Redemption Tour: What Brady Slavens Sacrifices in His Arkansas Return Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

Brady Slavens
photo credit: Nick Wenger

Brady Slavens has announced he’ll play for the Razorbacks as a super senior in 2023, marking the third straight year an unexpected return of a key starter will bolster the Arkansas baseball lineup.

The slugger from Olathe, Kan., was considered a draftable prospect in each of the last two MLB Drafts, but was not selected either year. Rather than signing as an undrafted free agent (UDFA), Slavens is opting to take advantage of his bonus year from the pandemic-related eligibility relief.

Unlike the previous two years, when signing bonuses for undrafted players was capped at just $20,000, Slavens could have received a six-figure deal as an UDFA because Major League Baseball removed that limit just before the start of the draft.

Instead, he decided to do what he and Jalen Battles did last summer and Casey Opitz did the summer before that by putting off his professional career and returning to Arkansas for another season.

What it Means for Arkansas Baseball

Heading into the MLB Draft, it seemed like Arkansas would return only one of its nine regular starters in the lineup, as Peyton Stovall was just a freshman and not eligible for the draft

Three of them — Chris Lanzilli, Michael Turner and Braydon Webb — had exhausted their eligibility, Zack Gregory entered the transfer portal and the rest were widely expected to get drafted.

Cayden Wallace and Robert Moore didn’t have to wait long, as they went off the board on Day 1 as second-round picks. Battles’ wait lasted into the second day, but he was ultimately picked in the fifth round. Even with 15 rounds remaining, Brady Slavens never heard his name called.

It was a shocking development, but one that gives the Razorbacks a second returning starter and some veteran leadership because this will be his third year in the program.

What remains to be seen is where he’ll end up defensively. Slavens was an excellent first baseman in 2021, but one reason he returned to school this past season was to get a shot at playing right field so he could show scouts he has the versatility to play a corner outfield spot.

The experiment didn’t pan out, as Slavens never looked particularly comfortable in the outfield, and he was eventually relegated to designated hitter because the Razorbacks had a loaded infield in which Stovall played first base.

With Wallace, Battles and Moore gone, though, there could be an opening for him to return to first base because Stovall is expected to shift over to second base. However, Kendall Diggs is expected to compete for a corner infield spot as a sophomore and Arkansas is bringing in quite a few junior college infielders.

Even if he ends up as the designated hitter again, Slavens will at least provide some serious pop in the lineup. He tied Wallace for the team lead with 16 home runs this season and also hit 14 last year. With 30 career long balls, he needs just four more to crack the UA’s career top-10 list and 12 more would put him in the top five.

Opportunity for Redemption

Of course, hitting the ball out of the park has never been an issue for Brady Slavens. After all, he came to Arkansas from Johnson County C.C., where he put up video game-like numbers before the pandemic hit.

In just 22 games, Slavens slashed .507/.543/1.240 with nine doubles, two triples, 14 home runs and 47 RBIs. He led the NJCAA in homers and RBIs, leading JUCO Baseball Blog to name him the National Player of the Year for the shortened season.

The power is there and scouts are certainly aware of it by now, but the biggest question surrounding his game is whether or not he can be a consistent, all-around hitter. Returning to Arkansas as a super senior will give him a chance for redemption after struggling with that in 2022.

Slavens hit just .255 and had a team-high 66 strikeouts this season. There were long stretches when he looked lost at the plate, trying to pull everything and swinging wildly at off-speed pitches. However, there were also stretches in which he worked the count and used all fields — including in the regional and super regional, highlighted by his walk-off hit against North Carolina that punched Arkansas’ ticket to Omaha.

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The Razorbacks saw much more of the latter in 2021. Some may forget, but Slavens was hitting .300 when he injured his ankle in the SEC Tournament. It was a rough postseason, during which he went 2 for 18 with nine strikeouts, that lowered his season batting average to .284, but he likely rushed back before he was ready.

To further illustrate how much he fell off between his first and second year at Arkansas, he went from hitting .284 in SEC play in 2021 to hitting just .214 against conference foes in 2022 — a drop of 70 points.

If he could get back to his pre-injury level of play in 2021, Slavens would be a major bat in Arkansas’ lineup next season.

MLB Draft Outlook for Slavens

The sacrifice Brady Slavens is making by returning to Arkansas in 2023 should not be overlooked, though.

Unlike in college football, where coming back and having a big senior year could lead to a drastic increase in draft stock, it is highly doubtful that Slavens will bolster his draft standing much in his super senior season.

Even if he puts up great numbers and gets drafted in the top 10 rounds of next summer’s MLB Draft, he’ll almost certainly receive a signing bonus that is much lower than what he could have gotten either of the last two years.

That is because this will be his last year of collegiate eligibility, meaning he won’t have any leverage in negotiations with pro teams. Players who have the option of going back to school can get a larger signing bonus by essentially using that fact as a threat.

Those who don’t have that in their back pocket during negotiations pretty much have to take what’s offered — and that’s typically well below assigned slot values, even if it’s a great player.

For example, Carson Shaddy was a key member of Arkansas’ national runner-up team in 2018, hitting .330 with 13 home runs and 55 RBIs as a fifth-year senior. He was selected by the Nationals in the 10th round and got just a $10,000 signing bonus despite his pick having a designated slot value of $136,900.

Players typically keep their asking price in the MLB Draft process private, so it’s unknown how much Slavens turned down last year and this year, but his decision to return to school very likely cost him a good chunk of change.

One More Pending Decision

Now that Slavens has announced his decision, there is just one more big domino remaining for Arkansas baseball.

All six Razorbacks with remaining eligibility who were selected in this week’s MLB Draft are expected to sign professional contracts because they were taken in the top 10 rounds. Over the last three drafts, players taken in that range have signed more than 99% of the time.

High school signee Cole Phillips and transfer signee Jordan Sprinkle were also drafted in that range. Phillips has already signed with the Braves and got a signing bonus just under $1.5 million, meaning he’s skipping college, and Sprinkle is also expected to sign.

The Razorbacks’ only other high school signee to get drafted was Mason Neville and he quickly announced he was turning down the 18th-round pick and coming to Fayetteville.

That leaves just Julian Bosnic, the left-hander from South Carolina who has publicly committed to transfer to Arkansas. He was selected by the Pirates in the 14th round and it’s not yet known what he’ll decide to do. A source told Best of Arkansas Sports that it’s about “50/50” that he makes it to campus.

2023 Arkansas Baseball Roster

Returning Players (17)

  • OF Jace Bohrofen
  • RHP Tyler Cacciatori
  • RHP Dylan Carter
  • INF Kendall Diggs
  • RHP Jake Faherty
  • LHP Nick Griffin
  • RHP Austin Ledbetter
  • LHP Matthew Magre
  • RHP Will McEntire
  • LHP Zack Morris
  • RHP Nick Moten
  • INF Jude Putz
  • INF/OF Brady Slavens
  • LHP Hagen Smith
  • INF Peyton Stovall
  • RHP Brady Tygart
  • RHP Jaxon Wiggins

Incoming Players (31)

High School (14)

  • RHP Ben Bybee
  • LHP Parker Coil
  • RHP Cooper Dossett
  • LHP Sean Fitzpatrick
  • RHP Christian Foutch
  • LHP Jordan Huskey
  • RHP Josh Hyneman
  • INF Jayson Jones
  • LHP Kyndon Lovell
  • OF Mason Neville (drafted, but not signing)
  • INF Reese Robinett
  • INF Easton Swofford
  • INF Ryan Ward
  • RHP Gage Wood

JUCO (10)

  • RHP Cody Adcock — Crowder C.C. (Ole Miss)
  • INF Caleb Cali — College of Central Florida (Florida State)
  • INF Harold Coll — San Jacinto J.C.
  • INF Tyson Fourkiller — Connors State C.C.
  • INF Hunter Grimes — McLennan C.C.
  • LHP Hunter Hollan — San Jacinto J.C. (Texas A&M)
  • INF Peyton Holt — Crowder C.C. (Louisiana-Lafayette)
  • INF Ben McLaughlin — Hutchinson C.C.
  • C Parker Rowland — Eastern Oklahoma State C.C. (Arkansas State)
  • INF Isaac Webb — Eastern Oklahoma State C.C.

Transfer Portal (7)

  • SS John Bolton — Austin Peay
  • LHP Julian Bosnic — South Carolina (drafted, but hasn’t signed yet)
  • RHP Koty Frank — Nebraska
  • INF/OF Tavian Josenberger — Kansas
  • C Cal Kilgore — New Mexico State
  • C Hudson Polk — Oklahoma
  • OF Jared Wegner — Creighton

Departing Razorbacks

Exhausted Eligibility (6)

  • RHP Issac Bracken
  • OF Chris Lanzilli (signed with White Sox as UDFA)
  • RHP Kole Ramage (signed with White Sox as UDFA)
  • C Michael Turner (also drafted)
  • RHP Zebulon Vermillion (also drafted)
  • OF Braydon Webb

Drafted Players (6)

  • SS Jalen Battles
  • 2B Robert Moore
  • RHP Connor Noland
  • RHP Peyton Pallette
  • LHP Evan Taylor
  • 3B Cayden Wallace

Transferred (10)

  • RHP Mark Adamiak — Missouri (also drafted)
  • RHP Evan Gray — St. Louis
  • OF Zack Gregory
  • C Dylan Leach — Missouri
  • C/OF Max Soliz Jr.
  • RHP Gabriel Starks
  • RHP Heston Tole — Texas
  • RHP Vincent Trapani — Illinois-Chicago
  • RHP Elijah Trest
  • INF Drake Varnado — Arizona State

Signees Not Coming (4)

  • RHP Carter Boyd — signed with Appalachian State
  • RHP Cole Phillips — drafted, signed with Braves
  • RHP Colton Sims — decommitted
  • SS Jordan Sprinkle — UCSB transfer, drafted and expected to sign

Retired (1)

  • RHP Miller Pleimann


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