After more than 12 total hours of draft picks spread across three days, Dave Van Horn finally has a little more clarity on what his Arkansas baseball roster will look like in 2023.
The veteran coach saw nine current players get selected during the 20-round event, which gave the Razorbacks the third-most draftees among all college baseball teams — tied with Oklahoma State and trailing only Oklahoma (11) and Tennessee (10).
In addition to those players, a pair of signees and two other transfers who had announced their commitment to Arkansas were among the 616 players who heard their name called. Three former Razorbacks who transferred elsewhere were drafted, as well.
It was once again a banner year for the SEC. The conference that made up half of the College World Series also produced the most draft picks in the country. The SEC’s 83 selections were well ahead of the ACC (58), Big 12 (47) and Pac-12 (40).
Not surprisingly, half of the 10 programs that had at least seven players drafted come from the SEC: Tennessee (10), Arkansas (9), Auburn (8), Mississippi State (7) and Ole Miss. Also included in that list are two future SEC teams — Oklahoma (11) and Texas (8) — as well as Oklahoma State (9), Georgia Tech (8) and Oregon State (8).
Arkansas has now had 129 MLB Draft selections during Van Horn’s two decades at the helm, with a whopping 38 picks coming in the last five years. That is two more than Vanderbilt for the No. 1 ranking among SEC teams over that span.
Another interesting tidbit from this year’s MLB Draft is that 70.3 percent (433 of 616) of the draftees came from Division I college baseball programs. Just three years ago, in the 2019 MLB Draft – the last time it was 40 rounds – only 56.7% of drafted players came from Division I schools. The remaining draftees primarily came from the high school, junior college or lower-level college ranks.
Here are the major takeaways from the 2022 MLB Draft as it pertains to the Arkansas baseball program:
Arkansas Baseball Losing Only One Signee
Perhaps the most significant development during the draft was that one heralded signee — Jayson Jones — went undrafted and another — Mason Neville — fell all the way to the 18th round.
Jones was a top-10 recruit in the class when he committed a couple of summers ago and it was widely believed he’d never step foot on campus. However, his draft stock fell over the past year and he ultimately went undrafted, with his father revealing that he pulled his name out of the draft after Day 1.
While that news would have been stunning a year ago, it had been trending that way leading up to the draft. The much more surprising development was Neville slipping way down the draft after being considered a top-100 prospect by some outlets. The fall was almost certainly due to a high asking price and teams being unwilling to meet it.
Cincinnati ended up throwing an 18th-round pick at him, but — similar to Drake Varnado in last year’s draft — Neville quickly announced via Twitter that he was turning down the pros and coming to Fayetteville.
The pair were two of the Razorbacks’ three top-100 signees, according to Perfect Game. At No. 35, Jones becomes the fifth-highest ranked prospect to make it to campus in the Perfect Game era (since 2007), behind only Cole Turney (No. 17), Ryne Stanek (No. 20), Robert Moore (No. 20) and Cayden Wallace (No. 25), while Neville checks in at No. 86.
Arkansas will, however, lose the third player in that group, as Cole Phillips was selected in the second round and is expected to sign with the Braves.
It’s also worth noting that junior college signee Harold Coll, who could be Jalen Battles’ replacement at shortstop, went undrafted, as well. He was considered the biggest draft risk among Arkansas’ 10 JUCO recruits.
Razorbacks Set Record for Top-10 Round Picks
The draft started with a bang on Day 1 for Arkansas and the picks kept rolling in through the second day. By the time the dust settled, eight Razorbacks had been selected in the top 10 rounds — two more than the previous school record of six set in 1985 and matched in 1999, 2019 and 2021.
It started with Cayden Wallace (Royals), Peyton Pallette (White Sox) and Robert Moore (Brewers) going in the span of 23 picks in the second round. With Moore surprisingly jumping up and getting picked on the first day, Arkansas had its most top-two round picks since 2010.
The next day, Battles (Rays) came off the board in the fifth round, Evan Taylor (Marlins) and Connor Noland (Cubs) went on back-to-back picks in the ninth round, Michael Turner (White Sox) was taken in the ninth round, and Zebulon Vermillion (Mets) capped the day as a 10th-round pick.
Those holding out hope that any of those players might return to school should know that all of them will almost certainly sign professional contracts. Over the last three years, 99 percent of players taken in the top 10 rounds ultimately signed.
The trio of second-round picks are set up to receive seven-figure signing bonuses, while the other five will get much less than that.
As super seniors with no remaining collegiate eligibility, Turner and Vermillion will get very small signing bonuses. That is likely why they were drafted where they were, as those teams were looking to save money from their bonus pool to use on earlier picks.
It will be interesting to see how much Battles, Taylor and Noland receive. They were seniors this year, but technically have a bonus year of eligibility to use for leverage purposes.
From an Arkansas perspective, Noland was the most notable selection because there was a legitimate chance that he’d return to school as a super senior. However, getting picked in the ninth round indicated he likely had an agreement in place with the Cubs ahead of time and his father, Frank, has since posted on Facebook that he is already on his way to Chicago for his introductory meeting.
Getting their ace back would have been a nice boost for the Razorbacks, but they should have no shortage of pitching on next year’s team.
Pair of Transfers Drafted
Arkansas is known to have landed six transfers from the portal so far and four of them were draft-eligible players. Only two of them were considered draft risks, though, but both got picked.
It was a long-shot that he’d actually make it to campus, but UC-Santa Barbara shortstop Jordan Sprinkle was easily the Razorbacks’ most splashy addition of the offseason entering the draft.
Considered one of the best defenders in the class, he was still a highly regarded prospect even though his offensive production dipped this season. There’s a strong chance he would have slid into Battles’ spot instead of Coll, but now Van Horn almost certainly won’t have to make that decision.
As a fourth-round pick, Sprinkle could receive a signing bonus close to half of a million dollars. The White Sox also probably wouldn’t have picked him in that spot if they weren’t confident in their ability to sign him. As mentioned above, 99% of players taken in the first 10 rounds over the past three years ultimately signed with the team that drafted them.
The big question now lies with South Carolina left-hander Julian Bosnic. He was selected by the Pirates in the 14th round, which makes him far from a lock to sign.
Pittsburgh could offer him a signing bonus of up to $125,000 without penalty and anything above that would count toward its bonus pool. Considering his injury history, it’s unclear if Bosnic would command that much money.
In four years of college ball, the left-hander has just one full season under his belt. He was tremendous that season, posting a 2.78 ERA and holding opponents to a .133 batting average in 50 1/3 innings in 2021, but that’s it. He missed his freshman year with Tommy John surgery, his redshirt freshman campaign was cut short by the pandemic and then he missed this past season with a flexor strain in his elbow that eventually required season-ending surgery.
If he came to Arkansas and put together another strong season while staying healthy, Bosnic could drastically improve his draft stock. Plus, with Noland not coming back, there’s an open spot in the rotation and he could compete to be a weekend starter — which is probably why he turned down the draft last year to return to South Carolina.
On the flip side of that, Bosnic has already turned down the pros once before and he missed the following season with an injury. He’s not betting any younger — he turns 23 in December — and could decide it’s time to give the pros a shot.
That decision will have to come before the Aug. 1 signing deadline for all draftees.
Brady Slavens’ Pending Decision
One of the most surprising developments during the draft was Brady Slavens not hearing his name called at any point during the 20-round event.
Although the slugger struggled for stretches this season, he still hit 30 home runs over the last two seasons at Arkansas and showed last year that he was capable of being a .300 hitter for most of a season.
Getting a veteran player like Slavens back, despite his faults, would be huge for a team that would otherwise return just one of nine regular starters in the lineup. However, until he announces a decision — which he hadn’t within the first 24 hours after the draft’s conclusion — nothing is certain.
It would not be unheard of for a player like him to sign as an undrafted free agent instead of returning for a super senior season. Just last year, Matt Goodheart did just that.
That’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, though. Goodheart was not considered a lock to crack what many believed to be an ultra deep lineup because Battles, Slavens and Peyton Stovall were all going to be on campus after being potential high draft picks. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Slavens and next year’s team.
However, Slavens could opt to take whatever money he can get now and begin his professional career because he would get even less next year as a super senior with no remaining eligibility.
Major League Baseball has removed the $20,000 cap for UDFA signing bonuses and now allows teams to treat the undrafted players the same as those taken in rounds 11-20. A big league club could sign Slavens for up to $125,000 with no penalty, or it could exceed that number with the difference counting toward the bonus pool.
The decision could come down to how much teams are willing to offer Slavens as a slugger with swing-and-miss issues and limited defensive abilities. If MLB teams low-ball him, he could just decide to come back and be a veteran leader for the Razorbacks.
One More Year for Morris with Arkansas Baseball
While it was disappointing for Arkansas fans to hear Noland’s name called in the ninth round, meaning he likely won’t return, they did get a bit of good news with Zack Morris going undrafted.
The left-hander emerged as a key bullpen arm and reminder of a certain ’90s teen sitcom down the stretch and even started a couple of games in the postseason. He had so much success that he likely put himself in position to get drafted, but Van Horn said earlier this month that he was counting on Morris returning to school.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. A few hours after the draft ended, the Cabot native put to rest any doubt about his future by posting a “Run it back” message on Twitter.
That is a significant boost to what was already shaping up to be a loaded pitching staff with the likes of Hagen Smith, Will McEntire, Brady Tygart and Jaxon Wiggins returning, plus the addition of Koty Frank from Nebraska and — potentially — Bosnic from South Carolina.
Trio of Former Razorbacks Drafted
It’s also worth mentioning that three former Razorbacks were also selected in the 2022 MLB Draft.
Right-hander Caleb Bolden, who pitched at Arkansas from 2018-21, finished his career at TCU. He posted a 6.23 ERA, but did have 46 strikeouts in 39 innings for the Horned Frogs, resulting in Red Sox taking him in the seventh round.
The next former Arkansas player drafted was another right-hander, as Blake Adams was picked by the Rockies in the 13th round. He was the Razorbacks’ highest-ranked recruit in the 2019 class and spent two years in Fayetteville before transferring to Kansas State, where he had a 5.07 ERA in 87 innings as one of the Wildcats’ primary starting pitchers.
Finally, former fan-favorite Curtis Washington Jr. came off the board in the 19th round when the Mariners drafted him. He was at Arkansas from 2019-20, spent a year at junior college and then hit .314 with 31 stolen bases at Purdue this season.
Here is a complete rundown of Arkansas-related picks, including slot values:
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