Arkansas Set to Eclipse LSU in Blue-Chippers Record + More Takeaways from MLB Draft

Adam Hachman, Gabe Gaeckle, Arkansas baseball, 2023 MLB Draft
photo credit: Twitter/AdamHachman / Twitter/GabeGaeckle

The 2023 MLB Draft is officially in the books, with 614 high school, JUCO and college players taken in the 20 rounds spread out over the last three days — including 15 with ties to Arkansas baseball.

Included in that group were seven Razorbacks from the 2023 team, seven high school signees and one transfer portal commit.

Click here for an extensive breakdown of those players, including each their slot values, but here’s a quick overview of them:

127Aidan Miller (signee)Philadelphia Phillies
CBA (1)36Kendall George (signee)Los Angeles Dodgers
250Nazzan Zanetello (signee)Boston Red Sox
252Walker Martin (signee)San Francisco Giants
2(C)68Jaxon WigginsChicago Cubs
374Hunter HollanCincinnati Reds
3100Tavian JosenbergerBaltimore Orioles
5150Dylan Questad (signee)Minnesota Twins
6184Jace BohrofenToronto Blue Jays
8234Barrett Kent (signee)Los Angeles Angels
8242Craig Yoho (portal commit)Milwaukee Brewers
9282Jared WegnerNew York Yankees
13378Cody AdcockCincinnati Reds
16487Caleb CaliSeattle Mariners
20588Gabe Gaeckle (signee)Cincinnati Reds

Draftees now have until July 25 to sign a professional contract, so the dust hasn’t completely settled, but here are Best of Arkansas Sports’ four key takeaways from this year’s MLB Draft, as it pertains to Arkansas baseball:

1. Arkansas Baseball’s Day 1 and 2 Picks Are Gone

We will spare you the suspense: The 12 Arkansas-related players taken on the first two days of the MLB Draft will not be Razorbacks in 2024. Don’t hold your breath hoping any of them make it to campus or return to school.

Over the last two years, when the draft was shortened to 20 rounds, players taken in the top 10 rounds have signed professional contracts more than 99% of the time — only six of 628 failed to sign.

That means you have almost certainly seen Jaxon Wiggins, Hunter Hollan, Tavian Josenberger and Jace Bohrofen play their final games in an Arkansas baseball uniform. (Jared Wegner, a ninth-round pick, is out of eligibility and couldn’t return even if he wanted.)

Some fans may think they could “improve” their draft stock by coming back and having a big year, but that’s not really how the MLB Draft works. The threat of turning down the pros and returning to college gives them leverage in contract negotiations this year that they wouldn’t have as seniors in 2024.

Wiggins would technically have some leverage next year, as he could get a medical redshirt for this season and still have two years left, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to come back. Not only is he already in line for a seven-figure signing bonus, but the timing of his Tommy John surgery would make it tough for him to even pitch next season, which is what he’d need to do to climb draft boards.

Another thing to consider with those guys — as well as the six signees and one transfer portal commit who were drafted — is that teams typically negotiate with players ahead of time and know what it’s going to take to sign them.

Taking a gamble in the top 10 rounds is risky because if a team fails to sign a player selected in that range, it loses the slot value for that particular pick from its overall bonus pool. With a penalty like that, it wants to be sure a player will sign before picking him that high.

Unfortunately, that means heralded high school signees Aidan Miller, Kendall George, Nazzan Zanetello, Walker Martin, Dylan Questad and Barrett Kent probably won’t ever suit up for the Razorbacks, and neither will Indiana transfer Craig Yoho.

Perhaps one of them doesn’t come to an agreement with the team that drafted them, but that is highly unlikely.

2. Decision Looming for Caleb Cali

The last time Dave Van Horn met with the media, he said there was a very good chance Caleb Cali would return for his senior season in 2024. It was a surprising revelation considering his success this past season, but sure enough, he wasn’t listed on any prospect rankings — not even the 614-player list on Future Star Series.

When he didn’t get picked late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, it started looking like Cali would, in fact, come back and be the Razorbacks’ starting third baseman again. However, the Seattle Mariners grabbed him in the 16th round, with the 487th overall pick.

Unlike players taken the first two days, there’s less of a guarantee that players drafted on Day 3 actually sign. Those taken in rounds 16-20 over the last two years have signed only 76% of the time.

That doesn’t exactly make it a toss up, but Cali definitely has a decision to make before the July 25 signing deadline.

While there is no designated slot value for the final 10 rounds like there is for the first 10, players selected in the 11th round or later can receive a signing bonus up to $150,000 with no penalty for the pro team. Anything above that, though, would count against the team’s salary pool.

Cali may not command that much money, but he’d probably still get a decent chunk of change. It would almost certainly be more than what he’d get next year — regardless of how well he played in 2024 — because he’ll be a senior with no leverage.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Cali came back to Arkansas and got drafted much higher, especially if he had another big year, but his signing bonus would be significantly less. That’s why it’s probably most likely that he ends up signing with Seattle.

That’s probably the case for right-hander Cody Adcock, as well. Players taken in rounds 11-15 — he went in the 13th round to the Reds — have signed 92.7% of the time and he might be the kind of player who benefits from getting into a professional development system.

The Texarkana native has always had the stuff that impresses college coaches, both at Ole Miss and Arkansas, as well as scouts, but it hasn’t consistently translated into actual games.

3. Still a Historic Signing Class for Arkansas Baseball

During the Perfect Game rankings era (since 2002), no team had ever signed more top-100 recruits in a single class than Arkansas did in 2023. It now appears the Razorbacks will also be getting a record number of them to campus — even with six getting drafted in the top 10 rounds and almost certainly signing professionally.

A seventh top-100 signee, right-hander Gabe Gaeckle from California, was also drafted by the Reds in the 20th round, but he told Best of Arkansas Sports before the draft that he intended to come to school and then confirmed his plans hadn’t changed after getting picked.

Assuming that holds true, the Razorbacks will be getting seven top-100 signees to Fayetteville. That tops LSU’s total of six last year for the most ever and almost certainly ensures Arkansas will remain at No. 1 when Perfect Game adjusts its class rankings following the July 25 signing deadline.

UCLA is the only team that even signed seven top-100 signees, which would tie the Razorbacks. Still,  Arkansas will have the most if Brandon Winokur, one of the Bruins’ top recruits, signs with the Twins as a third-round pick.

Arkansas is benefitting from the recent trend of top high school prospects actually going to college before beginning their professional careers. Previous research by Best of Arkansas Sports revealed that 57 of the top-100 recruits in the 2022 class made it to campus — compared to just 33 a decade earlier.

That number will probably hold steady this year, as 47 of this year’s top-100 signees went undrafted and another nine were taken in the 11th round or later. How many of those players sign remains to be seen, as does whether or not any of the players selected in the top 10 rounds fail to do so.

As for Arkansas, its group of top-100 recruits actually coming to campus includes catcher Ryder Helfrick (No. 46), Gaeckle (No. 51), left-hander Hunter Dietz (No. 57), left-hander Adam Hachman (No. 58), shortstop Nolan Souza (No. 70), left-hander Tucker Holland (No. 87) and catcher/first baseman Ty Waid (No. 90).

Not included on that list are another couple of pitchers — left-hander Colin Fisher (No. 409) and right-hander Tate McGuire (No. 414) — who Perfect Game wasn’t particularly high on, but were viewed as legitimate MLB Draft prospects by various outlets.

Throw in another trio of Perfect Game top-300 recruits — left-hander Jack Smith (No. 246) and right-handers Jonah Conradt (No. 272) and Diego Ramos (No. 276) — and that’s nine high-caliber arms joining the Razorbacks for 2024.

Hachman is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and is expected to redshirt his first year on campus, but the other eight will compete for innings right away. Considering what it has coming back, Arkansas may only need a couple of those guys to be significant contributors out of the gate and having so many on campus increases their chances of finding some ready for the SEC.

On the position player side of things, the Razorbacks now have some talented freshmen to battle incoming transfers at a few spots — such as Helfrick going up against Texas Tech transfer Hudson White at catcher, Souza going up against fellow Hawaiian and Sacramento State transfer Wehiwa Aloy at shortstop, and Waid going up against Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner at first base.

Other returning players could factor into those battles, as well.

4. No Surprises for Arkansas Baseball

At the end of the day, the 2023 MLB Draft probably went about as well as Dave Van Horn realistically could have hoped.

Potentially losing Caleb Cali in the 16th round might sting a little bit, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. He also probably knew there was a good chance Craig Yoho would never make it to Fayetteville when he committed out of the transfer portal. With the recruits, recent history said he’d probably get seven or eight of the top-100 guys to campus, and it looks like they’ll get seven of them.

On top of all that, the Razorbacks didn’t get any surprises with key veterans. After all, just two years ago, Charlie Welch was scooped up in the 19th round when there was hope he’d be a key bat for them in 2022.

The two guys most similar to that this year were Ben McLaughlin and Peyton Holt, who put up big numbers in a small sample size as juniors. Van Horn said he expected both of them back and neither of them were drafted.

McLaughlin even sent out a tweet Tuesday night thanking the teams that reached out, but confirming he was returning to Arkansas next season. Right-hander Will McEntire also sent out a tweet indicating his return to the Razorbacks and left-hander Zack Morris is expected back, as well.


More coverage of Arkansas baseball and the MLB Draft from BoAS…

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