiting, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn should know if any of the Major League drafted Razorbacks underclassmen intend to return to the Hogs in 2019.
As of last Friday upon their Fayetteville return from their national runner-up at the College World Series in Omaha, Van Horn expected only one, but maybe two or three to return.
Junior All-American 14-0 pitcher Blaine Knight (third round by the Baltimore Orioles), junior right fielder Eric Cole (fourth-round, Kansas City Royals), junior catcher Grant Koch (fifth-round, Pittsburgh Pirates), shortstop Jax Biggers (eighth-round, Texas Rangers), are as good as gone as of course is graduated senior second baseman Carson Shaddy (10th round, Washington Nationals).
Junior left-handed pitcher Kacey Murphy of Rogers also seems pro bound drafted in the 11th round by the Detroit Tigers.
Van Horn also anticipates 21-year-old, draft eligible, left-handed sophomore reserve pitcher-hitter Evan Lee (15th round by the Nationals) to sign.
He presumes junior right-handed Barrett Loseke (17th-round by the New York Yankees), will sign but that junior right-handed pitcher Jake Reindl (17th-round Chicago Cubs), will ponder and that draft eligible third-year sophomore right-handed pitcher Isaiah Campbell, who was drafted in the 24th round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will return.
Campbell, coming off an arm injury in 2017 that allowed him a hardship extra sophomore year for 2018, was 5-7 inconsistent in 2018 but consistently throwing in the mid 90’s to beat 2018 SEC champion Florida in the bracket final at Omaha, bears promise of a better draft pick in 2019 if he proves himself next season.
“As of right now, Isaiah’s planning on coming back,” Van Horn said last Friday. “He’s got another year for what we call a bargaining power year. He thinks he could move to the top of the rotation. If he goes out and pitches like he’s done a couple of times down the stretch, he’d be able to double his money. He’s a really good student and wants to get his degree. I think he’d be really close to having it at the end of next year, so we’re hoping that he’ll be back.
With Loseke I’d say they’re going to go in and pay him more than they need to normally in that round, and he deserves it. If he gets what he wants I think he’ll sign.”
What about Reindl, a Fayetteville native and Shiloh Christian grad?
“I think Jake’s on the fence a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Another great student, and Loseke’s a great student, Jake’s real close to getting his degree. He’ll probably sit and think about it for the next few days and try to figure out if he wants to play another year here or go out and play in the minor leagues.”
Van Horn never doubted that Josh Breaux, the high school catcher that Arkansas signed out of Tomball, Texas, would sign as a second-round draft choice of the New York Yankees which Breaux indeed did.
Facing a decision having already transferred from TCU, Zack Plunkett, Arkansas’ third-string catcher in 2018 behind Koch and 2018 freshman Casey Optiz, was drafted in the 37th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Out of high school, pitcher Wade Beasley of Horatio has the option of coming to the UA or signing as the 24th round draft choice of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Van Horn, hitting coach Nate Thompson and pitching coach Wes Johnson obviously have 2019 holes to fill, adding departing seniors Luke Bonfield, the designated hitter and a four-year letterman, and first baseman Jared Gates to fellow senior Shaddy and the drafted underclassmen likely to sign.
However, an all-star nucleus remains with the SEC’s two best freshmen, SEC Freshman of the Year left fielder Heston Kjerstad, and Kjerstad’s chief rival for the award, third baseman/speedster Casey Martin of Lonoke, and sophomore center fielder Dominic Fletcher, the best defensive center fielder that Van Horn says he’s coached after turning out Razorbacks center fielders become Major League outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Brett Eibner and Craig Gentry, and sophomore lefty closer Matt Cronin setting a UA record 14 saves.
Cronin and Fletcher elevate their experience this summer, announced Monday to continue their play for Collegiate Team USA.
Injuries during the season to Shaddy and Biggers and uncertainty at first base until Gates took late-season command allowed opportunities for second baseman/shortstop Jack Kenley and second baseman/third baseman Hunter Wilson, the Spiro, Oklahoma-native who took a turn at first, and first baseman Jordan McFarland all to have key games starting experience to carry into 2019.
Also, two good relief outings by freshman right-hander Kole Ramage should boost his confidence for a likely 2019 starting rotation role with Knight and Murphy presumably turning pro.