What Could Have Been: Pirates Swipe Arkansas Pitcher at Last Second

Julian Bosnic
photo credit: South Carolina Athletics

The Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in and signed one more player in its 2022 MLB Draft class at the last second — at the expense of Arkansas baseball.

South Carolina left-handed pitcher Julian Bosnic, who committed to the Razorbacks out of the portal, will begin his professional career instead of coming to Fayetteville after signing with Pittsburgh just ahead of Monday’s 4 p.m. CT deadline, according to multiple reports.

The move comes as a surprise because Pirates general manager Ben Cherington told reporters Friday that he expected his team wouldn’t sign any of its three unsigned picks: 12th-round pick K.C. Hunt, 19th-round pick Yoel Tejada and Bosnic, who the Pirates took in the 14th round.

However, it shouldn’t be too shocking that Pittsburgh pulled off a last-second signing because it had the funds to do so. Although they had already gone over their bonus pool with their picks in the top 10 rounds, the Pirates could still spend about $684,000 without losing any future draft picks.

That wiggle room was created by teams being allowed to go over their pool by 5% with the only penalty being a tax paid by the team, something the Pirates did last year and will at least partially do this year.

Contract terms for Bosnic have not yet been released, but it likely required more than the $125,000 base signing bonus teams can offer players taken in the 11th round and later. Anything above that number would then result in a 75% tax. For example, if his signing bonus was $225,000, the Pirates would give Bosnic that amount and then turn around and pay a $75,000 tax (75% of the $100,000 excess) to the MLB.

Having the flexibility to still offer Bosnic a large bonus likely wasn’t the only influence on his decision, as both of his parents — Brian and Cynthia — have ties to the area. Both of them went to college at Pitt.

A source had previously told Best of Arkansas Sports that there was a 50/50 shot Bosnic would end up in Fayetteville. Following Cherington’s comments Friday, coupled with the fact that he had already turned down the pros once before (he was a 16th-round pick by the Giants last year), it seemed like those odds had swung in the Razorbacks’ favor. Instead, he’ll become another “what if” for Arkansas baseball.

What it Means for Arkansas Baseball

Despite not getting Julian Bosnic from the portal like it planned and losing ace Connor Noland to the draft, Arkansas still appears to have far fewer questions about its pitching staff in 2023 than its lineup

The Razorbacks return their other two primary weekend starters, left-hander Hagen Smith (4.66 ERA, 77.1 IP) and right-hander Jaxon Wiggins (6.55 ERA, 66 IP), as well as several other key arms.

Right-hander Will McEntire emerged down the stretch and figures to compete for a spot in the weekend rotation next year after posting a 2.59 ERA in 48 2/3 innings this season.

Another pitcher who came on strong late in the season, left-hander Zack Morris (2.31 ERA, 35 IP) spent much of the year in the bullpen, but did make a couple of starts in the postseason.

Head coach Dave Van Horn also mentioned several times throughout the season that he sees right-hander Brady Tygart (3.82 ERA, 37.2 IP), who served as the team’s closer most of his freshman season, as a future starter.

In addition to those five returners, the Razorbacks also landed a pair of potential starting pitchers from the portal.

Nebraska right-hander Koty Frank started seven games and came out of the bullpen seven more times this past season, posting a 3.81 ERA with 70 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 59 innings.

Had he actually made it to campus, Bosnic might have been the most intriguing arm of the group because he had already been slated to be a weekend starter in the SEC, as South Carolina was counting on him being one of its top two starters in 2022.

Instead, he missed the entire season because of a flexor strain in his elbow that eventually required minor surgery. A healthy Bosnic returning to his 2021 form would certainly have had a shot to start for the Razorbacks.

Making 22 total appearances, including four starts, for the Gamecocks that year, he posted a 2.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 78 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings. That’s an average of 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Bosnic also held opponents to an incredible .133/.275/.181 slash line.

That would have given Arkansas seven legitimate options for three weekend rotation spots, but now it must settle for only six — assuming no one emerges among the incoming freshmen or JUCO transfers in a pitcher heavy signing class,

Final Look at 2022 MLB Draft’s Impact on the Razorbacks

Julian Bosnic was the final piece of the MLB Draft puzzle for Arkansas baseball and, even with his decision not going the Razorbacks’ way, they still made it through the 2022 MLB Draft in decent shape.

Instead of joining high school signee Mason Neville as the second incoming Arkansas player to turn down the pros in this draft, Bosnic had a similar fate as a pair of other players who’ll never suit up for the Razorbacks.

Arkansas lost high school signee Cole Phillips, the flame-throwing right-hander from Texas, to the Atlanta Braves and transfer signee Jordan Sprinkle, the slick-fielding shortstop from UC-Santa Barbara, to the Chicago White Sox, but neither of them were particularly surprising. Combined, they received close to $2 million in signing bonuses.

On the flip side, things could have been much worse for the Razorbacks. Neville is an outfielder from Las Vegas who was projected to be a high pick, but slipped to the 18th round because of signability concerns and quickly announced he was coming to school.

They also could have lost high school signee Jayson Jones and junior college signee Harold Coll to the draft, but neither of them were selected. While Jones was viewed as a potential first-round pick at one point, he fell down draft boards late in the process and ultimately withdrew his name after Day 1 of the draft.

Among current Razorbacks, there was a legitimate hope that Connor Noland might return to school for his super senior season, but he was drafted by and signed with the Chicago Cubs for a $200,000 signing bonus — above slot for his ninth-round pick.

He was one of nine Arkansas baseball players taken in the 2022 MLB Draft, which was tied for the third-most in the country, but the others were expected to hear their names called.

The good news outnumbered the bad news for Arkansas baseball, though.

Despite being viewed as a potential draft pick, the Razorbacks were counting on Zack Morris returning for his senior year and that went according to plan, as he was undrafted. In a bit of a surprise, Brady Slavens also went undrafted for a second straight year and will return to Arkansas as a super senior, bolstering a mostly new-look lineup.

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 (30)

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 (6)

  • SS John Bolton — Austin Peay
  • 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, signed with Athletics)
  • 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 (5)

  • LHP Julian Bosnic — South Carolina transfer, drafted and signed with Pirates
  • 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 signed with White Sox

Retired (1)

  • RHP Miller Pleimann
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