He took it down to the wire, but Jaxon Wiggins became the final Arkansas baseball player to sign professionally ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for 2023 MLB Draft picks.
The Chicago Cubs, who took him with the 68th overall pick earlier this month, are giving him more than $1.4 million to forego his remaining collegiate eligibility and begin his pro career.
While the wait created some hope among fans that he may choose to return to the Razorbacks instead, it proved to be a strategic move that illustrated the uniqueness of baseball’s draft compared to its counterparts in the NFL and NBA.
In fact, when his signing bonus amount – which was $1,401,500, to be exact – was revealed, it became clear Wiggins took a page out of Blaine Knight’s playbook.
At the time of the tweet by MLB.com’s Jim Callis announcing the agreement, he was one of only four players taken in the top 10 rounds who remained unsigned and one of the other three had already announced he wouldn’t. Chicago had also signed all 19 of its other picks.
To the casual fan, waiting that long may seem like a player on the fence about his decision, much like a basketball or football player waiting until the last second to announce whether or not they’re declaring for the NBA or NFL Draft.
However, with all of his fellow Cubs draftees under contract, Wiggins and his agent knew exactly how much money they could get out of Chicago.
In the MLB Draft, each pick in the top 10 rounds is assigned a slot value and each of the 30 teams has a bonus pool, which is calculated by adding up the slot values for each of their picks in that range.
Draftees don’t have to sign for the exact slot value of their pick, but the combined signing bonuses of players taken in the top 10 rounds must remain within that particular team’s bonus pool. Players drafted in the 11th round and beyond – plus undrafted free agents – can receive bonuses up to $150,000, with anything above that amount also counting toward the bonus pool.
There is some flexibility allowed with those bonus pools, though, as teams can exceed them by 5% with the only penalty being a 75% tax on the overage. That’s a relatively light punishment, so many teams choose to do that. Going over by more than 5% has much stiffer penalties, including the loss of future draft picks.
Back to the situation with Chicago and Wiggins: As the deadline approached, the Cubs had exactly $1,401,500 available without exceeding their pool by more than 5%, so that’s what Wiggins asked for – and received.
That is about $300,000 more than the slot value for pick No. 68, with the amount actually closer to the slot value of the pick 10 spots earlier than where he went. For a third-year college pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, that is a lot of money.
It was reminiscent of Blaine Knight in 2018, when the Arkansas ace signed a deal that included a $1.1 million bonus about two hours before the deadline. That was well above the designated slot value of $663,200 for pick No. 87 that year.
Van Horn Notches Win Over Vitello
One of the most prized transfers in college baseball last offseason was Kansas shortstop Maui Ahuna.
Coming off a College World Series appearance and needing to replace Jalen Battles, Arkansas baseball figured to be a major player for him. Rather than heading to Fayetteville, though, he chose to play for Tony Vitello at Tennessee.
Instead, the Razorbacks landed the other half of Kansas’ double-play tandem in second baseman Tavian Josenberger, who had much less fanfare after his numbers took a step back as a sophomore in 2022.
Even after the fall, when it became clear that Josenberger would be Arkansas’ leadoff man and starting center fielder, D1Baseball had him at No. 27 on its list of top impact transfers in 2023. Ahuna, on the other hand, was No. 4 – behind only the LSU duo of Tommy White and Paul Skenes and Florida’s Hurston Waldrep.
Getting Ahuna certainly would have been nice for Arkansas, especially considering the offensive struggles at shortstop in 2023, but it ended up developing Josenberger much better than Tennessee did Ahuna.
Josenberger moved back to center field and added some power to go along with his already strong toolset, leading to the Orioles taking him in the third round and with the 100th overall pick.
Ahuna finished with solid numbers, but had a very up and down season that ultimately led to him slipping to the fourth round – where the Giants took him with the 117th pick – after entering the season as a projected first-rounder.
Of course, that alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite being taken only 17 spots behind Josenberger, he ended up getting much less than his former teammate.
Both players signed for under slot, but Josenberger received a $630,000 signing bonus compared to $500,000 for Ahuna – who tried to use the same strategy as Wiggins by waiting to sign until the last second, but still saw the Giants leave a little more than $75,000 on the table.
It probably won’t hurt for Dave Van Horn to have that fact in his back pocket the next time he goes up against his former coach on the recruiting trail or in the transfer portal.
Arkansas Baseball Loses Transfer Portal Commit
Entering the MLB Draft, the Razorbacks were really only worried about losing one of their transfer portal commits and those concerns proved to be legitimate.
The Brewers took Craig Yoho, a right-hander from Indiana who was committed to Arkansas baseball, with their eighth-round pick and, as expected, managed to get him signed. That means Yoho won’t ever suit up for the Razorbacks.
He received a paltry $10,000 signing bonus from Milwaukee, which was well below the designated slot value of $196,700 for pick No. 242.
It’s the second straight year they’ve lost a transfer commit to the MLB Draft, as UC-Santa Barbara shortstop Jordan Sprinkle and South Carolina left-hander Julian Bosnic signed professionally after announcing their pledge to the Razorbacks last offseason.
Considering he’s a pitcher with an injury history who signed at an apparent discount, it’d be easy to compare Yoho to Bosnic, but his situation is probably more comparable to Sprinkle.
Bosnic, who didn’t pitch in 2022 because of an elbow injury, appeared to be heading to Fayetteville until just before last year’s deadline. The Pirates’ general manager even told reporters he didn’t expect to sign him and a source had previously told Best of Arkansas Sports that Arkansas felt good about getting him.
Instead, he changed his mind at the last second and, even though Pittsburgh had plenty of room to give him a much larger bonus, Bosnic signed for just $125,000 rather than playing for the Razorbacks.
Sprinkle, on the other hand, was a heralded draft prospect who was unlikely to ever make it to campus when he committed. That was known by everyone involved, so it was no surprise when he signed with the White Sox at full slot value ($452,900).
Even though he probably could have gotten $10,000 next year or possibly more with a good year in the SEC, Yoho has experienced three season-ending injuries in his career and may not have wanted to risk another one.
He also turns 24 in October and got married last summer, so he’s probably at the stage of his life where he wants to get out of college and give the pros a shot before moving on to a real-world job.
Considering how open and honest he was with Best of Arkansas Sports about owing it to himself to try professional baseball if the opportunity presented itself, it’s fair to assume Yoho was also open with the Arkansas coaching staff and everyone understood this was a legitimate possibility.
It still stinks to lose him to the draft, though, because he has some nasty stuff and could have been a key bullpen arm for the Razorbacks.
Another name worth mentioning here is Josh Harlow, a right-hander out of Mercer in the transfer portal who the Razorbacks were also recruiting. He even visited Fayetteville, according to HawgBeat.
However, he won’t be playing college baseball anywhere next season after signing with the Guardians as a 19th-round pick.
Gabe Gaeckle Keeps His Word
Before Day 2 of the MLB Draft, which consisted of Rounds 3-10, right-gander Gabe Gaeckle confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports that he intended to bypass the draft and play for the Razorbacks.
That didn’t stop the Cincinnati Reds from using their 20th-round pick on him on Day 3, though.
They were essentially taking a flier on the No. 51 overall recruit in the 2023 class, according to Perfect Game. If one of Cincinnati’s projected over-slot picks from the earlier rounds fell through and if suddenly had a chunk of its bonus pool open up, perhaps it could have made a run at actually signing him.
Thankfully for Arkansas baseball, though, that never happened and Gaeckle kept his word by not signing. That means he’ll suit up for the Razorbacks as a true freshman in 2024.
As expected, the other six Arkansas signees taken in the 2023 MLB Draft — all in the top 10 rounds — will begin their professional careers.
The first four were taken on Day 1, while the other two went off the board the following day. Five of them received seven-figure bonuses, with the other getting $500,000. Combined, they got nearly $12.5 million, so it’s hard to blame them for skipping college.
Even with those six not making it to campus, the Razorbacks are still set to break a modern-day record for top-100 recruits.
Jared Wegner Gets Paid
It doesn’t look like it on the surface, but Jared Wegner did really well for himself in the 2023 MLB Draft.
On top of being selected by the Yankees in the ninth round, the Arkansas baseball standout received a signing bonus of $72,500. That is well below the designated slot value of $173,100 for pick No. 282, but still a significant amount considering the circumstances.
You see, Wegner was a fifth-year senior with no remaining collegiate eligibility. That means he had no leverage when it came to contract negotiations.
Those kinds of players typically get drafted in rounds 7-10 so teams can save money for other picks by signing them with miniscule bonuses well below slot, regardless of how good they were in college.
For example, LSU’s Gavin Dugas hit .290 with 17 home runs, 46 RBIs and 1.053 OPS on a national championship team and was selected in the sixth round, but received a bonus of just $20,000 from the Nationals. That is a common practice in the MLB Draft.
That’s why it was a pleasant surprise to see Wegner still get $72,500 from the Yankees, even though he had no leverage. In fact, that amount was the fourth-largest for a fifth-year senior taken in the top 10 rounds – and two of the players who got more (Tennessee’s Andrew Lindsey and Seth Halvorsen) had remaining eligibility because of medical redshirts and/or the COVID year.
Considering his knack for finding quality transfers from the mid-major level (like Wegner at Creighton), that should be another selling point for Dave Van Horn when it comes to his efforts in the transfer portal.
Arkansas Players, Signees in 2023 MLB Draft
Here’s a list of all 15 players with ties to Arkansas baseball who were selected in the 2023 MLB Draft and how much they received as a signing bonus:
|Round||Pick||Player||Team||Slot Value||Signing Bonus|
|1||27||Aidan Miller (signee)||Philadelphia Phillies||$2,968,800||$3,100,000|
|CB-A||36||Kendall George (signee)||Los Angeles Dodgers||$2,362,700||$1,847,500|
|2||50||Nazzan Zanetello (signee)||Boston Red Sox||$1,698,000||$3,000,000|
|2||52||Walker Martin (signee)||San Francisco Giants||$1,620,800||$2,997,500|
|2(C)||68||Jaxon Wiggins||Chicago Cubs||$1,101,000||$1,401,500|
|3||74||Hunter Hollan||Cincinnati Reds||$975,100||$597,500|
|3||100||Tavian Josenberger||Baltimore Orioles||$671,800||$630,000|
|5||150||Dylan Questad (signee)||Minnesota Twins||$412,600||$500,000|
|6||184||Jace Bohrofen||Toronto Blue Jays||$304,700||$302,200|
|8||234||Barrett Kent (signee)||Los Angeles Angels||$206,500||$1,000,000|
|8||242||Craig Yoho (portal commit)||Milwaukee Brewers||$196,700||$10,000|
|9||282||Jared Wegner||New York Yankees||$173,100||$72,500|
|13||378||Cody Adcock||Cincinnati Reds||n/a||$150,000|
|16||487||Caleb Cali||Seattle Mariners||n/a||$150,000|
|20||588||Gabe Gaeckle||Cincinnati Reds||n/a||n/a|
More coverage of Arkansas baseball and the MLB Draft from BoAS…