“Better Than Hagen Smith”? Arkansas Signee Shares His Story.

Cole Gibler, Tyson Lewis, Gabe Fraser, Arkansas baseball, 2024 MLB Draft
photo credit: Twitter/BSHS Baseball / Twitter/Tyson Lewis / Twitter/Gabe Fraser

Ready or not, the Arkansas baseball program will soon go through its annual tradition of having some of its top signees poached away by the pros in the MLB Draft.

There’s a chance one or two future Razorbacks hear their name called as early as Sunday, which is when the first two rounds of the 2024 version of the event are scheduled, with several others worthy of keeping an eye on over the final two days.

It’s not expected to be as brutal as last year, when Arkansas had four signees selected within the first 52 picks and two more taken on Day 2, but head coach Dave Van Horn knows he’s once again in danger of losing some.

Which ones get drafted and how many ultimately sign professionally is a mystery, though, and won’t become clear until the dust settles Tuesday.

“A couple, three of the position players are going to have to make decisions, (and) two or three pitchers, for sure,” Van Horn said last month. “The draft this year is really strong in the first round, and then after that, if you talk to the scouts, it’s not the same as it was last year.

“Could help some kids move up, get offered more money than maybe would have been a later pick. I don’t know how it’s going to affect us. You just don’t know.”

Van Horn has the advantage of talking directly to the players and/or their advisors, as well as scouts, but for the most part, he’ll be like most Arkansas baseball fans — waiting on pins and needles to see how he comes out of the event.

Cole Gibler and the 2024 MLB Draft

One of those high school signees is Cole Gibler, a left-handed pitcher from Blue Springs, Mo., who is rated as the No. 128 overall prospect in the 2024 MLB Draft by MLB Pipeline.

Best of Arkansas Sports caught up with him this week as the 18-year-old nears the biggest decision of his life so far.

Gibler actually moved to Fayetteville last Friday, the day after the Fourth of July, and is already working out with the team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a lock to still be with the Razorbacks this fall.

If a team drafts and signs him, Gibler would become a professional and forgo his collegiate eligibility. That will likely be determined by whether or not one of the 30 MLB teams is willing to meet his asking price when it comes to a signing bonus.

Unlike its counterparts in football and basketball, the MLB Draft is just as much about “signability” as it is sheer talent. A player may be considered a top-130 prospect, but if he’s asking for top-50 money, teams might choose to pass on him and let him go to school.

That’s what the Razorbacks are hoping happens with Gibler, who said he’s letting his advisor handle all of those details this week while he enjoys his first taste of college life.

“I’m really enjoying meeting everybody,” Gibler said. “They’re all great… It already feels like we’re a family. So it would be sad to not be able to be teammates with them, but it’s really wherever life takes me, basically.”

Gibler admitted that growing up, his dream was always to make the jump to professional baseball immediately out of high school. However, that was before he really started following the college game, and specifically Arkansas, following his commitment the summer before his sophomore year at Blue Springs High.

“I never liked school more than baseball, so if I could just go play baseball and not have to do school again, I’d love that,” Gibler said. “But again, I said that when I was a little younger. Now that I’m actually in Arkansas and I’m doing school and doing everything else, baseball with it, I’m really enjoying it.”

It’s easy to see why scouts and Arkansas’ coaching staff are so high on him. A two-way player who split time between center field and first base in high school, Gibler is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-hander who describes himself as “more of a command guy than velo guy.”

That said, his fastball typically sits 91-93 mph and has touched 94-95. His second-best pitch is a true 12-6 curveball that he throws 82-83 mph and he also has an 86-88 mph changeup with a lot of horizontal movement that pairs well with his fastball.

It’s the kind of arsenal that could earn Gibler meaningful innings as a true freshman in 2025, especially under the tutelage of Matt Hobbs. The Arkansas pitching coach is known as one of the best in the country and has had particular success with left-handers in recent years, like Patrick Wicklander, Leal Lockhart, Hunter Hollan and, the most notable example, Hagen Smith.

Needless to say, the Razorbacks would be an excellent backup option for Gibler — but don’t word it like that around him.

“I don’t call Hobbs a backup at all,” Gibler said. “They’re both Plan A, no matter what I choose. I’d love to work under Hobbs. I’ve talked to him and I’ve told him that I don’t want to be the next Hagen Smith, I want to be better than Hagen Smith.”

That is a lofty goal, but Gibler did put up incredible numbers as a senior, going 6-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings, helping him earn second-team All-America honors from MaxPreps.

Others to Watch in the 2024 MLB Draft

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Cole Gibler isn’t the only high school signee they have to worry about during the 2024 MLB Draft.

Here’s a look at four others who are generating the most buzz and, therefore, Arkansas baseball is at the greatest risk of losing before they ever step foot on campus…

SS Tyson Lewis – Omaha (Neb.) Millard West HS

Likely the first Arkansas signee off the board, Tyson Lewis has seen his stock skyrocket since an electric showing at PBR’s Super 60 event in February, when he clocked a blazing fast 6.40-second 60-yard dash. He carried that performance into his senior year, slashing .496/.579/.912 with nearly half – 29 of 62, to be exact – of his hits going for extra bases. He also notched 41 RBIs, 53 runs and 31 stolen bases in a 38-game season.

That earned Lewis multiple first-team All-America accolades and led to him being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Nebraska. It also resulted in much more attention from scouts. He is ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the draft by The Athletic, so he could slide into the first round (39 picks) – where only one Nebraska high schooler has ever been drafted (Jim Haller, 1970).

Even if that doesn’t happen, Lewis probably won’t fall out of the second round (74 picks), which means he’d be in line for a seven-figure signing bonus. That’d be tough to turn down.

RHP Carson Wiggins – Roland (Okla.) HS

This isn’t the first time a big, hard-throwing right-hander named Wiggins signed with Arkansas and was a heralded MLB Draft prospect coming out of Roland, Okla. Carson Wiggins’ older brother, Jaxon, ultimately went undrafted and spent three seasons with the Razorbacks – the last of which he missed because of Tommy John surgery when he was expected to be the ace.

As for the younger Wiggins, he’s listed at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and, like his brother, was also a standout basketball player and had success at the plate when he wasn’t pitching. Armed with a fastball that touched 99 mph at a national event last summer, though, his future is on the mound. In fact, Wiggins generated first-round buzz with a dominant showing in the High School All-American Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle during the All-Star Week festivities.

His stock has come down some since then, but there’s still a good chance he’s selected within the first three rounds and receives a seven-figure signing bonus. Much like Lewis, it seems unlikely that Arkansas gets him on campus.

OF Eli Lovich – Overland Park (Kan.) Blue Valley West HS

Another last name you should recognize, Eli Lovich is the younger brother of Ross Lovich, who transferred from Missouri to Arkansas for his final season of collegiate eligibility in 2024. He has another older brother, Jackson, who just completed his sophomore year at Missouri.

The youngest Lovich is coming off a senior season at Blue Valley West High in which MaxPreps named him the Kansas Player of the Year and tabbed him to its All-America second team. Not only did he hit .414 with four home runs, 29 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, but he also posted a 1.22 ERA on the mound.

Whether or not we get another Lovich vs. Lovich showdown next season will depend on Lovich making it to Fayetteville, as he’s another Arkansas signee who’s garnered some MLB Draft attention. ESPN ranks him as the No. 157 overall prospect, which would put him in the back half of the fifth round. Those picks have slot values around $400,000.

INF Gabe Fraser – Westminster (Calif.) Orange Lutheran HS

Named the co-MVP of the prestigious Trinity League in the Los Angeles area, Gabe Fraser is a top-150 recruit in the 2024 class, according to Perfect Game, but isn’t listed on too many MLB Draft prospect lists. However, he was invited to the MLB Draft Combine last month, so he’s clearly on the radar of pro scouts.

(NOTE: Best of Arkansas Sports will take a closer look at the Razorbacks’ JUCO signees, and which of them are the biggest 2024 MLB Draft risks, in a separate piece.)

Full List of Arkansas Baseball HS Signees

The Razorbacks announced 17 high school players in their 2024 recruiting class back in November and have since added two more. It’s not quite as heralded as the previous group, which ranked No. 1 nationally before dropping to No. 2 after the MLB Draft, but is still No. 16 on Perfect Game.

Here’s a complete list of those signees/commits, all of whom are draft eligible:

  • RHP Tag Andrews — Maumelle, Ark. (Maumelle HS)
  • C Zane Becker — Flower Mound, Texas (Flower Mound HS)
  • RHP Kel Busby — Little Rock, Ark. (Pulaski Academy)
  • OF Brenton Clark — Texarkana, Texas (Pleasant Grove HS)
  • RHP Eli Crecelius — Jonesboro, Ark. (Valley View HS)
  • RHP Lance Davis — Jonesboro, Ark. (Valley View HS)
  • RHP Steele Eaves — Lonoke, Ark. (Lonoke HS)
  • LHP Jackson Farrell — Jenks, Okla. (Owasso HS)
  • RHP Ross Felder — Springdale, Ark. (Springdale Har-Ber HS)
  • INF Gabe Fraser — Westminster, Calif. (Orange Lutheran HS)
  • LHP Cole Gibler — Blue Springs, Mo. (Blue Springs HS)
  • INF Tyler Holland — Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo HS)
  • OF Sam Lee — Montgomery, Texas (Lake Creek HS)
  • INF Tyson Lewis — Yutan, Neb. (Millard West HS)
  • OF Eli Lovich — Overland Park, Kan. (Blue Valley West HS)
  • RHP Wade Mountz — Morgan Hill, Calif. (Bellarmine College Prep)
  • RHP Carson Wiggins — Roland, Okla. (Roland HS)
  • LHP Luke Williams — Owasso, Okla. (Owasso HS)
  • C Carson Willis — Rogers, Ark. (P27 Academy)

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